Why Domino's mistook this compliment for a complaint
Full disclaimer: For those of you that don't know I worked at Domino's Pizza for over 4 years. I spent 2 of those years of that time as a Store Manager. All views and opinions are my own.
In August this year, a story about a complaint on the Domino's USA Facebook page went semiviral on the web. The story was such a hit not because the complaint about Domino's was so shocking but because it wasn't a complaint at all. A customer, genuinely delighted with their order, posted a photo of her pizza on the Facebook page only to have Domino's apologise for it! Was it a mistake or can Domino's just not take a compliment?
The initial reaction of the media was that Domino's was using an automated system to handle posts on its Facebook page and the bot had completely misinterpreted what the customer had meant. Domino's responded to the rumours by issuing a statement clarifying that the post was a result of a human error and they don't use any kind of automated system. They sort of left the story at that seemed to hope the coverage would die down. I wanted to clarify why, in my opinion, this employee misjudge the situation as it provides an interesting insight to the standards that some companies hold themselves to. Surely any real person would have realised that the post was a compliment about their delicious looking pizza? Well no, by on Domino's standards that was a pretty bad pizza and it should never have left the store. I did a quick search on Google for a promotional image of the pan pizza for comparison. The pizza the customer posted a photo of is leagues away from what Domino's expect their pizzas to look like. Any well-trained oven tender will see many red flags looking at that pizza: bunched toppings, uneven cheese distribution, bubbles causing slices that are drier and burnt. These are all things that I noticed when I saw the pizza and it is likely the same concerns that stood out to the employee manning Domino's social media accounts. It is possible that seeing the picture the employee handling the response immediate reached the same conclusion I did without taking into consideration the tone of the comment. They did later attempt to brush over their mistake with a tongue in cheek response but bloggers had already jumped on the story. Admittedly, the employee should have taken better note of the comment but the reaction is revealing of companies changing attitudes towards how their products look.
I have always found the lack of faith people have in promotional images fascinating. They see them as unrealistic, food-stlyist (yeah - this is a real occupation) designed versions that aren't actually attainable in the real world. Last year, a blogger went about documenting the difference between adverts and reality of fast food. McDonalds Canada posted a video in response explaining why their burgers don't look like the ones in their adverts. They attributed the differences to how the topping are arranged in promotional videos so they are visible to the customer. Think about it, in a burger, you want all your toppings to be inline with the meat and not half-hanging out the side. It makes sense and I thought McDonald's response was great but it does go some way to explaining consumers lack of faith in promotional images.
Domino's, however, expect their pizzas should look like the images you see on the menus. There is no reason they shouldn't. Several years ago I remember Katie, my first manager, at Domino's telling me about a complaint she received from a customer. The customer had received their pizza and thought it looked too much like the one on the menu to have been freshly made. That customer, at least, believe promotional images to be unattainable representations of Domino's products. I was extremely fortunate to work for a franchise that held exceptionally high standards for its staff and their pizzas. Domino's wanted great pizzas and our franchise wanted it better. Making pizzas that looked like they could be put on the menu was entirely possible and so it was our job as Store Managers to achieve that. Below is a comparison between the promotional images used by Domino's (left) and pizza produced by various individuals at my former franchise (Center and Right). These were circulated internally to rouse our competitive nature (there is no creature as competitive as a Domino's Store Manager). The point is Domino's do not believe there is any reason their pizzas shouldn't look perfect and it is likely that mindset that framed the employee's conclusion when dealing with the complaint. With social media giving customers a public voice companies can no longer shy aware from discrepancies between promotion images and their actual products. People now expect better and companies need to deliver (apologies for the pizza pun).
Examples of Domino's Pizza UK Stuffed Crust. Left: Promotional Images. Center & Right: Pictures of actual customer's pizza, taken from my friends' Facebook profiles.
So what happens when, as in this case, a customer is delighted by a product that doesn't meet your company's standards? The customer's opinion is what counts, it is their opinion of your service and product that count. And for me, customer perception is fact. It is true the pizza shouldn't have left the store because it didn't meet standards but ultimately the customer was happy with that they received; that is really what matters. That is not to suggest, however, that is an acceptable standard going forward. Domino's should have taken the chance to highlight internally its own concerns about the product standards to the store. Just be happy your customer loved your product but seize the opportunity to make it even better next time.
In summary, this incident likely stemmed from an initial conclusion formed from seeing the picture and the employee failing to properly interpret the tone of the message that goes with it. It is an interesting case that perhaps suggests companies can be overly critical of themselves in their strives to exceed customers expectations. Just make sure when you're engaging with your customers you're paying attention and take the compliment when it's given...