At Domino’s Biggest Franchisee, a Chatbot Named “Dottie” Speeds Up Hiring

An employee cuts a pizza at a Domino's Pizza Inc. restaurant
Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

By: Michelle V. Rafter

At RPM Pizza, a chatbot nicknamed “Dottie” has made hiring almost as fast as delivering pizzas.

RPM adopted the text message-based chatbot along with live chat and text-based job applications to speed up multiple aspects of the hiring process, including identifying promising job candidates and scheduling initial interviews.

It makes sense to use texting for hiring, said Merrin Mueller, RPM’s head of people and marketing, during a presentation on the chatbot at the recent HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. Job hunters respond to a text faster than an email. At a time when U.S. unemployment is low, competition for hourly workers is fierce, and company recruiters are overwhelmed, you have to act fast.

“People who apply here are applying at Taco Bell and McDonald’s too, and if we don’t get to them right away and hire them faster, they’ve already been offered a job somewhere else,” Mueller said.

RPM is Domino’s largest U.S. franchisee, operating 187 Domino’s locations in five states. Recruiters at the Gulfport, Miss., company are responsible for filling jobs for 30 to 50 stores each. Before Dottie, they manually screened applications that job hunters filled out online, followed up with likely prospects, and passed names on to be interviewed by store managers, who have the ultimate say on who’s hired. That setup wasn’t ideal, Mueller said. Candidates didn’t know the status of their application until a recruiter contacted them.

To change that, RPM subscribed to a cloud-based recruiting chatbot app from TextRecruit that can be programmed to provide natural-language responses to common hiring questions in English and Spanish and works in conjunction with RPM’s existing applicant tracking system software. In addition, the team Mueller worked with trained it to share fun facts, like how many slices are in a large pizza, and to deflect inappropriate questions, like one the company got from one would-be jokester asking if it sold cocaine, she said.

The project had an inauspicious start. It took Mueller six months after signing up with TextRecruit to figure out how to market the service. Once she decided to turn the chatbot into a cartoon character and use pizza box toppers, in-store displays, and billboards to advertise it, it took about a month to put the plan into action. “I usually like to implement things in one store and then roll out, but we just put it out there. That’s rare, but it was that easy,” she said.

Mueller declined to say how much she spent to add the chatbot; according to TextRecruit’s website, prices are customized based on a company’s needs, number of users, and monthly contacts.

In the two years since Dottie arrived, the chatbot’s faster response time and ability to schedule job interviews into time slots that store managers designate in advance has cut the days it takes to hire hourly workers from up to five to between one and three. It also reduced RPM’s application drop-out rate, the percentage of people who start filling out an application but quit before submitting it.

Mueller also believes the streamlined hiring experience has helped manage new hires’ expectations for the kind of workplace they’re joining. “We set the stage right off the bat that we want to be quick,” she said. She gives the chatbot and the faster hiring process it created partial credit for the significant decrease in RPM’s yearly turnover, from 205 percent in 2015 to 111 percent so far this year, well under the 155 percent annual average for hourly food-service employees, she said.

After Dottie was up and running, Mueller fielded so many calls about the chatbot from other Domino’s franchisees that she bought booth space at the pizza chain’s annual worldwide rally in 2018 to share what she’d learned. Since then, more than 60 other Domino’s franchisees have begun using TextRecruit, which today is owned by iCIMS, a talent acquisition software vendor that acquired it in early 2018. Some of them are using chatbot characters that Mueller designed when she dreamed up Dottie.

Recruiting chatbots are poised to become more prevalent given that 66 percent of jobseekers start a job search on their phone, said Al Smith, iCIMS chief technology officer, in the conference. “You have to be where they are and do what they’re doing.”

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 30 Oct 2019.