A blog about reputation, marketing and employee morale.

The Domino’s effect

Posted by Janet Smith on April 16, 2008

A few years ago, I called Domino’s Pizza and ordered two medium one-topping pizzas. I was told the total was $16.00 and some change. When I arrived to pick up the pizzas, I saw a huge sign proclaiming that THREE MEDIUM ONE-TOPPING PIZZAS WERE JUST $5 EACH! So I asked the guy at the counter why my two pizzas cost $8 each. He said the special they were running was for three pizzas and no, I could not pay $5 each for two pizzas.

He said the only way to get the pizzas for five bucks apiece was to order one more and wait for it, which I didn’t have the time to do. If I just wanted two…I’d have to pay $8 per pizza.

Why, I asked, wasn’t the three-for-$15 deal mentioned when I called in my order? He said they were instructed not to “upsell.”

I suggested that surely a huge company like Domino would rather sell me two pizzas for $10 than lose a customer forever. He shrugged and said he didn’t have the authority to lower the price of two pizzas. And believe me, I’m sure he was telling the truth. He would easily have won Disengaged Employee of The Year if such an award existed.

This guy didn’t care if Domino’s lost one customer that day, or a thousand of ‘em. He just wanted to pick up his paycheck every week.

Employees who aren’t empowered to satisfy customers (especially if they work for companies with ridiculous “specials” like this one!) feel helpless, and disengagement becomes a survival technique.

Somewhere up the line, a manager at Domino’s decided that this low-paid, hourly worker was not important to the success of the company. Someone made the decision that he didn’t need to understand the goals of the company and that he didn’t need to understand how he contributed to the achievement of those goals. And it’s clear that no one thought he should be empowered to give the customer a good experience. Who can blame the kid for not caring?

Employee morale and reputation go hand in hand. Domino’s got eight bucks from me that day. But my opinion of the company tanked. Every employee matters.

15 ways to motivate hourly employees
Empower your employees for a better reputation

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  1. Josh

    As a former Domino’s manager, the employee is technically right. Though as a manager I can override prices and apply coupons to lower prices, a regular customer service representative is instructed to only apply coupons a customer actually has. They have script they read from listing specials that are current for that month so if the specials are not listed, they don’t push those. In this situation, I would always suggest talking with a manager.

    Good customers (those who order consistently), managers are willing to do more for them to keep them coming back. I had many customers that I gave better pricing to because they were weekly or biweekly orderers. The more they order, the more we make and the better deal we give them the more they tend to tip our drivers.

  2. Drew Schiller

    @Josh Thank you, Josh, for validating the point of this post. The employee, according to his training, was right, and Domino’s Pizza missed the opportunity to empower him with the ability to grant a logical request. This is not the fault of the employee, it is the fault of the Domino’s organization.

    Furthermore, it is horrible to say that you only give “good customers” better pricing … I would hope managers of major restaurant chains are taught that every customer should be treated equally. Just look what happened here: Janet was given a raw deal, and not only has she not ordered Domino’s Pizza since then, she has told her story to the world! Surely $6 would have been worth keeping a customer and avoiding this article.

  3. Janet Smith

    Thanks for your comment, Josh. And Drew, You are spot on. The last thing management should do is even hint to employees that the only customers that are “good” are the ones who have already started drinking your kool-aid. Most people have heard the lore about Nordstrom’s policy of making the customer happy at any cost. The story goes that when the first Nordstrom’s opened, it was in a location that used to be a tire store. One day, a guy brought in a tire that he was unhappy with, and he wanted a refund. Nordstrom’s gave him his money back! The man had never stepped foot in Nordstrom’s before so he had no track record as a “good” customer. Employees working in that kind of an environment feel positive and empowered, and the reputation of the organization soars. “Good” experiences with an organization are what create “good” customers.

  4. SF

    Domino’s pizza sucks either way, lets not forget that

  5. Julie

    Janet- I work for Nordstrom, and the story is true. The reason people keep coming back is because they know they’ll always get value for their money, and if they feel they haven’t, they know it will be made right. This customer-oriented philosophy turned a shoe store into an empire.

