True, there's nothing very complicated about making pizza. But inspiring 11,000 staff throughout 380 UK restaurant locations to deliver a consistently high level of both product and service to one million customers a week is a feat requiring very high levels of skill and imagination.
Pizza Hut (UK) is the joint venture between Tricon and Whitbread that currently accounts for more than 35% of the UK's pizza market. Pizza Hut's mission, says Jon Prinsell, UK chairman and chief executive, is to be the UK's favourite restaurant brand. The way to achieve that goal, he believes, is to provide great food, service, value, ambience, fun and sharing with family and friends.
Prinsell's confidence in Pizza Hut's mission and values results from intensive market research and corporate soul-searching conducted over the past three years. In 1995 Britain's largest pizza provider detected some worrying signs of a downturn in its market and popularity. In response, the company embarked on a thorough review of what customers wanted. The results prompted a thorough overhaul of Pizza Hut's service strategy.
This new strategy is built on an improved understanding of customer needs. In selecting a restaurant, Pizza Hut's customers say that 31% of their decision to return to a restaurant is based on the quality and consistency of the food. Whether the food represents good value accounts for a further 13%. But by far the most important factor is the experience itself: 56% of the decision to return to a restaurant is based on the service customers receive and the ambience of the location. 'Added to this,' says Brian Rimmer, operations director (full service), 'is the fact that people expect the same standard of product and experience wherever and however they purchase their pizza - including through our take-away or home delivery service.'
To ensure this consistency, Pizza Hut relies on a restaurant excellence system known as CHAMPS which is based on customer expectations of cleanliness, hospitality, accuracy, maintenance, product quality and speed of service. A mystery shopping programme gathers information every month on how each restaurant is performing against customer expectations. The results of this survey are fed back to the restaurant within five days of the visit.
Pizza Hut also measures customer satisfaction through questionnaires, focus groups, market research and complaints. The company solicits feedback from more than 25,000 customers a year and, in addition, team members and management gather feedback on a daily basis from customers about their dining experience. In April 1995 the company established a customer care centre as a central point for customers to contact. The centre receives one complaint for every 32,000 customers (an average of 140 complaints a month) and aims to ensure these problems are resolved immediately. According to external research, 93% of those who complain to the centre are highly satisfied with the response. 'But in terms of complaints we would much prefer customers to complain at the time in the restaurant,' says Melanie Mickler, customer care manager.
To that end, the centre has introduced a programme of customer satisfaction workshops designed to train managers in complaint handling. 'One of the challenges has been to educate managers to view complaints as positive and not negative,' she says. As a result of this initiative, the number of complaints received by the centre has fallen by 50% over the past 18 months.
Pizza Hut acknowledges that much of its growing success in attracting and retaining customers (currently 80% of customers are repeat purchasers) lies in radical changes made to its staff induction, training and development programmes since 1995. 'Traditionally it has proved very difficult to retain dedicated and skilled staff in a fast food business,' admits Prinsell.
Three years ago, as Pizza Hut struggled with very high staff turnover (more than 160%) and very low employee morale, the company determined to transform its staffing policies.
Recent improvements include the introduction of personal development reviews based on objective criteria and a new pay/grading/career structure. All staff (including part-timers and students working on short-term contracts) go through the same four-week induction programme and new recruits are allocated a one-to-one coach. The company has introduced an employee recognition and reward system called WOW with awards ranging from receiving a personalised card sent by Prinsell to prizes worth more than £1,000.
Awards are presented by a senior manager and details of the winners are published in Pizza Hut's internal magazine, Hutstuff.
In the past 18 months the turnover of restaurant managers has fallen from 22% to 10%, and staff turnover in general has come down to100%. Pizza Hut accepts that one of its greatest challenges lies in reducing those figures further and one of its goals for the year 2000 is to become 'the UK's favourite restaurant employer'. 'We want to encourage people to build long-term careers with us, and to this end our commitment is to ensure that over 75% of all promotions will be filled internally,' says Rimmer. 'We want fully staffed, highly capable and motivated teams in every restaurant. Our longer term aim is to make Pizza Hut an organisation people are queuing up to join.' As the service customers receive depends almost wholly on the quality and enthusiasm of staff employed, Pizza Hut has surely found the right recipe for long-term customer satisfaction.
KEY BUSINESS LESSONS
- Promote internally to encourage retention of trained and skilled staff
- Don't assume: ask customers directly what is important to them
- Internal consistency is vital: in multi-site operations, processes must ensure consistent standards of product and service quality
- Customer feedback: having the means to solicit and collect informal verbal feedback from customers on a daily basis is vital.