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Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt? You Decide

Friend Graham Hill (@grahamhill) took the time to share his thoughts regarding the Morton’s Steakhouse ‘ Surprise Airport Delivery’ last week. I will add my $.02 throughout.

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.

[MJL – It is sometimes extremely valuable to over deliver to customers. The over delivery does need to be able to live a life of its own, particular to that one customer, possibly a little word of mouth, In other words, would Morton’s have done this if Peter was simply a very good customer?]

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.

[MJL – Like the Social disasters, which have become highly public during the past few years, the secondary question is will this have a long term impact? If yes, will the long term impact be found outside writers and bloggers? If the masses truly believe this is a customer service win, the net impact will be negative, as this is not a sustainable practice.]

What do you think? Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mitch Lieberman August 22, 2011, 8:09 AM

    Peter sent me a note via email, for some reason Wordpress is causing an issue preventing him from leaving the comment himself – apologies for that.

    “Thought you’d want to know that I stopped by the Morton’s in Hackensack Sat. night to give the waiter a tip – Realized I never did it.

    He told me that the night before, Friday, they have 2.5x the amount of normal visitors they usually have for a Friday night – So they’ve already recouped thousands more than it cost to make my steak and get it to me at the airport.”

    Peter Shankman | http://shankman.com | @petershankman

  • raybrown99 August 23, 2011, 5:54 PM

    Hi Mitch Great story. Surely the answer lies in the 2.5 times normal visitors on the Friday night and the the oft repeated “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Looking for opportunities to differentiate in the customer space is something that every business should be engaged in. I think the customer is becoming ever more sophisticated and savvy and is perfectly able to see a “stunt” for what it is. However, if the stunt is positive and creates buzz for the business then why not give it a go.