Pizza is Not Just a Slice; It’s A Way of Life

Due to financial distress, many family-owned small businesses in the restaurant industry were closed down in 2020. Meanwhile, a client saw this as an opportunity, bought a number of the local establishments, particularly in the “pizzeria” category. The goal was to boost their revenue and eliminate all competition from the market. The client brought in our team to assess the prevailing state of the businesses and provide recommendations to fix the situation in 4 weeks. We were asked to identify critical areas that could increase customer satisfaction and customer conversion rate. We decided to identify regions that changed since the acquisitions and possibly impacted customer satisfaction negatively and look at reasons for decreasing customer conversion. I created a four-week lightweight plan for the team. In week one, we would review the prevailing state of the businesses and look at the reasons why the downfall had started. In week 2, collect data and generate a hypothesis, while in week 3, run some experiments and share initial findings with the leadership team. In week 4, finalize the recommendations and create an actionable future roadmap. We discussed the plan and made some adjustments based on their feedback as a team.


Pizza is Not Just a Slice; It’s A Way of Life

With these acquisitions, the client upgraded their mobile apps, consolidated menu options, and even retained some of the existing staff from the previous pizzerias to boost local employment and avoid hostile public relations impacting the acquisition. After one year of the investments, customer satisfaction decreased by 20%,  revenue fell by 2%, and customer conversion decreased by 25%. We were a team of six, and I was the leader, the engagement manager with two data scientists, two user researchers, and one designer. The leadership team believed that if the customers were happy, it would lead to a better customer conversation rate, and revenue would go up automatically. We were asked to identify critical areas that could increase customer satisfaction and customer conversion rate. The leadership team also believed that if their customers were happy, it would lead to a better customer conversation rate, and revenue would go up automatically.

Project Execution

On day one, our team started by scoping the problem statement. We decided to identify areas that changed since the acquisitions and possibly negatively impacted customer satisfaction. We also finalized team norms and decided to meet in person at the client’s office once a week. The data scientists started to collect customer satisfaction data. User researchers began to review existing surveys’ results and simultaneously prepare for customer interviews & surveys for data collection purposes later in the project. The designer started to check the revamped mobile app for usability and features. I volunteered to partner with the user researchers to review some of the customers’ existing feedback and design new surveys. The user researchers utilized a propriety user mapping tool to organize user feedback into different categories. By the end of week one, we started to see a trend emerge around unhappy customers with the revised “menu options”.

During our first in-person team meeting that week, we decided to order lunch via the client app to understand the customer experience better. While picking up my order, I decided to talk with the delivery associate about the recent changes and how he felt things were going on. While he was not forthcoming, he told me that all delivery associates were encouraged to submit written feedback based on their interactions with the customers or any other suggestions. The written feedback was delivered to the head of operations every week. Although collecting and reviewing unstructured feedback was not in the original scope, I decided to run it by the team to check if we wanted to look at it. The team pushed back as they felt there was no need to add to the current scope of activities.

We decided that l would reach out to the head of operations, and if he agreed to share the information, I would review a few of these handwritten suggestions to ensure we were not missing out on anything. The team decided on the approach, and my request was approved, and I was given over 600 pieces of paper with qualitative feedback. I went to the office the following day. As I read through the documents, a new pattern surfaced: many customers complained about their inability to talk over the phone with the person taking the order. One customer (Mrs Feil from NYC) commented, “this was not the slice I wanted, can I talk to David?” This led me to organize this feedback into different categories on our conference room wall.

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In week two, on a Monday, I shared my findings with the team and asked the user researchers to find out whether the user mapping results also captured this trend. I asked one of the data scientists to look at the demographic data in NYC and identify zip codes with an “older” population. Our designer confirmed the client had withdrawn the option of “calling an associate” for placing orders from their channels. Currently, customers can only order through the app or via voice over the phone. I confirmed with the head of operations that the leadership team decided to go “digital” and remove “calling an associate” as an option.

My hypothesis was beginning to come true by the middle of the week. Although the sample size for both data points was not too large, the results from the user mapping data showed this as a trend. Our data scientist confirmed that customer satisfaction in zip codes with the older population had decreased significantly. At that moment, I decided not to wait until the following week as the original plan was to share our findings with the client leadership team, but I went ahead to set up a meeting with them later in the week and called it “Take 1 step back to go two steps forward“.

In the meeting, we made three recommendations. Firstly, we recommended bringing back the menu options offered by some of the previous pizzerias. Secondly, update the customer satisfaction survey to get specific feedback on individual food items in the customer orders. For example, rather than asking a general feedback question such as, “how was your last order?” Making it more specific to the individual order – “how would you rate your last “pepperoni pizza slice” would be a better option. Lastly, bring back the option of “talk to an associate” to place the order. There was immediate consensus on the first two recommendations, but some leadership teams hesitated about the third one. After sensing the reluctance, I decided to share the qualitative feedback with them that was organized on the conference room wall.

To the surprise of our team, we found out that the client leadership team did not even know that they had a practice of collecting feedback from delivery associates. A couple of the leaders started to open up and share how they were big fans of some of the previous local pizzerias and were going there for generations to enjoy their favourite slice of pizza. One of the leaders extrapolated from Mrs Feil’s comments that she might have been looking for a specific “David” to order her slice. It is because he would know what she wanted as she must have been calling him for years, just like the leader’s grandmother did since it was a way of life for that generation. The leadership was very excited and asked me about the next steps.

I proposed that we run a pilot test in four zip codes in New York City and bring back some of the previous menu items that were highly rated and restart ordering by phone in these four zip codes. We would work with the operations team to identify the staff who previously worked at these pizzerias and ask them to reconsider returning to their old jobs. We would collaborate with the operations team to publish fliers to inform customers in these four zip codes that we were bringing back the old menus and then send volunteers to get customer feedback on this experiment every week. We recommended that making wholesale changes to the app to capture customized customer feedback could take time and push us back on time. We received instant approval and got leadership support on getting this started. I submitted a revised timeline and planned for additional four weeks to come back to the client’s leadership with our findings.

After four weeks of implementing the changes, we assessed the customer data and witnessed customer satisfaction increase by over 24% and revenue increase by 22% in the four zip codes. We did not have a way to measure customer conversation, but the number of orders increased by 186%. Another metric that grew within the four weeks was the employee health scores amongst the locations within those four zip codes. The client leadership team was ecstatic to see the results and asked to go national with this plan. After that, I created a roadmap of 16 impact markets to roll out the changes in three months across the US. The client revamped its operations and expanded its menu selections to include many of the previous items from the local pizzerias. They revised their customer satisfaction surveys to include feedback around individual food orders, added the “talk to an associate” order option, digitized the feedback of their delivery associates and started to track their employee health consistently.

Outcomes & Impact

Customer satisfaction increased by 17% nationally, revenues went up by 4.5%, customer conversation increased by 27%, and employee health scores increased by 33%. As a result of the program, we rebuilt relationships between customers and employees and gained back the customers’ trust. The client started to value the feedback from all company corners, i.e., customers, partners, delivery associates and employees. The client began to use qualitative and quantitative feedback to change how they conducted their business.

Lessons learned

Firstly, it is always good to have a plan but be ready to pivot if things change “being prepared is far more powerful than being planned”. Secondly, be open to new ideas and experiments like gathering insights from non-traditional sources of information. Lastly, never underestimate the power of a simple conversation, such as the one I had with the delivery associate or, as we found out in the case of Mrs Feil when she wanted to talk to David. He would have known what she wanted, a little extra sauce with garlic on the side, not on the slice- “it was not just a pizza slice but a way of life”!!!