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PFB Investigates - The Case Of Papa John's Poor Customer Service

Posted Tue February 17, 2009 12:00 pm, by

There are a lot of companies which trumpet their commitment to customer service. One such company is Papa John's Pizza. According to the front page of their 2007 annual report (the most recent one available on their web site) a "superior quality pizza served with world class customer service by outstanding franchisees and team members is the key ingredient to building a successful brand".

Here is my own recent encounter with their "world class customer experience".

On Super Bowl weekend, I saw a television ad for their new calzones at 2 for $8.99. I went to their website to order and the only reference they had was 2 calzones at $9.99. Ok, I thought, it's a regional promotion. So I called my regular store to order the special.

"No, it's 2 for $9.99," the gal said. "But I just saw a tv ad which said it was 2 for $8.99", I replied. Pause. "But it's 2 for $9.99", the gal said. Clearly she was not going to give me the advertised price. "OK...I don't want it then" I said. Awkward pause. "Well", she said and then she hung up. Click.

No "I'm sorry". No empathy. No attempt to sell me another product. Just click. So I went straight from zero problems to 2 problems. I did something else for dinner and pondered the situation.

The next day, I contacted Papa Johns via their online contact form which is the only way unhappy customers like myself can offer feedback to the corporate parent. Later that day, I got an automatic response from Papa Johns letting me know they received my feedback and someone would contact me shortly.

I sat back and waited.

Now, 16 days later, I'm done waiting. I believe two weeks is more than enough time. So, now, I have a third problem which is their complete lack of response to my feedback even though they promised to get in touch with me. So I decided to contact the company directly with some questions.

In order to do so, I had to crawl all over their corporate site to find a phone contact and, even then, it was attached to a press release about President and founder John Schnatter's serving pizza to the troops in Iraq. I ended up calling Darryl Carr, their Corporate Communications Director. I got his voice mail. I left a message.

Four hours later, I decided to quit waiting for a call that might not ever come and I called their headquarters directly. To get that information, I had to use Hoovers, the business intelligence site.

I told the receptionist I wanted to talk to someone about my experience with a franchisee. I was put through to customer service. After approximately three minutes, I was put through to voice mail. I didn't want voice mail. I called back and told the receptionist I wanted to talk to a live human being. She put me through to Darryl Carr's voicemail. I called back and told the receptionist I really, really wanted to talk to a live human being, any human being. She put me through to customer service where, after another 3 minute wait, I was put through to voice mail. I called back and told the receptionist I didnt care who I talked to but I wanted a live human being. She put me through AGAIN to customer service where, much to my surprise, I was finally connected with Sean.

I quickly explained who I was, that I was with PlanetFeedback and that I was also a customer with a bad experience. I told him I didn't want anything but to ask him some questions about my customer service experience.

First question was why do you advertise a price that franchisees don't have to honor (Papa John's cannot, by law, tell franchisees what to charge for their product)? He explained that while they can't force franchisees to honor an advertised price, they strongly encourage it so customers like me don't get mad.

So, if they aren't going to honor the price, why don't they properly train their employees to handle such situations? Well, it's up to the franchisees to make sure these situations are handled properly and, clearly, my situation wasn't handled properly.

What is the procedure for dealing with a customer complaint like mine? It's captured and distributed to the franchisee to follow up on.

What happens when the franchisee doesn't follow up? Field personnel are notified and follow up with the franchisee.

How do you know when a franchisee doesn't follow up? Usually people call or get in touch with us again and then we escalate the situation.

Why is the customer responsible for making sure their complaint is taken care of properly? No answer.

I then described the hoops I had to jump through today to get to him including my repeated requests to talk to a live human being. Then I asked the money question:

How can any of this be described as "world class customer service"? He didn't have an answer.

To Sean's credit, none of this was his fault and he was polite and empathetic throughout the whole conversation even as I repeatedly put him on the spot with my questions. He would have escalated my issue but I told him that if I wasn't important enough as a regular customer for the franchisee to contact in the first place, I certainly wasn't interested in talking to that person now.

The simple fact is I am not going to return to Papa John's any time soon and there's nothing they can do about it now. The time to do something about it was with my initial problem. If I eventually return, it will be of my own volition.

There are several areas which broke down during this whole process as follows:

1.The franchisee clearly doesn't understand how honoring the advertised price may cost him a dollar however not honoring it could potentially cost him a whole bunch more in future business.

2.The franchisee has a definite problem with training their employees to handle these kinds of situations. The girl who "helped" me wasn't necessarily being rude on purpose...it was more like she had no idea how to handle the situation and had no other options in mind other than to hang up since I said I didnt want the product.

3.Papa John's feedback mechanism clearly leaves something to be desired. Companies often tout their online contact forms as a way to collect and distribute feedback in an efficient manner thereby ensuring customers don't fall through the cracks. That's a nice goal however it doesn't work if you don't have a process to follow up on the following up.