  6. Me

    When you work a crappy job with crappy pay, why do you think they should kiss your rear? Give it a rest.

  7. Jake

    You sound like the kind of customer that is the reason why the kid behind the counter didn’t care if you were happy or not. It’s the responsibility of the customer to try and get the best deal,but it’s also the obligation of the employee to make as much money for their company as they can. Plus,you lost out on 5 dollars….if 5 dollars means that much to you,you probably shouldn’t be ordering out for pizza,you should be working on not being such a tight wad

  8. Drew Schiller

    @Jake The point of this post is obviously lost on you.

  9. Mike

    Should have ordered the three-pizza special and let him charge you $15. Save $1 and tell him to keep the 3rd pizza as a tip.

  10. Peter

    The point of the post is lost on me as well. How do you motivate this employee to have the desire to be empowered? In my experience, 99% of people in positions at the bottom of the food chain are not there for anything more than a paycheck. It is the only thing that motivates them so the amount of work and commitment to the goals of the corporate body are directly proportional to the number on the paycheck. Possibilities for advancement through the ranks does not entice them. So the only way to give them even the desire to be empowered in the way you suggest would be to pay them at a management level, which would be absurd. No, the only course of action for Dominos in this case is to make sure that any questions, comments, or complaints about pricing be immediately brought to the attention of a manager who is empowered to take action and should have that Nordstroms type of mentality already beaten into his head. As a former Domino’s employee I can tell you that this is exactly the case, managers do take this attitude and often take action to ensure customer satisfaction (if they are doing their job correctly, that is).

    The point of your post, as it seems to me, is to complain that the interface is not also the administrator and I can’t help but be mystified by this. In this case the guy probably should have alerted his manager to your complaint but I wouldn’t even expect that much from him. I would say you the customer are responsible if not obliged to insist on speaking directly to the manager. If, after that point, you still do not see results then you are justified in your complaint and the business needs to retrain its people. But as I see it, your complaints are silly.

  11. Janet Smith

    Holy pepperoni. These comments sure are thought-provoking. Jake, you don’t know me, but I’m definitely not a tight-wad. I’d like to address this subject in more depth, and will do so tomorrow. Please check back for my post on motivating hourly employees and inspiring them to be true ambassadors for their employers. It can be done. It can be done. It can be done. Peter, Jake, and everyone else…please check this blog tomorrow (May 2)!

  12. Jen

    If you are so willing to stop buying from a Dominoes for FOREVER over a $1 pizza, educate yourself on the offers and coupons. Goodness knows your reaction when someone actually shortchanges you or cuts you off on the road.You didn’t even want a third pizza to begin with when you made the phone call!

    The employee was doing his job. If he/she had upsold to you, she/he would have been disobeying his/her manager. You may be the customer, but you are not paying the employee’s salary. In the end, obeying a manager is more important than disobeying for a pissy customer.

    Boo hoo, Janet.

  13. Drew Schiller

    I don’t think there is any need to be rude, Jen. This is not an article about being pissy or cheap, it’s an article about doing the right thing and companies treating their employees well. Read these blog posts, and you might understand more about how companies should train employees:
    Empower your employees for a better reputation
    How do you make your employees feel appreciated? Just ask them

  14. Erica

    You can’t please everyone. I’m currently in my 6th year working a crappy minimum wage job, and I have concluded that everyone expects something different from me. If I explain the specials people will either thank me and take up the offer, ignore me, get mad because I’m wasting their time, or yell at me for trying to upsell them. If I’m nice to a customer sometimes they thank me, but for the most part I’m ignored or yelled at. I think it is important for customers to understand that the employees on the other side of the counter are a real people who work a job they most likely don’t want to work. We are not mind readers, if you want to know what sales and specials there are ask, otherwise I assume you don’t want to hear them.

