When Peter Shankman Twittered that he wanted a steak from Morton's, he was kidding. When the company drove 24 miles out of town to deliver it to him, he was floored and gushed about the company's exceptional customer service. Something bothered me about this story from the beginning, but it took a bit to put my finger on it.
Random acts of kindness vs influencer engagement
Roger Drake, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Morton’s, reported in a SmartBlogs on Restaurants interview that the company has a "random acts of kindness" policy that encourages employees to go above and beyond. He gives an example of employees returning jackets that customers leave in the restaurant. And he acknowledges that "we know [Shankman] and have communicated with him over the years. He has a huge following on Twitter, he knows us, dines with us, he has attended events."
But the company did much more than return a jacket or commit a random act of kindness. The act wasn't random at all. They responded immediately with a valuable gift to an acknowledged influencer who "has a huge following on Twitter." They didn't deliver steaks to just anyone who Tweeted that they wanted one.
The results were impressive:
Because of this and [Shankman’s story] — and other comments on Twitter — Morton’s gained 800 followers on the national Twitter account. Immediately after the excitement, we awarded a random person who tweeted with #SteakThankYou. Once you’ve engaged them, keep them engaged.
Marketing, not Customer Service
Perhaps I'm just crotchety in my social media old age (I've been blogging since 2005 and Twittering since 2007), but this move strikes me as a clever marketing opportunity, not customer service. This isn't really a replicable customer service strategy. And since the results were measured in Twitter followers with the langage of engagement, I feel pretty comfortable assessing the move as a marketing technique, not a customer service one. Shankman wasn't even complaining; he was joking about a steak.
Liz Strauss tells a tale of exceptional customer service in an experience she had with FedEx 25 years ago in which her FedEx guy went to heroic extremes to pick up and deliver a package on time. That is a tale of customer service. The Morton's story isn't. Here's what could have happened in order for this to be a customer service anecdote:
- A Morton's customer who had a bad dining experience receives a surprise steak dinner the next week
- A Morton's customer who had to leave before completing dinner due to a delay in the kitchen receives a steak the next week
- A Morton's customer who mentions that his father is homebound sees his father receive a steak dinner the next week
- A Morton's customer who cancels a reservation due to a family member being taken to the hospital receives his meal at the hospital
See the difference? In these instances, each person is a customer who has had a recent experience that needs to be improved upon.
As a marketing move, it was an effective one. And the idea to give a steak to an additional follower under the hashtag was also a clever and successful way to drive engagement.
Heroes don't scale
So if it was clever and effective marketing, what is bothering this marketer? As Bruce Temkin noted, while the story has garnered a lot of exposure (marketing/PR exposure) for Morton's, it's not a tale of effective customer service. He points out:
I often tell companies that “heros don’t scale.” Great customer experience (and customer service) is demonstrated by repeatable processes, not by periodic heroic behavior.
I'm a big believer that the "extra mile" is less important in customer service than developing a deep understanding of how your customers (all of them, not just the influencers) define quality. I'd be more inclined to be impressed from a customer service point of view if I'd had a consistently good, timely and friendly experience at Morton's. As Harvard reviewers have reported, most customers don't actually want to be delighted or amazed. They just want a good, consistent experience. That would bring me back. Hearing about how some other guy got a free steak? Not so much.
But in spite of all that, I still firmly believe that delivering a consistenly good experience that meets expectations is the best customer service. Whistles and bells aside, most of us just want the basics.
In the end, I'm with Temkin. Periodic heroic behavior with a high-level influencer is great for marketing engagement, and I salute Morton's for it. Well done! It's just not an example of the kind of customer service the rest of us really want on a daily basis.