Self-Driven to Win: 5 Questions With Domino’s CDO Dennis Maloney


Domino's and Ford test self-driving pizza delivery cars in Ann Arbor Michigan in 2017

The competition for pizza eaters is all-consuming. It has moved from the pan to the parlor to the app and, now, to the self-driving vehicle.

Two partnerships between leading pizza brands and automakers are being closely watched as pioneers in the field of driverless pizza-delivery vehicles: Domino’s and Ford, and Pizza Hut and Toyota. (Papa John’s is preoccupied with the more urgent matter of sliding sales and CEO succession, at the moment.)

Last year, Domino’s tested a self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid in its hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, delivering pizzas as the vehicle steered itself with engineers (for safety) inside.

Next stop: Miami, where Domino’s is one of the partners in Ford’s current self-driving trial, which is “focused on the last 50 feet of the customer experience, between the front door and the car,” according to Ford’s VP of autonomous vehicles and electrification.

Toyota, for its part, has developed an autonomously driven commercial platform called e-Palette that it’s testing with Pizza Hut (among other brands) and which could include on-site pizza baking.

Just as Domino’s has held the lead in pizza-ordering technology, and last year assumed the title of global No. 1 pizza-sales brand from Pizza Hut, its executives are confident that their experimentation with self-driving pizza delivery vehicles will help the brand retain its heritage as an innovative leader in customer-centric delivery options.

“It’s important for us,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s VP and Chief Digital Officer, told brandchannel, “to be leading in the technology components of any part of our pizza experience.” He shares more in our latest Q&A:

Dennis, what did you learn from the Michigan self-driving test with Ford Fusion?

Dennis Maloney - Domino's VP and Chief Digital Officer

Probably the single best learning, and the first thing we learned, was that customers were willing to interact with autonomous vehicles. Off the bat, that was hugely interesting. Each customer was contacted specifically before the delivery. They’d order and we’d have a conversation and explain the process and what to expect. They knew pretty much what was going to happen, and we offered them the opportunity to participate.

Also, we’re learning that customers perceive the car as being a bit of an anthropomorphism. They’re excited to have a conversation in the car, which offers voice prompts. There were people in it, but they didn’t interact with the customers at all. It was completely devoid of human interaction, and people wanted some humanization (of the technology).

How is the Miami test advancing that?

Now we’re doing that process as part of the ordering platform. It doesn’t involve a conversation (such as) “Would you like to participate?” Our requirements in Miami are that we can text you, and you need to come out to the car to pick up the product; the entire thing happens automatically.

Do you think people are participating out of curiosity, so that makes it difficult to really learn how “typical” consumers might interact with a self-driving car?

That’s a valid question and one we don’t have the ability to answer yet. It’s still a bit of a novelty. We’re, in our own minds, constructing tests already to try to learn that answer. It will be easier to understand as these tests continue. In Ann Arbor, we had a customer or two who went through the experience twice, which was interesting.

What other goals do you have for the Miami test? 

One is to create a great consumer experience; another is how we use our experience to make the process more efficient. We’ve learned things on both sides. Where do consumers naturally go [to greet] the car? Do they interact with their phone as part of process? Do they understand the PIN process [to retrieve their order from the vehicle]? Is it intuitive? Do they walk up to the car and still retrieve product?

And on the business side, there are questions around how to make the entire experience as efficient as possible. How do we make sure the car is stopping at the right place? With the test in Ann Arbor, it was easy because there’s a human being in the car; if not, how is the car going to decide the best place for consumers? What happens if the consumer and car are in different locations? What if the car needs to move for some reason? How do you let the consumer know that? You don’t get into all those circumstances until you create a real, live product for consumers, and then you actually run into those specifics.

When do you hope to finish testing so you can launch and scale this technology?

At the highest level, we’re at our core a delivery company and have been from the beginning. Anything impacting the delivery process will have significant impact on our business model. We need to understand the potential and be involved in the process as it gets created.

How fast it gets scaled up will be a function of the vehicles and consumer acceptance, as much as anything we could create. We’re trying to learn some things now so as evolutionary things happen we understand how to play in that environment as it continues to evolve.

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