  15. Janet Smith

    Jen!! You have missed my point entirely! I completely realize that the Domino’s employee was doing his job. I am not railing on him…I am railing on the Chief Anchovies at Domino’s who don’t understand the importance of empowering employees. That’s why I said this in the blog post, in case you missed it: “Employees who aren’t empowered to satisfy customers feel helpless, and disengagement becomes a survival technique.”

    I also wrote this (in case you missed it): “Somewhere up the line, a manager at Domino’s decided that this low-paid, hourly worker was not important to the success of the company. Someone made the decision that he didn’t need to understand the goals of the company and that he didn’t need to understand how he contributed to the achievement of those goals. And it’s clear that no one thought he should be empowered to give the customer a good experience. Who can blame the kid for not caring?”

    I’m serious. WHO CAN BLAME THE KID FOR NOT CARING? None of this was his fault, and I wasn’t nasty to him. I merely inquired. And remember, Jen. This blog is all about the connection between the reputation of an organization and the morale of its employees. It’s not about finding the best pizza deals (I do use coupons, by the way!). Perhaps I went a teeeeny bit overboard in my blog to make a point. Because if you knew me, you’d know that I have a really long fuse and rarely get upset. (So no problem if someone short-changes me or cuts me off.) You have taken my emphatic comments about how Domino’s created a culture that makes its employees apathetic, and have assumed this is how I felt and acted toward the employee. No, no, no. I actually felt sorry for the Domino’s guy. Remember, this is how I ended that post: “Every employee matters.”

    Finally, if you didn’t visit my home page, you should. There, you’ll see that the axiom of this company is THE CUSTOMER IS NOT NUMBER ONE. That’s because we believe that THE EMPLOYEE IS NUMBER ONE. And that includes the guy behind the counter at Domino’s.

  16. Duh

    Um helloo? You could’ve ordered a third pizza, saved a buck, and told them to give the pizza to whoever the next lucky person who came along when it was ready. :)

  17. Peter

    I understand what you are trying to say, Janet, but I think the argument is faulty. At the very least its a little to idealistic. The truth is that these employees don’t matter. They know they don’t matter, and if customers could understand this too there would be far less tension and angst in the customer-employee relationship. The only way to make these employees matter, thereby empowering them as you suggest, is to invest in them. This means increasing job requirements and being more selective in the hiring process. That would mean increasing wages respectively. Given the number of the employees required to run a franchise effectively under the current model this would be prohibitively expensive. So the only way to actually accomplish what you propose,would be to reinvent the business model. So my point is that unless you also have a revolutionary new business model for the delivery pizza companies, your corporate mantras are irritatingly and impossibly idealistic and your point is moot.

  18. Gloria

    Domino’s, of course, is not the only company that uses this technique to sell their product. I have bought candy in a drug store that will sell “two bags for $5.00,” but I had to pay $3.00 when I bought only one bag. Perhaps marketing research has been done on this by the company and they have found that their profit increases by this method. If they allow one customer who gripes about it to get the sale price with less purchases, perhaps other customers who did not complain will REALLY complain when they find out they were cheated. And not every employee wants to be empowered or have choices. Many just want a clear-cut script to be followed. Speaking to the manager is the best plan — but the manager is not always present. And let’s face it, most people are in a hurry!

    However, you are right theoretically. Your plan to make the world a better place is to be commended. Companies would be well advised to consult you.


  19. Drew Schiller

    Peter, Janet and I may be somewhat idealistic, but we have research on our side. I worked ten years in low-paying food service jobs, and let me tell you, monetary compensation is not the only way to make employees feel important. Truthfully (not naively), the best work environments are those that are happy (smiles are contagious), challenging (new task or goals each day), appreciative (management recognizes top performers), and those workplaces that reward motivated employees with more responsibility. You don’t have to give employees a raise and the keys to the store to make them feel special, just tell them you appreciate their hard work and you would like for them to be in charge of organizing the display racks. If you are in a management role, try it. I bet it works!