At the end of 2016, we proclaimed 2017 “The Year of the Customer.” You see, in the years before 2017, we wrote really good code. We made some great apps and solved a lot of problems really creatively. We did some things really well. But we missed big-time in one area: customer service.

It was never intentional or spiteful, but over and over, we heard from customers who weren’t happy with how we communicated. See, we were so focused on getting work done that we forgot to take the time to actually talk to the customer. We made assumptions about their preferences. We left them out of the loop. We disappointed.

Last December, we set out to start solving that problem. As a company, we read a great book called “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit” by Leonardo Inghiller and Micah Solomon. We learned a lot and slowly changed our focus. We created a new position and made that person responsible for advocating for the client.

It’s likely due to this change in focus that we’ve started noticing really good (and not so good) customer service. That’s why today I wanted to celebrate an instance of great customer service. And show how we can learn from a not-so-great one.

One thing you often need when you have a bunch of software engineers in a room is pizza. For the past few weeks, we’ve been up against several tough deadlines. A deal was struck – the day we met all the deadlines, we’d celebrate with pizza in the office for everyone.

Last Friday, that day came. With 12 students in the office, announcing that you are ordering pizza for lunch is like telling a class full of fifth graders that they’ll get to spend the rest of the day playing video games and fidgeting with fidget spinners. Picture great celebration.

Our local franchise of a nation-wide pizza chain was having a half-off sale. Perfect! So we hopped on as early as they were open and put in our order for 10 larges. At 11:13 a.m., we received an email confirmation that our pizza would be delivered by 12:22 p.m. at the latest. Longer than we were hoping for, but we were willing to wait for half off and delicious garlic butter crust dip.

And then the story took a turn for the worse. We happened to call the pizza shop about a half hour later, just to check on everything. Notice that “we” called them. They didn’t call us. At this time we were told that the order hadn’t been put in yet, and that it would be at least 2 p.m. before our pizza was delivered (but likely even later).

“What do you mean, at least 2 p.m.?” I asked. “I’ve got 35 hungry employees here. And I have an email confirmation saying that the latest my pizza will be here is 12:30. “Oh, well,” the obviously preoccupied employee stammered. “Those emails are just automatically generated. They don’t take into account how busy we are.”

The panic set in. I asked to talk to a manager, fully expecting the manager to at least try to make things right. But – shocking! – the manager was RUDER than the employee! He obviously had no time for my petty complaints and there was “nothing he could do” in a dismissive manner. I was amazed (and not in a good way…). I was tempted to drop off a copy of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit,” which taught us that “the single best thing you can do for your business is to build true customer loyalty, one customer at a time.”

I canceled the order and since it was already almost noon, had to announce to the very sad developers that pizza would be coming Monday, not that day.

Man. When I think of all the pizza we would have ordered from that place. Maybe we wouldn’t have been responsible for an “exceptional” profit, but us, combined with all the other people they must have disappointed on Friday, is still significant.

Contrast that to our experience with Hot Box Pizza in Castleton. On Friday afternoon, I ordered 10 larges (and breadstix, of course!) online. Within a few minutes, someone called me to confirm the order and make sure everything was set for our event. “I know it’s a large order for lunchtime, but is there any chance we can get that by noon?” I asked.

“Of course,” the Hot Box pizza catering coordinator said. “I can have it there at 11, if you want it.”

On Monday morning, I got another emailing confirming everything. And at 11:50 a.m., I got a call from Jordan, our very friendly delivery guy, who told me that he was running just a few minutes behind schedule.

He arrived at the office at 12:08. He cheerfully asked where I wanted the pizza.

The whole experience was an amazing contrast. I’m sure the original pizza spot was crazy busy on Friday. I’m sure they legitimately couldn’t get to our pizza until 2. It would have been disappointing to not be able to get the pizza on the half-off sale, but understandable. What truly ruined the experience was the customer communication. This whole experience highlighted a few customer service lessons that apply to pizza delivery, custom software, and, well, probably a lot of other industries.

3 lessons learned from exceptional (and exceptionally bad) pizza delivery:

1) Communicate problems early and often.

The first pizza shop never called to tell us that the pizza would be late. We would probably still be waiting for it, if we hadn’t called to check on things. Contrast that with the Hot Box people, who communicated with us three separate times to communicate changes and make sure things were right.

This is something we are learning as well. Better to face the music and ‘fess up early about something that will disappoint the client than to wait until things snowball.

2) When you inevitably do mess up, make it up to the customer.

There was a golden opportunity. I’m a forgiving person – apologize and offer some free breadsticks and all will be forgotten. I’ll give you another chance next time I need a $100-plus order of pizza (which will likely be quite soon). But act like I’m wasting your time? Let’s just say that Hot Box has gained our business for the foreseeable future. Maybe we should start ordering those delicious Hot Box Pizza breadstix to hand out to clients when we err…

3) Cheerfulness and humility go a long way.

The Hot Box catering person was upbeat, cheerful, and eager to help. Yes, eager. Contrast that to waiting on hold twice, once when I first called, and then again as I waited and waited to talk to a manger. Then the harshness of the manager – he could learn a bit from the biblical book of Proverbs: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Oh yes, so very, very true! Humility is one of RoboSource’s cultural values. We work with a lot of youth, so we can’t afford to be arrogant — arrogance almost always leads to defensiveness, which is no way to foster a learning environment. The same is true with our clients. When we mess up, we need to show humility and genuine regret, rather than defensiveness (“It’s not MY fault! Way too many people ordered pizza today!!!)


Guys, we are continuing to improve our customers’ experience at RoboSource (read more about our customer journey here). We would love to hear your ideas or comments.