4.Even worse...the customer is forced to use an online contact form that may or may not get results. There are no other options available on Papa John's website. If, as in my case, a customer is able to find a phone number for their headquarters, they are directed to a customer service operation which is clearly understaffed (repeated attempts only to reach voicemail?). In fact, when I made it clear I didn't want someone's voice mail, the receptionist should have asked me to wait a moment while she found someone, anyone who would talk to me. After all, I was one of their customers who in the world is more important than that especially since I was making repeated efforts to talk to someone about my experience.

When it comes right down to it, Papa John's "world class customer service" turned out to be third world customer service at best. Companies wonder why their customers turn to sites such as PlanetFeedback here's a perfect example why. Even if I wasn't involved with PlanetFeedback, right now I'd be looking at all the possible ways I could tell the world about my experience. Twenty years ago, I would have been limited to those in my immediate circle of influence....now I, and about two hundred million of my closest friends, have a giant megaphone that can reach the whole world. Because, if Papa John's Pizza won't listen to us, someone else sure will.

-Greg (PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful)


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by Mike H. Posted Wed September 22, 2010 @ 10:58 PM

Really what kind of customer service do you expect from a company that
slashed the pay of the employees they tout as the "face" and "back
bone" of their company. In 2008 as minimum wage went up they decided
to pay their delivery as tipped employees. All after the founder
spends $250,000 on a car and $24 million on a house. The fact is they
screwed their employees and they just don't care anymore.


by Here's Your Sign Posted Thu February 19, 2009 @ 11:15 PM

Wow - all of this over a $1.00. Just Wow! I think I have just found a
reason not to ever come back to this website! The lengths people will
go to OVER A $1.00 - absolutely amazing.


I agree by Nate. Fri February 20, 2009 @ 11:15 AM

Sometimes it's not about the money. by BellaSera Fri February 20, 2009 @ 12:46 PM

I'm still trying to figure out by franese Fri February 20, 2009 @ 3:18 PM

by RowdyRetailer Posted Thu February 19, 2009 @ 10:52 AM

I still think one should contact the store manager first, he/she would
know the person that you talked to. He/she would be able to right
then correct the girl on the issues you mentioned, but you did not
give the manager a chance.

I run a grocery store, and get complaints from our website too. The
are processed, given a case number, and sent to me and my DM. My DM
will email me back, saying, Let me know how you resolve. This applies
for most complaints. If it is something involving a potential
lawsuit, food borne illness complaint, he will step in. But this was
involving a girl that needed to be trained better.

If you contacted the manager and he or she blew you off, I would say
by all means call or do an online form, just give the manager a

I have had people fill out online comments, and the DM contacts me,
saying "What is this about" I say, "I dont know, nobody contacted me
about it"

If I have a problem with something I contact my DM, I do not involve a
VP or Pres, or CEO, over something trivial. I give my boss the chance
to work it out, just like I feel you should have given the store
manager a chance.

Good Day


This is an interesting take on the situation by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Thu February 19, 2009 @ 11:57 AM
by Kelshir Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 7:27 PM

Every retailer and every person screws up. What I have found out in
the ends that really matters is NOT the screw up, but how it is

I make a living (for right now anyways) selling and work on base pay
plus commission. I have had situations where everything that can go
wrong did, but the customers have (usually) come back, why? Because I
took care of them or made sure they were taken care of.

Your situation is a perfect example. You (from what I read) were not
so much upset at them not honoring the promotion, but how it was
handled and the lack of contact (always, always, stay in contact with
a customer).


Excellent Point by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 7:48 PM

I've always felt the same way, Kelshir. by BellaSera Thu February 19, 2009 @ 7:24 AM

There's something notable with your own experience. by Just Jeffrey Thu February 19, 2009 @ 10:06 AM

Commision people too pushy.... by jeishere Thu February 19, 2009 @ 10:24 AM

You made that point in another letter, and I think it's a good one. by BellaSera Thu February 19, 2009 @ 10:38 AM

I agree... by Harley Crossed Rainbow Bridge Thu February 19, 2009 @ 11:34 AM

RE: There's something notable with your own experience. by Kelshir Thu February 19, 2009 @ 9:54 PM

by Nate. Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 5:59 PM

You say in one of your previous responses "I didnt want to speak to
the manager"

Yet in the Starbucks letter, you were saying that managers are around
and paid to handle customer service issues, etc.

This was either a training error, which is highly plausible, or a
communication error, where franchisees were not informed of the promo.

I am surprised that you did not speak to the MOD or attempt to contact
the franchisee themselves before heading to corporate. I am sure you
are aware that it is the consensus among the PFB community that this
is the first appropriate step of action in a situation like this.

You should have informed the manager of what happened, and they could
have made the decision to offer everybody who mentioned the special
the discount until the proprietor could be reached. If in fact the
franchisee did not want to participate, then the manager could
immediately train all employees to say that we are not a participating
location. This is something that could easily have been taken care of
at the local level if you simply contacted the manager first, and I am
sure they would understand your point, as I presume you are articulate
and able to make a point based upon your customer service knowledge. I
honestly think that this is an overreaction to an error made on one of
the BUSIEST days of the year. I think the management could have
handled it, and by going to corporate first, you are looking to stir
something up.


