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How Pizza Hut Got Social Media Criticism Right

How Pizza Hut Got Social Media Criticism Right

There’s something about Pizza Hut that takes me back to my childhood. Maybe it’s that smell when you walk in the door. I can almost hear Phil Collins “Take a Look at Me Now” playing on the jukebox when I catch a whiff of that delicious pizza.

Unfortunately, my children’s first memory of this establishment will be of Mommy almost losing her sh**. But don’t worry kids, this story has a happy ending  . . . for both us and Pizza Hut.

So it was going to be a takeout night because my husband was working late and, being the domestic goddess that I am (insert sarcasm) I had nothing planned for dinner and nothing on hand to make. Pizza Hut popped into my head because I’m slightly addicted to their Sweet Chili wings, and, while not the healthiest choice, their pizza is one thing I can get my kids to eat without threat of an early bedtime.

I suddenly had an epiphany that it was buffet night. So with my parents in tow (guilted into going out with my oldest’s plea “What’s more important, staying home or family.”) we headed out to the Pizza Hut location that has been my go-to since, well, forever.

I should have known when we were greeted by an obviously harried server that this was not going to end well. But we were seated next to some of our neighbors who happened to be out with their clan and a grandma in tow as well, so I took it as a good sign. But it went downhill from there.

Beating my parents to the restaurant by about five minutes, I got us seated and ordered our drinks. While the kids’ came out rather quickly in paper cups, the adults’ took 15, maybe 20 minutes because they ran out of clean cups. REALLY?!?! When they finally did come out, they were far from ice cold, and never in that 15-20 minutes did our server offer to take our food order, which was just the buffet for all of us. With the food less than a stone’s throw from our table, we were left both thirsty and hungry.

When the drinks FINALLY arrived, we had a nice little run around with our server over whether my mom could use a $5 off $20 coupon. I’ll save you the agony and get right to the point . . .she couldn’t, all because her and my Dad’s order would come just a bit shy of the required $20. You would have thought that after the drink debacle they would have given a little on the rules or at least offered our drinks for free, but no such luck.

When we expressed our irritation, rather than trying to make it right, our server proceeds to give us excuses about how she is one of only two servers and they didn’t expect it to be so busy.

But wait, there’s more.

We get up to the buffet, and it’s picked over, to say the least. Fortunately, that was remedied pretty quickly. But then they ran out of clean plates, and we had to wait 10 minutes for clean ones to arrive. Other customers were actually pulling paper towels off the tables to use as make-shift plates. Why did it take so long? Well, our server thought clearing tables for the customers who were waiting was more important. Except NO ONE was waiting for a table and there were plenty available should someone walk in.

There was more to the whole thing, but the point here isn’t what they did wrong. It was what they did to make it RIGHT.

I did what any web marketing pro would do. I took to social media. I started on Facebook, because, well, that’s where I live. Come to find out that the neighbors we ran into also had a terrible experience (“Sorry, we would have warned you, but you were already there.”). Then I went to the mack daddy of public social media complaint forums, Twitter.

This was my first experience with ranting on social media. I had doled out compliments to some of my favorite indie musicians (I heart you Diane Birch). But never ranted. I’m not really a ranter. In fact, usually at a restaurant, I’m the LAST one to complain. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but not when they legitimately don’t care.

So to Twitter I went with the following message:

Worst experience ever @pizzahut. Ran out of mugs and dishes, got run around on coupons/discounts and server didn’t try to make right.

I put my phone on charge and went to give my kids showers. Ok, my husband actually arrived home just in time to give the showers and I supervised (i.e., hung out upstairs and pretended to sort of be involved). By the time the showers were over, I already received this message back from Pizza Hut:

@jasgraff We never want you to have a bad experience. Share the store details at pizzahut.com/phcares so we can make it right.

So I filled out the short form. Within a few days, I received a call from the General Manager, who not only wanted to make it right by offering me free buffet coupons but actually wanted to fix the problem. She wanted to hear everything that went wrong that night and even took the blame, stating that she was the one who understaffed the restaurant that night because it had been slow on previous Wednesdays. Classy!

What can we all learn from this? Well, Pizza Hut handled this situation about as well as a company can. Here’s what they did right:

  1. IMMEDIATELY responded POSITIVELY to my complaint: Seriously, within 15 minutes of my Twitter post, they had responded back. That’s less time than it took to get a drink at the physical location. And they promised to make it right, which is also more than I got at the restaurant. This shows the importance of both social listening and responding to social media mentions of your company. Does your company have tools and a process in place to catch mentions and respond in a timely manner?
  2. Took the conversation offline. While it’s good to immediately respond, you don’t want to hash out the incident on social media. If you don’t have a formal complaint process like Pizza Hut, get the customer’s email or phone number and address the issue in private.
  3. Actually made it right. It doesn’t matter how good your response on social media is. If you don’t actually follow up offline and fix the problem, you are just wasting your time.

As a side note, I apparently am having a (good?) influence on others on social media. Another set of neighbors had a bad experience the very same night at Buffalo Wild Wings. (Guess there was no one cooking in our hood that night!) Following my lead, my neighbor took to Twitter to complain. She, too, had a positive resolution. Thank goodness because I REALLY didn’t want to have to boycott my beloved “B-Dubs.”

So there you have it kids, the power of social media in action. The morale of the story: Negative online feedback doesn’t have to be negative. You can turn it into a positive if you stay on top of your online reputation and respond in a quick and positive manner.,

Julie Graff

As PPM’s Social Content Liaison, Julie Graff is in charge of content and social media strategy for PPM and our clients. A self-proclaimed social media junkie, Julie also enjoys time with family, music, shopping, and mochas. She lives in Canton, Ohio, with her two children and husband.

One Response to How Pizza Hut Got Social Media Criticism Right

  1. Julie Graff
    Julie Graff says:

    Follow-up: Our return visit to the Pizza Hut in question to use our free buffet credits was AWESOME. We got the same waitress and she went out of her way to ensure we were taken care of every step of the way. Great example of how to turn a negative into a positive. Don’t just say the right things to talk the customer down. Correct the issues to ensure everyone has good service going forward.