Pizza Hut goes VoIP

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Pizza Hut goes VoIP

PizzaPizza franchises live or die based on their ability to answer the phones as quickly as possible. If the customer has to wait on hold too long - or worse gets a busy signal, then the customer is going to hang-up and call another pizza restaurant.

So how do local pizzerias increase their call handling efficiency? Most have 2-5 analog lines deployed. Assuming it's $20 per line/month, over-provisioning by adding several additional lines that will probably only be utilized during peak load isn't very cost-effective.

Pizza Pizza Canada chain Pizza Pizza
, a fairly large pizza chain operating 350 restaurants across Canada, has been using VoIP along with a mixture of in-house agents, home-based agents, and outsourced agents since 2005. Using VoIP allowed Pizza Pizza this kind of agent flexibility, as well as the ability to ramp-up or down the number of agents depending on call volume.

Pizza Hut It's now 2007, and the world's largest pizza chain, Pizza Hut has yet to deploy VoIP in its chain of restaurants. Or have they?

A source revealed to me Pizza Hut has indeed deployed VoIP. In fact, this source informed me that Pizza Hut has deployed hosted VoIP along with hosted agents to answer incoming pizza orders for local chains. (How widespread or how many chains is unknown) One advantage is the cost-savings of canceling almost all of their analog lines. I was told that these VoIP-enabled franchises typically were paying for 3 analog lines, however, they canceled 2 out of their 3 analog lines leaving just a single emergency line. They now use hosted VoIP and hosted agents, which have virtually unlimited call capacity. Since it uses hosted VoIP, there are no busy signals that you would experience when all 3 analog lines all being tied up – especially busy pizza ordering times like Superbowl Sunday. I'm told Pizza Hut, at least in the U.S., is leveraging Level3's backbone.

In addition, instead of a 17-year old inexperienced teenager answering the phone, the hosted call center agents are professional and can “upsell” the customer on specials, more toppings, etc. After the agent takes the order, I’m told the order is sent down to the local Pizza Hut over an IP connection and displayed on a screen. Thus, one obvious advantage is that a local franchise owner doesn't have to pay for someone to answer the phone thereby increasing their profit margin.

Another advantage of using VoIP is that it's much easier to build in redundancy. If anything happens to a particular site, calls can be switched from one site to another quickly and seamlessly without customers even noticing. Pizza Hut, like all chain places, charges a franchise fee to the owner of the chain which brings in revenue to Pizza Hut Corporate. They also make money on the food/supplies they sell to each chain. However, that's the end of their revenue stream. By Pizza Hut Corporate offering hosted VoIP services with professional call center agents, they can charge the local franchise for this valuable service for an additional revenue stream.

I tried reaching Pizza Hut for comment, but initially they didn't return my calls or emails. Finally, after several calls and a couple of emails I was able to get a very terse email reply from Pizza Hut spokesman Chris Fuller, which stated, "Its our policy not to discuss business strategy so we wouldn't be able to comment on this story."  The "no comment" would seem to indicate to me that Pizza Hut's strategy is indeed to roll-out hosted VoIP to their locations. I don't see how they plan on keeping this under wraps. The teenager that loses his job to some hosted VoIP agent or simply takes orders from a computer screen is going to figure out that someone else is handling the calls. So word is going to get out anyway that Pizza Hut is using VoIP. I guess you heard it here first!

Ok, so I know what you're thinking. So "Mr. VoIP & Gadgets lover, how can we make VoIP-enabled pizzerias even cooler?" I'm so glad you asked. How bout integrating Bluetooth, GPS, and VoIP so you can track pizza delivery trucks and when they get within 4 miles of your location, initiate a VoIP call to your location to let you know your steaming hot (or cold) pizza is just minutes away! Fantasy right? Not so fast. Check out my post from last year, where a company called Pizza Pilot is looking to do just that. Pretty sweet, eh?

"Ok, Mr. Smarty Pants, that is pretty cool, but what else you got?"

How bout allowing customers to order online? That'd be cool, no? Well, Pizza Pizza already allows you to order online, so it's already being done. Greg Galitzine points out the Dominos also allows online ordering. Let me take it a step further. What if you could order your pizza online and then using some Google Maps mashup, the pizza provider could show you the exact location of the delivery vehicle. So instead of calling the pizza joint to complain "Where the hell is my damn pizza?" and the guy unconvincingly says "Uhhh. It's on its way" (when really they forgot and are just making it), you can see for yourself where your pizza is. Of course, all these pizza scenarios work just as well for other popular food deliveries, such as Chinese.

Watch for hosted VoIP to take off not only in pizzerias where a busy signal means lost business, but also small-to-medium retail outlets and enterprises as well. Even McDonald's already has VoIP. Just don't complain when you call to order a pizza and you get a hosted agent with a foreign accent that you can't understand.


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