A Mishandled $8000 Pizza Order Call

in Customer Service

I’m a self-taught cook, and probably own as many cookbooks as sales books. I watch the Food Network every chance I get. For a few years my barbeque cooking team traveled all over to competitions, and we even won a few championships. It’s tough to order at many restaurants, since I sometimes struggle to find something I couldn’t make better myself.

However, there’s still nothing better for my palate than a great slice of pizza. I particularly like thin crust, New York style. Could eat it every day. Normally I don’t go more than a few days without a pizza-fix.

When I was living in Omaha I was a bit limited in my choices of places to get exceptional pizza. One day, lusting for a slice and wanted to try something different, so I went online and was reminded of a place not far from my home. I had tried it a couple of years ago, was not impressed, so they fell off my radar.

However, I read some of the recent favorable reviews and thought I’d give them another shot. After all, right down the street…if they’ve improved, this could become a spot I’d be dropping lots of cash in the future.

So I called, intending to order a pie. After about eight rings, the out-of-breath voice answered–with chaos in the background–and greeted me with, "Can you hold?"

(I’m intentionally leaving out the name of the place–she did say it when she answered.)

Reluctantly, I agreed.

She did NOT put me on hold. She just put the phone down.

So now I’m hearing the banter of the kitchen staff, and occasionally her voice. One minute passes.

I’m getting restless.

Two minutes, I’m annoyed.

Watching the clock on the computer screen tick away, three minutes. Now I’m pissed. The kitchen staff continues whooping it up.

Trying to put it all in perspective and remind myself that in the whole scheme of things this is not worth getting upset about, I decide to give them one more minute. Sure, I could have hung up and called back, but the devilish side of me wanted to see just how long this customer service train wreck would continue. Plus, I thought I had the makings of a weekly tip.

And I really didn’t feel like driving any further than a few blocks to get pizza.

At the five-minute mark, I FINALLY hear someone pick up the phone, and…hang it up. "Call Ended" flashes on my cell phone.

At that moment I decide to provide the owner with some unsolicited phone sales training.

While I was simmering, waiting, I was online, reading about the history of the joint, and about the owner who had come here from Chicago a few years ago. I remembered seeing him the last time I was there, working the counter and the kitchen. Chances are he was there and I was going to tell him about my experience.

Certainly as an astute business owner he would welcome feedback and offer to make things right.

I called back.

Busy signal. Hit redial. Busy signal again. Undoubtedly someone else was told to hold, but then forgotten about.

THREE more times I tried back, hearing the busy signal each time.

Finally I heard a ringing sound. A male answered, and said "This is____," giving his name. It was the owner.

I said, "Yes, I called there about 10 minutes ago. I was going to get a pizza from you. I was asked to hold, was forgotten about for exactly FIVE minutes, and then was hung up on. I wanted you to know this personally since you might be losing customers because of how calls are handled."

"Sorry about that," he said in a tone that contradicted his words.

That was it. No attempt to recover. Nothing like, "Wow, that certainly is not the way we do things, let me make it up to you…"

"Sorry?", I repeated, after he was silent for a few seconds, giving him a chance to say more.

"Yeah, sorry, he repeated with an attitude that I read as, "Look, I’m busy here."

I remained silent–and a bit stunned–for a few seconds, thinking he might come to his senses as a business owner and do the right thing.


I was not an a-hole about this by any means, but I finally matter-of-factly said, "Well, you just lost a sale and more importantly, a customer."

That, I thought, might cause him to realize he could still fix this. Instead, I heard, "Sorry to hear that."

He was one of the sorriest guys I’ve ever heard.

So I found another place, a few miles from my house, that answered on the first ring, did not put me on hold, repeated back my order, made an upsell suggestion for a salad, which I took advantage of, and told me precisely when my order would be ready. THEY will be getting a lot more of my money in the future.

Now, you might be thinking that from the first pizza joint’s perspective, so what, big deal, they lost a sale, under $20 in revenue.


A number of years ago a marketing exec with Dominos spoke right before me at a national sales meeting. He talked about the value of a customer, something many people do not keep at the forefront of their mind. He said their research indicated that a customer would spend–I don’t remember the exact number, but this is close–in the neighborhood of $8000 with Dominos in their lifetime.

They would emphasize that to their employees who answered the phone, and anyone who had contact with customers. It wasn’t a one-pizza transaction, you were talking to an $8,000 customer.

One of my business mentors, Dan Kennedy, stresses the importance of "future bank" vs. "present bank." Future bank is what your customer means to you over their lifetime, and yours. That’s why smart marketers often take a loss in acquiring a customer, knowing that the real profit is in keeping them over time.

Let’s try to stitch this back together to some relevance for you: What do YOU do to ensure that you make it easy for people to become customers?

Are there any deterrents that make it difficult for people to become customers…like saying, "Can you hold?", when someone WANTS to buy from you, now?

Do you know your own "future bank" number? If not, figure it out, and be sure EVERYONE who has customer contact knows it.

What are you doing so that when your competition calls your customers–and you know they will–your customers say, "I’m happy with who I’m buying from."


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendell Waldron October 5, 2011 at 11:32 am

I sell an online marketing service to small and medium sized companies and I can’t even begin to tell you how many mishandled calls I hear in a day.

I know I’m selling something but it’s not uncommon for my staff to be on hold for more than 3 minutes without the company knowing who they are. They could be customers but some companies don’t care.

I truly believe a big reason for the down economy is a misunderstanding of the basics of how to treat people correctly. It’s not hard; it’s common sense.

Great post.


Paul SImon October 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Yikes! Big loss for that joint.


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