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Management Matters

One of the shortcomings of a typical education in America is that the schools do not discuss the role of management in business. I presume that business schools at the college level do this, but it happens nowhere else. To the extent management is discussed at all, little if anything positive is said, and most students (and I count myself in this group) are given vague intimations that management is something unproductive and possibly sinister.

Hogwash. Management is both productive and important. For obvious reasons I have no interest in blogging about the management chain at my employer, so instead I'd like to share an example from my experience as a consumer.

I enjoy pizza. During my stay in college it became a regular part of my diet (common for a college student, I'm sure!) and — creature of habit that I am — I continued eating it after graduating.

My preferred vendor is Pizza Hut. They make a mighty tasty pan pizza, and they're consistent and ubiquitous. They're definitely not the least expensive, but the quality is more than worth it.

Pizza Hut and I go way back. Through their long-running Book It! program promoting youth reading, I was exposed to the food and the brand many times, setting me up to become a serial consumer in college. I have great respect for this program and, critically for our purposes here, the management decision to create and to continue it despite the number of free pizzas it has cost them over the past twenty years.

I have been a very loyal Pizza Hut patron, usually buying pizza there about twice a week. The employees at my local store know me very well. I get perks: discounted pizza, news about how business is going, and some other things that I'll leave as mysteries. They really like me. :)

For the past two and a half months, I've been boycotting Pizza Hut. Why? Every few months my team at work gets together to watch a movie. And we eat pizza. These are large orders, feeding about twenty people. I decided to boycott Pizza Hut because three of the last four times we placed a group order, they somehow screwed it up. The last time they both charged me the wrong price and forgot to deliver plates — so we had twenty people eating pizza on paper towels. They were able to correct the price the same day, but I was extremely upset about not having plates.

(I've told some people that they screwed up the last three orders. Reviewing my records, that's not right. The most recent two were wrong, the one prior to that was right, and the one prior to that was wrong. Sorry for any confusion.)

When I placed the order, I had written everything down in detail, and left the information with them. I was assured that everything would be right. What actually happened is that the person who was working on the morning of our delivery was not told about the written instructions. Those were folded up and shoved somewhere out of sight. He only saw what was in the computer, which was incorrect.

When someone places a "future order" at a Pizza Hut in my area, it's always sent to the metropolitan call center, because for some dumb reason the computer systems at the individual stores are only able to process same-day orders. When my order was sent to the call center, they didn't mention plates … so I didn't get plates. And they didn't mention the price … so I got the wrong price.

There was a change in management around the end of last year, and I noticed a gradual deterioration that culminated in my badly botched group order. (I think that both of the most recent errors were under this new management, but I'm not sure. My memory isn't that good.)

My team is coming up on another movie day, and they still want pizza, so I finally went back to Pizza Hut to talk to the management and see if they could get it right.

The old manager had returned! ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?") And yes, he was happy to see me. He realized that I had gone missing and learned from the other employees about the botched group order. Notice that they knew correctly why I was gone even though I hadn't said anything — I just stopped showing up and they figured it out. They were paying attention.

The waitress who was there at the time was also happy to see me. She started walking by, stopped to do a double-take, smiled, and asked "how have you been?" I'm not sure when I became a celebrity but it's good to be appreciated.

I didn't get the full story from the manager about why he's back, but I did get the impression he's working to rebuild business volume that had recently been lost. Lest you think that sounds unlikely, over the years I have definitely noticed a correlation between management quality and the busyness of the store. I'm in a good position to notice these things because there have been many changes in management over the past several years. And after talking with the manager, I'm completely confident that our next group order will be handled with the utmost care and that it will be completely correct.

Management that cares about customers gives those customers confidence in the business and a reason to do business there again. Good management knows that there are only two kinds of people: repeat customers, and people who could become repeat customers. I'm happy to report that good management has returned, so my boycott is over.

And I got a half-price pizza to welcome me back.

Tiny Island