Leaders: Stop Offering Breadsticks

The music was absolutely dreadful, yet I continued subjecting myself to it; it was a crisis situation, after all. Anything having to do with pizza rises to that level for me. On and on the music went, pummeling me with the occasional advertisement sandwiched between 90’s pop grooves. All that was missing was Casey Kasem’s love-child Ryan Seacrest chiming in to tell me about the song I would hear next.

I heard a loud “click” followed by what sounded like a cell phone recording of the inside of a school bus carrying a bunch of noisy seventh-graders back from a basketball game. I waited expectantly, but when I didn’t hear any discernible comment, I initiated the conversation.

Me: Hello?

Manager: Yeah, hi. This is [name], the manager.

Me: OK, hi, [name]. Did they tell you why I was holding?

Manager: Yeah I guess we skipped your order.

Me: Pardon? [the reason for my confusion here will be clear momentarily]

Manager: We somehow skipped your order.

Me: You skipped my order?

Non-verbose Manager: Yeah.

I called an hour ago to check on our order because it had been over an hour since I ordered it; and when I originally ordered it, you said it’d be here in 30-40 minutes. So I spoke with one of your employees to check on the ETA, and she said–and I quote–“It’s already out the door and on its way. It should be there really soon.


Me: Hello?

Manager: Yeah, I’m here.

Me: Um…so this is the fourth straight order that you guys have messed up for us. I’m actually only ordering tonight because your district manager sent us a gift certificate to make amends for the fact that you guys messed up the previous orders. And now this has happened.

Manager: Yeah, we’re just a little busy, so….we could have it out to you in probably 45 minutes to an hour.

Me: You can see why that’s not OK, right? [My esteemed readers, please don’t judge me. I was exasperated at this point :)] Especially since I’m ordering with this gift certificate because you guys have pulled similar stuff the last three times we’ve ordered?

Manager: Well, it’s kind of not our fault. Know what I mean?

Me: No. I do not. I’m not sure who else could be responsible for our order getting messed up four straight times.

Manager: Look, I can get you some free breadsticks with your order when it comes in an hour.

Me: I’m not trying to be rude here, but I feel like you’re missing the point. I don’t want free breadsticks. I don’t want another gift certificate. All I really wanted was our food.

Manager: Well, I can get it to you in an hour.

Me: Can you help me understand why when I called over an hour ago, your employee told me that our stuff was out the door and would be here really soon? And then when I spoke with you, you said the order had never left the building at all because it had been skipped? It feels like someone’s not been honest with me.

Manager: Well maybe they assumed it was on its way.

Me: You know what–please just cancel my order. I’ll have to go pick up pizza from somewhere else.

Manager: Why would you cancel the order?

Me: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, and I’m an idiot for continuing to order from here over and over again.

Manager: I can give you free breadsticks.

Me: Are you kidding?

And so went my conversation with that location of a national pizza chain. It was the fourth straight order of mine they’d messed up. No kidding. Fourth time. It was bizarre, really. I mean, we’ve all had orders messed up before; no big deal. Maybe even twice in a row–hey, weird stuff happens. But then it happened on a third straight order for us; they forgot part of the order. And then this.

The side thought in my head was how badly this manager was botching this whole thing, especially in light of the fact that his company’s thing over the past couple years was not to make excuses, but to own up to the ugly truth that their pizza just hadn’t been all that good lately. And then there was the other commercial where the kid sent in a picture of his pizza stuck to the top of the pizza box. The CEO used the picture on their national ads, telling us that that sort of thing wasn’t OK, and they were going to fix it. To heck with acting like they had it all put together and that their pizza was on the same level as manna from heaven (Old Testament reference, anyone?). Nope, none of that. No dancing. No hiding. No excuses.

I loved them for that. I loved that they were embracing vulnerability on a large scale, and with their CEO leading the charge. It was becoming a competitive advantage for them, as their customers and revenue reacted positively to the shift in strategy. They were redefining their brand and their culture at the same time, which is how it should be so you don’t have huge disconnects like the one I’ve been experiencing with this pizza joint.

As leaders, even the well-intentioned among us, we still do this stuff more than we should, right? We’re tempted to dodge responsibility for something. We want to explain this or that away. We want to give people breadsticks instead of being vulnerable and admitting a mistake.