Answers by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 6:43 PM

Since you said you ordered after the superbowl by Nate. Wed February 18, 2009 @ 8:50 PM

I'm all for contacting the manager too. by BellaSera Thu February 19, 2009 @ 7:22 AM

by jeishere Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 4:04 PM

I'm just curious if it said "At participating locations" in the fine
print of the commercial. Also, did you call and speak to the manager
at the local store? That seems to be the easiest way to get this
resolved rather than searching for a corporate person who only has so
much control over the franchise.

While I agree that you had bad customer service, particularly in them
not contacting you back, was this your first time ordering from Papa
Johns? If so, I can see this first bad interaction tainting your view
and not wanting to order again. If you have ordered in the past, is
this your first negative experience or is their a pattern? Would this
one negative experience outweigh all the positive experiences in that


Answers by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 5:31 PM
by Final Score: Boys-3, Girls-1 Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 1:04 PM

"Papa John's "world class customer service" turned out to be third
world customer service at best."

I love it. Great way of putting it.

There is not a Papa John's near me, but after reading this, I'm
certainly not longing for one.


by RedheadwGlasses Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 12:41 PM

Think of all the customers who have complaints, as you did, and who
aren't driven to make contact like you did. For every one of you,
there must be countless customers who got frustrated and gave up.
That's a lot of lost business.


Excellent Point by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 1:04 PM

You'll appreciate this by RedheadwGlasses Wed February 18, 2009 @ 1:42 PM

by Cor H. Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 9:55 AM

Some call centers require any contact from the media or a consumer
website, such as PlanetFeedback, be escalated immediately. Hopefully,
if Sean was given such instructions, he won't be penalized for
answering questions.

That being said, they sound terribly hard to get ahold of.


Hopefully There Won't Be A Problem by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 11:13 AM
by mikedthornton Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 8:39 AM

I'm not entirely sure I have the same perspective on this.

I'll first of all state that when I was down in the southern tier of
the country, I actually used PJ's a couple of times of month. I dealt
with a couple of the franchised stores. Both did a bang up job. I
ordered online and over the phone. I had delivery and pick up. The
one time the pizza wasn't exactly right, I rang up the store, got a
manager, and he took care of me.

I understand the consumer point of view, but I also think consumers
have to be very careful about extrapolating one situation on the
busiest pizza day of the year into a systemic failure of service. I'm
just not that's reasonable. One a day when the phone isn't ringing
off the hook with folks who want pizza, a person on the phone may be
more able to take time to dialogue with a consumer. On Super Bowl
Sunday? Not going to happen. There's a line of folks people wanting
pizza lined up around the virtual block.

I also don't think it's reasonable to assume that world class service
means there won't be some problems. Heck, even Disney has service
failures, and I don't know anyone who knows service better than them.

It seems that we, as consumers, have lost our ability to build
relationships. We don't like something happening, so we immediately
want to contact "corporate" (whomever they might be), and spend a
great deal of time escalating the issue, when the same amount of
energy spent with the local manager may actual resolve the issue. You
get to know them, they get to know you, they recognize your loyalty,
and they often bend a bit more.


Actually by PlanetFeedback's Mr. Helpful Wed February 18, 2009 @ 11:01 AM

Sorry... by mikedthornton Wed February 18, 2009 @ 11:19 AM

by Just Jeffrey Posted Wed February 18, 2009 @ 6:43 AM

This is what I've found with Subway. In fact, I've received
communication from them that conveyed the same thing: it's up to the
franchisee and corporate can do little except forward communication to

"I contacted Papa Johns via their online contact form which is the
only way unhappy customers like myself can offer feedback to the
corporate parent."

What mechanism does PlanetFeedback use for letters sent to Papa
John's? If that mechanism is not to forward through the online
contact form, I wonder what the response would have been if that
mechanism was used. Based on your experience, I'd expect it to be
just as poor. But, I wonder.

In any case, this highlights the problem with franchisee-owned
operations. There is little central control, so a consumer is left
having to deal with several independently owned businesses.
Sometimes, owned by people that honestly don't care about customer
service. Particularly since they benefit from a good (at least until
word like this gets out) company name.


by The Original Nethead Posted Tue February 17, 2009 @ 11:08 PM

The independants here ran the chains out of town. It wasn't on
pricing, it was on food quality and service. I don't eat in chain
restaurants of any sort unless someone else picks the place. The food
is better, and if you run into a problem the manager is generally on


by SueNY Posted Tue February 17, 2009 @ 10:28 PM

Sorry you had a bad experience. I love my local Papa John's and have
never had any problems. I order online and my food always arrives hot,
fresh and delicious and the drivers are friendly and professional. I
guess it just depends on the franchise.


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