|Pizza Hut Should Take a Bite of Reputation Management 101
By: Shawn Paul Wood
Ever been jonesin' for a pizza? The kind where you open the box and the steam gives you a facial. The kind where you pick up the slice, fold it, and the cheese dribbles down into the box, making a curdled pool of love. That kind of hankering for a slice?
I have, which is why learning about this story out of Albany, N.Y. makes me sad beyond words. And a little queasy. Well, a lot.
Meet Ken Wieczerza.
He, too, was looking for a little slice of love from his local Pizza Hut; he was probably going to wash it down with some room-temperature adult beverage and grab the closest remote. Then he discovered the definition of "Stuffed Crust Pizza" when a bloodied bandage was baked into said pepperoni.
So, you would think the PR machine would be in full swing with apologies, a refund, free dinner, and possibly a random blood test to ensure their cherished customer didn't just get infected with Herpes, SARS, or whatever else you can imagine. Mind you, Ken didn't call the local shop. He called the corporate headquarters. What happened next is baffling:
"It kind of felt like a raw piece of pepperoni that you couldn't chew through," Ken told NEWS10, "I pulled it out and showed my wife and said, 'you're not going to believe this.'" The couple was offered a refund for the pizza, but they also wanted Pizza Hut to pay for a blood test to be done to make sure Ken wasn't sick, but they have yet to do that.
Ken could be seriously jacked up, not to mention puking at the very sight of their kitschy logo, and the statement is a form letter where his name isn't even used to fill in the blank. Nice. Of course, once this made headlines, Pizza Hut sent NEWS10 [ABC affiliate and source of the story] their side of the story, saying they have a strict policy for wearing gloves when employees are wearing bandages.
"The safety of our customers is our top priority. We take these matters very seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation of the alleged incident. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our valued customer."
Yeah, and airlines have a strict policy against air-travel employees from drinking on the job. How's that working out?! Moving on with what not to do to keep a customer...
Since when is going on the defensive the proper protocol for assuaging any customer, namely one that may have just ingested a blood disease from one of your haphazard (and highly funky) employees? Instead of helping him through some understandable concern, they want to go to the lab and rely on all employees following the handbook to a tee.
They also said "the dough type did not match any dough options used in our restaurants." But the Wieczerzas wonder how the pizza they ordered could have been tested, because they never returned it. Pizza Hut also commented that they use a specific type of bandage that did not match the one in the dough.
Sure, some people are out to get a free lunch. Yes, many have a baggie of blond hairs ready to sprinkle on a salad. And I understand that others will eat most of the food and then ask for a manager because it was cold. However, the next time some customer brings up an incident that involves hematology, you may want to contact the customer directly. Followed by the legal department, just to stay on the safe side.
Keep it classy, Pizza Hut.
Shawn Paul Wood
is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here
or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood