When we think about pizza delivery, we don’t generally think cutting edge technology. But pizza king Domino's has pivoted firmly into being a digital-first corporation.
“Six or seven years ago, we made a big investment in technology,” said Ken Natoli, director of delivery technology while speaking at Twilio’s Signal conference in San Francisco this week. “It changed the way we work, it changed our teams and that was a big success factor.”
The company's new approach is certainly paying dividends. Domino's is the world's largest pizza brand, managing to double their market share between 2009 and 2018 (from 9 percent to 18 percent) around the time when their drive for digital began.
But what prompted the shift? “The big motivator there was transparency," says Natoli. "How do we provide the right information at the right time?”
Seasoned Domino's devotees will be familiar with the company's pizza tracking service, allowing customers to watch the progress of their pizza through the various stages of delivery.
“When you get that pizza out for delivery, you want to log in, look at that pizza tracker, figure out when that pizza's going to get to you," says Natoli. "That’s time sensitive.”
The anthropomorphised tracker, ‘Dom’, even responds with amusing messages in response to customers prodding the interface.
But not every customer - no matter how hungry - will sit gazing longingly at a tracker, and with the help of Twilio, the company has increased their focus on proactive - rather than passive - updates, across ever more channels of communication.
Hungry customers awaiting food are keen to be kept in the loop. “We saw a shift and our customers wanted a way to get that information with less friction,” says Natoli. “That was a motivator for us to go and develop our more advanced alerting on Amazon Alexa, SMS and push notifications. I think you'll just see us over time become more and more transparent.”
Part of this transparency involves a growing number of communication channels customers can use to interact with Domino's, which the company calls Domino's AnyWare. “We've made a big push in our AnyWare technology," says Natoli. "If you're familiar with Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger - those really showcase our brand."
There are now over 15 ways (and counting) that customers can order a pizza - including through smart TVs and by sending off a pizza emoji on social media.
In addition to the current Twilio integrations, Domino's is also one of the first brands to embrace one of Twilio’s newest products, Pay. This feature (which can be embedded with just one line of code), allows secure payments to be placed over a phone call. Instead of the customer having to say their credit card number aloud, they type it in, and it remains invisible to the operator on the line.
But given that electronic orders have tripled over the past five years, why focus on phone orders? Especially when "it's our path to being a 100 percent digital company," as new CEO Richard Allison told CNBC's Jim Cramer in April.
"We talk a lot about innovation and we've moved a ton of our business over to our digital platforms. We take more than 60 percent of our orders online or through AnyWare, or in our mobile apps," says Natoli."
"That still leaves over 30 percent of our orders coming in through more traditional methods - walk in and phone. We have a big phone business. Even within that phone segment, we've got a high number of customers that are using credit cards.”
And even as more and more customers choose to order through mobile or online, this could all change with the rise of automated virtual operators taking orders with the help of intelligent voice recognition.
AI powered voice assistants are on the rise, and setting a precedent for our expectations of easy ordering.
Indeed, Kelly Garcia, Domino’s SVP of ecommerce development and emerging technologies told Forbes that voice interface and conversational commerce are going to be areas of great interest in the coming years. Incidentally, Twilio launched Autopilot, a customisable, conversational AI platform at the same time time as Pay, and it might not be long before we see Domino's making use of this, too.