Want to build trust with your team? Be vulnerable. Want to build trust with consumers? Be vulnerable. And forget the breadsticks.


14 thoughts on “Leaders: Stop Offering Breadsticks

  • I LOVE this. I think we’ve all experienced this type of situation where customer (dis)service is so bad that all of the guilty person’s energy was spent on why it WAS NOT their fault.

    A smart business person would take another route. Instead of taking the opportunity to show why it’s “not my fault,” that person would take time to show “how right they can make it,” taking an opportunity to turn a bad situation into a positive situation–possibly even more positive if they got it right in the first place.

    How many of us are making this same mistake?

    • Exactly, Chris. I know I do the same thing. I’m often too quick to explain why I messed up instead of just taking it on the chin like a big kid and working to make it right.

      • When I’m paying attention, I’m really good about focusing on the right thing.

        However, when I’m NOT paying close attention to my thoughts…(Hopefully, these are not happening too often. 🙂

        Thanks for the feedback, Matt. You did a good job with this article…and made a good point, too.

  • Too many managers think its easier to hand over breadsticks or gift cards to unhappy customers. Its easier than dealing with the employee who lied or made the mistake.

    But the whole company branding of ‘we will make it right’ in commericals is still in total disconnect with the front line staff–the people in the trenches.

    • Spot-on. For some companies, it’s more about pacifying the unhappy consumer than it is about owning up to weak areas (we’ve all got them, right?) and getting at the root cause.

      To your second point, I’ve often wondered the same thing when I see certain commercials on TV. Take the Enterprise commercials that imply that Enterprise employees don’t have to get manager approval to make something right. I don’t use them enough to know, but I imagine that if it’s actually like that, the employees likely love being that empowered to make things happen for customers.

  • GREAT piece, Matt! After a while, offering “free stuff” after making the same mistake over and over again just makes you look incompetent. OWN the mistake, MAKE AMENDS, and IMPROVE for next time.

  • Great post!! You hit the nail on the head… free stuff doesn’t make up for incompetence! It sounds like what I went through with AT&T. They made it SO DIFFICULT just to get Uverse installed (I’m talking HOURS on the phone over a series of months!) that eventually I just said “Forget it. I can’t do this anymore. Based on the fact that we can’t even seem to get the service INSTALLED without traveling through the seven circles of hell, I have no faith that my bill will ever be right or the service will actually be what I ordered. I don’t care how many months of free service you offer me, just cancel it.”

    Sometimes you just have to say ENOUGH and take your money elsewhere.

    • Monica…I loved the way you wrote that. Your points are accurate, but I actually ENJOYED reading the WAY you made you point. (traveling through 7 circles of…)

      I will add to your last point. Sometimes, I don’t care if it means LOSING money. Dealing with some companies proves to be SO stressful that I’d rather just cut my losses, pay more, and feel more peaceful and satisfied elsewhere.

      BTW…You KNOW that a company has done a poor job when they offer to do everything for FREE, and you still feel too ripped off to accept.

      • Thanks Chris. You just reminded me of something else I said to the final woman I spoke with on the phone at AT&T…

        In my (mercifully) final conversation I actually said, “I would actually rather pay more for Comcast than switch to your company because the monthly hassle of sitting on the phone trying to fix my bill will not be worth it.”

        Can you imagine saying you’d rather pay more for COMCAST? LOL… that’s how bad it got. I did break up with Comcast last year (for tv service) but retained the cable internet which I do like a lot. Have a great weekend! :o)

    • Yuck. That sounds dreadful. So maybe we should just get the pizza joint on the phone with whoever you spoke with at AT&T and let them go in circles (of hell)… 🙂

  • Hello Matt,

    You used the perfect example for this article.

    A lot of companies still have this sense of entitlement about them. It used to work, but with the rise of “the consumer is always right” thinking, the old-fashioned ones are doomed to fail.

    I would have definitely said: “Welcome to the 21st century, buddy!” lol

    Rule number 1 is to listen to the complaint and try to make amends for mistakes. Even if you cannot solve the issue, at least give it your best shot and make the customer feel appreciated and respected.

    I loved this: “Want to build trust with your team? Be vulnerable. Want to build trust with consumers? Be vulnerable. And forget the breadsticks.”

    Thank you, Matt!

    • Thanks for the kind words. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. And would you believe they sent another gift card?

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