September 25, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Papa John’s receipt fracas and social media response

Papa John’s receipt fracas and social media response

The latest round of damage control initiated in the wake of a Tweet involves pizza, a receipt, and an understandably irritated customer. But once again I’m left wondering if the entire situation should have been handled differently.

For some background, a teenaged cashier at a Papa John’s franchise used a racial slur to identify customer Minhee Cho for a takeout order, and Cho posted a picture of the receipt on Twitter. The picture received thousands of re-Tweets, and Papa John’s did respond to her about seven hours after she posted it.

There are a bunch of issues here. I’ve seen it suggested that seven hours is too long, even though this was on a weekend and involved a franchise. For perspective, this means that:

  • Someone from corporate–the entity that owns the Twitter handle–had to see the Tweet.
  • They then had to attempt to verify the receipt was real and not doctored.
  • They had to make whatever internal contacts necessary to determine what their recourse could be.
  • They then possibly contacted the franchise to get their side of the story, and to see if the matter was addressed at the store.
  • Once they’d gone through all of that, they were able to respond–and did.

Seven hours actually is not a bad response time.  Would a “we’re looking into it” have been nice as soon as they saw the Tweet? Sure. But we need to be realistic–and human (and humane)–in our expectations. What do I mean by that? As Twitter has grown, monitoring demands on communications teams have increased. I don’t know who is responsible for monitoring Twitter at Papa John’s, but should that person or team really be ready to respond 24/7? (Remember–respond doesn’t just mean jump on Twitter and write back–not when a franchise–a contractual relationship between the business owner and Papa John’s–is involved.)

To put it more directly, would *you* sign up for a job that says, no matter what the time or occasion, your expected response time is t + 2 hours? 3 hours? What is reasonable? Remember, college kids order pizza at all hours. What is a reasonable expectation of a response time for a human being? Because yes these are corporations, but the employees in these departments are human beings. Being on call for the ER is reasonable, but this isn’t a crisis.

I also wonder about how this was handled, and I’m realizing that the opportunity to let a business make something right might be either a generational thing, or a thing of the past. I’m pretty certain that if something similar happened to me, I would call the store manager first. That, not Twitter, would have been my first step–allow the business to make things right. If they hadn’t, I’d escalate to corporate. If corporate blew me off, I’d probably blog about it (and take to Twitter). That isn’t what happened here, and as far as I can tell, Cho wasn’t looking for this kind of attention, she didn’t expect an Internet pile-on. And yet, that’s what has happened. People are calling the franchise location and ordering Chinese food, often enough that it is affecting business.

The lessons for brands? One, customers might not complain in person–they might head right to Twitter. Two, your employees (including teenaged franchise workers) ARE your brand. All of them. Janitors, clerks, managers–everyone. Train them well, and please pay extra attention to the part about receipt identification of customers. This is not the first time this has been an issue. (For those who don’t want to spend all day clicking links, I found six similar stories in around five minutes. Seriously, if you run a business with a receipt tape that allows for any sort of cashier-input field, you need to click these links.)

And finally, for all of us: remember that we’re all human beings. We don’t like racial slurs used to describe us, and we shouldn’t be required to work around the clock 24/7. BE NICE.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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    Chris Syme

    Thanks for the recap, Jen. It’s unfortunate, but when you are a big brand, or maybe even a smaller one in this 24/7 online media world, you are on duty 24 hours.  It’s true we should be nice, and there are times when brands can deal with cranky customers offline. However, brands need to be aware of hot buttons–and this is one. There’s a huge difference between complaining my pizza was delivered cold and a cashier ID’d me with a racial slur. Smart brands recognize that are get on it right away, even if it’s with a “we’re looking into it” as you suggested. Altimeter’s latest report on how brands prepare internally for crisis helped us all realize that if you are prepared and diligent, your chances of having something get out of control are better. As Jane Jordan-Meier said in her excellent book on crisis, “take responsibility, tell it all, tell it fast.” An initial apology goes a long way while you’re “looking into it.” 

      Jen Zingsheim

      Thanks so much for commenting–and good perspective.

      I’m still reluctant to get on board with the “all businesses are on duty 24/7 now” train. First, it’s unfair to employees, and second…while it is important to respond to customers, these issues aren’t life-threatening. And when we force companies to treat things that while serious but aren’t crises this quickly, I think we are setting employees up for burnout and establishing response behaviors for customers that cannot be maintained long-term. It’s the scalability issue. And what happens when companies get overwhelmed? They’ll set up the Twitter version of the automated recording. “Thank you for your Tweet. We will get back to you as soon as possible.” And thus Twitter becomes simply the latest in a long line of communications devices that remain unanswered.

      I agree with the take responsibility/tell it all/tell it fast process. But again, franchises are different, even if people don’t look at them that way. We’ve all heard the “each restaurant is individually owned and operated” disclaimer before. It’s more appropriate to look at each Papa Johns as a small business than a corporate entity. But with a corporate face, that’s going to be where people head. It’s more complex than we’re treating it, I think.

      Again, thank you for commenting!

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