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  • Writer's pictureDave Caperton

The Joy of Pizza

The Joy of Pizza
The Joyful Customer Experience: The Proof is Not in the Pepperoni

A friend of mine recently told me about an experience he had in a pizza place just north of Atlanta where he lives. Now, Atlanta isn't exactly known for its pizza and although there are undoubtedly lots of pizza places in an area that serves several million, most of them are either national chains or serving a product that is only pizza by the broadest possible definition, or both (I'm looking at you, Dominos). The point is, if he finds a place that makes a decent pizza, he believes it's worth some effort, expense and time to go outside his neighborhood to get it.

He found such a place that, although not the cheapest nor most convenient to where he lives, makes a reasonably good pie. So he orders from them and each time he orders "double pepperoni" (because he's, you know, a health-nut). Last week he ordered his usual, a large with double-pepperoni for pickup. When he arrived, he peeked inside the box and discovered a pizza that seemed decidedly short on the meat.

"I think there's been a mistake," he said. "I ordered double pepperoni." The young woman at the counter glanced in and said, "That is double pepperoni." "No," he countered, "I order from here regularly and I began ordering double pep because the regular pepperoni looked like this."

The young woman didn't try to hide her annoyance and said, "No matter what it looks like, the pepperoni is counted out and maybe some of them are stuck together in a stack, but I can assure you that we didn't make a mistake. If you ordered double, that's what you got."

"Well," he said, "I guess you can 'assure' me but you sure haven't inspired me."

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously and she said, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you might or might not be right, but you've sold your last pizza to me."

With that he left and he's again in search of another pizza place (if you're from the north part of greater Atlanta, feel free to pass along some recommendations).

The biggest mistake that I believe people make in dealing with customers or coworkers comes down to a single misconception. That misconception is focusing on the transactioninstead of strengthening the relationship. At the core of every work-related exchange is a transaction. That transaction is simply about giving me what I want in exchange for you getting you what you want. Sometimes expectations are unreasonable or misunderstood and some clarification is needed. But in the rush to be right, it's easy to forget that we also need to forge a positive relationship.

In my friend's pizza shop example, he went out of his way to get a pizza that he liked that was neither the cheapest nor the most convenient choice, but for putting forth that extra effort and expense he had an expectation that it would be made a certain way. When he saw the product and questioned what he'd gotten, the person there had choices. She chose to try to convince him that he was wrong, that they had in fact fulfilled the terms of the transaction.

But even if she had physically counted out the number of pepperonis on his pizza and showed him it was precisely twice the number of a standard pepperoni pizza, she would have likely lost his business and do you know why? Because pizza is only one part of the transaction. Sure, it might be the most important part and if it's freaking fantastic, it might be enough to make enduring a hostile server or counter person worth it (remember the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld?). But it's unlikely any quality of pizza with any number of pepperoni would be enough to make my friend go back there.

Let me ask you this; how many pepperoni discs are on a regular large pepperoni pizza? I have no idea. But I do know when I see a certain wide margin of cheese around each one, I feel disappointed. And when I open the box and it seems more like a tile floor of pepperoni instead of an cured meat archipelago, I feel delighted. That's the experience, the emotional gist that sticks with us long after we can no longer even remember what was on that pizza.

And whether you make pizzas or sell computers or time-shares or cut hair, your real goal is to build--through product quality, clear and positive communications, expressed appreciation, perceived fairness and a willingness to go the extra mile for those inevitable moments when your efforts come up short--a strong relationship. Those who do raise the chances that they'll enjoy loyalty and long-term success. Those who don't can count on success only until a better choice comes along. And these days, that takes about as long as it does to order a pizza.

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