Monday, March 14, 2011

My Hate/Love Relationship with Dunkin' Donuts

I've written in prior posts of how much I admire and respect companies or employees who provide an excellent service experience.

By contrast, I typically feel equally passionate, but negative, when a company or its employees or franchisees deliver poor service.

Unfortunately, one of my usually-favorite retail firms, Dunkin' Donuts, has earned a place in the second category. Twice in one week.

Last week, I visited the nearest DD franchise outlet, at the foot of Morris Avenue in Summit, New Jersey, one evening. I ordered several donuts and a small cup of coffee. Very simple. And there was nobody else in the shop. Not only did I have to coach the counter employee on finding the right items, but he didn't pay attention, resulting in my leaving with less than my full order of pastries.

But that was a minor gaffe compared to what I experienced on Saturday morning.

As background, it's worth noting that DD has begun having monthly themes to spur customer visits. For example, February was chocolate lovers' month. They baked and sold a few special varieties of chocolate-filled donuts and pastries which are no longer available.

Right on cue, beginning in March, the chain began promoting, via televised and radio spots, its Big N' Toasty Breakfast Sandwich (hereinafter BNT). Here's the prose describing it:

Start your big day with 2 fried eggs, 4 slices of Cherrywood smoked bacon and American cheese on thick Texas Toast.

With such an onslaught of expensive media, and no mention of a date on which the food item would be offered, it seemed reasonable to assume it is already available. Especially considering that, upon walking into any DD location in the past week, it is already prominently featured on POP display signs and on the permanent menu board located high on the back wall. It's even priced, so you know they are serious about selling it.

In short, all the advertising and marketing cues point to its widespread availability.

So on Saturday morning, I drove the short distance to the Morris Avenue DD to buy a few donuts and take home a BNT sandwich. With 2 eggs and four slices of bacon, plus cheese, it's not the sort of thing I want to consume all at once.

Imagine my dismay when, upon ordering it, I was told, in very broken English-well, actually, I'm not exactly sure what I was told. The first employee babbled incoherently, so I repeated my request. He babbled some more. I caught the word "Friday," and asked if he was saying it was only available on Friday?

Then his colleague babbled with a different accent, letting loose with a stream of words, the only ones of which I initially understood were 'don't have it,' and something about 'that's corporate.'

At this point, I turned to the man in line behind me, offering to let him go ahead of me, as it was becoming clear my order would be neither simple, nor fast. He declined, evidently wanting some free entertainment.

For the next minute or so, I was put through more pigeon English, while three of the store's employees, none of whom spoke clear English, apparently attempted to tell me that DD, the parent, had initiated a media campaign for a new breakfast sandwich which was not yet actually physically available in the stores.

It seemed, if I understood the extremely-poor communications of the employees, that the first items don't hit the retail outlets until this coming Friday.

Can you believe the ineptitude of DD's corporate management? It's owned by a private equity firm, so there's limited machinery to easily contact the firm. I tried once before, when another DD store refused to sell me a bag of espresso beans, although they admitted to having them to make espressos, cappuccinos and lattes. At that time, I emailed the parent on their website, giving them my contact information, but never heard back at all.

Now, the same management team is committing one of what is, to me, the most egregious mistakes a retailer can make- spending heavily on promotion of a new product which isn't yet available in its stores.

That's why I have such a hate/love relationship with DD. I find their atmosphere, usual service, and espresso-based coffee products to be better and less expensive than Starbuck's. But screwups like the BNT sandwich introduction are a real pain.

Just in case, however, the franchisee of that one outlet was at fault, I tried another DD store in a nearby town on Saturday evening. I walked in at 10PM to a mostly-empty shop. There was nobody in line, so I stepped up to the counter immediately. What happened next just cemented my recent sense of DD as having declining service levels.

In this case, at the store on Valley Road in Stirling, an employee looked directly at me, only a few feet away, then continued to talk on his cell phone and walked through a door into the back of the store, deliberately leaving me unserved, and no employees in sight.

Now I'm not sure when I'll return to one a DD store to try the new food item. Or anything else, for that matter. I guess you can characterize me as a formerly loyal DD customer whose patience with the firm's product introduction policy and store service has just about worn out.

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