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Morton's Steakhouse: Customer delight or a brilliant PR stunt? You decide...

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22nd Aug 2011
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Peter Shankman was delighted. But could Morton's steak its reputation on providing service like that again? Graham Hill of Optima Partners is not so sure.

There is an interesting true story doing the rounds of customer service blogs at the moment. In it, Peter Shankman a customer service writer, blogger and regular customer at Morton’s Steakhouse jokingly tweeted to Morton’s that he would like a Porterhouse waiting for him upon landing at Newark airport after a long day on the road.

Much to his surprise, when he landed that is exactly what was waiting: a uniformed waiter complete with a steak dinner, some side-orders and silver cutlery. Naturally, Peter was delighted and blogged about it immediately. The twitterverse got hold of it and now everybody is talking about Morton’s, about their greatest/worst experiences at Morton’s and more importantly, putting this forward as a great example of customer service.

But is it really customer service? Or is it something entirely different?

Let’s dissect what happened a little and see. Morton’s is a medium-priced steak restaurant (a three course dinner for two costs $110). Peter is a regular customer at Morton’s. He is also a customer service writer with books about ‘outrageous PR stunts that work’ and social customer service, and he has 110,000 twitter followers. He jokingly said he would like a steak upon landing at Newark but didn’t expect it to be delivered. He was clearly delighted when it was.

To delight Peter, once Morton’s had decided to respond, it had to monitor Peter’s flight status, time the cooking of a steak dinner to perfection, get it the 35 miles to Newark airport on time and take a waiter out of restaurant duty to do it. Clearly, the cost to Morton’s of providing this delightful experience would probably take tens, if not hundreds, of extra visits by Peter, over and above the ones he would normally make, for them to ever have a hope of recouping the money spent.

As Steve Vargo pointed out in a recent exchange about over-delivering to customers, this is a clear case of hugely over-delivering against both expectations and desires. Over-delivering against expectations is a good thing as it anchors satisfaction and loyalty, but over-delivering against desires is not. It is costly, economically unsustainable and quickly loses its effect. All in all, as Peter didn’t expect Morton’s to respond at all, let alone to deliver a steak dinner to the airport, I don’t really see this as customer service.

So if it wasn’t customer service, what was it?

The clue lies in the title of Peter’s book; ‘Can we Do That?! - Outrageous PR Stunts that Work and Why Your Company Needs Them’. Although Morton’s steak stunt failed as an act of customer service, it succeeded magnificently as a PR stunt. For the cost of a steak dinner, a tank of petrol and three hours of a waiter’s time, Morton’s got the kind of positive publicity that marketing budget’s just can’t buy. The story was picked up by the twittersphere, influential blogs like the Huffington Post and even the foreign press.

Morton’s clearly scored a coup with their steak stunt. But it only worked because of who Peter is and because of his social influence. Maybe they have been reading Peter’s book and in a delicious (no pun intended) irony decided to respond in this way. Whatever their motivations, even if it was bad customer service, it was brilliant marketing. Hats off to Morton’s for having the guts to try what at the end of the day was a risky PR stunt. It worked spectacularly. Maybe I should read Peter’s book.

What do you think? Customer delight or a brilliant PR stunt?

Customer-centric innovator Graham Hill is a partner at Optima Partners. Follow Graham on Twitter: @grahamhill

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By rustynail
23rd Aug 2011 10:58

I just find it so unbelievable that the company would go to these lengths. It is a stunt of course. But I feel it was premeditated, 'cooked up', if you'll excuse the pun, with Peter Shankman.

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