Superior customer service is good PR

A blog post last week by Peter Shankman titled, The World’s Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told, Starring Morton’s Steakhouse has generated some debate as to whether Morton’s Steakhouse demonstrated amazing customer service or capitalized on an opportunity to grab some great press when it delivered a porterhouse steak and sides to Mr. Shankman upon arrival at Newark airport.

While I don’t refute Shankman’s claim that Morton’s delivers exceptional customer service (a quick scan of his post’s comments reveals dozens of testimonials to the superior customer service experienced at Morton’s), I do believe this story is more about public relations than it is about customer service.

Compare the Morton’s story above with an experience I had at Tiffany & Co.:

I was in New York City for a business trip a week or so before my 10-year wedding anniversary. One afternoon, I stopped by the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on 6th Avenue to look at anniversary rings.

A thoughtful representative named Duncan showed me several rings as he explained some of the nuances of color, cut, clarity, and carat weight.

The rings looked magnificent beneath the showroom lights. I recall that of the half dozen or so rings that I looked at, there was one that I kept going back to. Duncan noticed it too. And, of course, it cost 25 percent more than the others.

After about 30 minutes together, I thanked him for his time and told him that I wouldn’t be buying the ring today. I mentioned that I had an appointment in two days with a representative at the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. He congratulated me on my 10-year anniversary and wished me luck in finding the perfect ring.

Two days later I arrived at the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. and met with a representative named Cynthia. Cynthia brought me into a private room to show me a set of anniversary rings that she had selected based on my criteria. As she revealed each successive ring, she would say something like, “Now, this ring combines the color you are hoping for with the mounting we discussed.”

After introducing several rings in this way, Cynthia produced the final ring saying, “Now, this is the ring that you were especially taken by when Duncan was showing you rings at the 6th Avenue store on Tuesday.”

I was absolutely floored! I said something like, “Huh? What? How did you…?”

Cynthia sensed my astonishment, smiled, and then explained that she had received a call from Duncan shortly after I’d left the 6th Avenue store and that together they had made arrangements for the ring to be shipped overnight from New York City to the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. in time for my appointment.

Duncan and Cynthia worked together to deliver customer service that was completely beyond the realm of customer expectation. I had no reason to expect that the ring I’d looked at in New York would be among the options made available to me in Denver.

Does this level of customer service influence sales? Guess which ring I bought?

Although this story, as a blog post, has brought unexpected positive social media attention to the Tiffany & Co. brand (albeit, a fraction of the attention enjoyed by Morton’s), it is ultimately about exceptional customer service.

Recently I wrote in a blog post that due to the effect of social media, customer service and public relations are now inextricably linked. As customers increasingly broadcast their experiences over the web, this will benefit companies like Morton’s and Tiffany & Co., that consistently deliver superior customer service, and will punish those with lackluster customer service.

So whether these companies are serving Peter Shankman or a less influential customer, if they do it right every time, they’ll be doing it right at the right time.

What’s your view?

Inextricably linked

I read two things yesterday that cemented for me the fact that, due to the effect of social media, customer service and public relations are now inextricably linked.

The first was a quote by Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s former marketing director (and sister of the social networking site’s famous CEO), in the August 2011 issue of Hotel Management.

She said, “We’re basically at a place where you can’t afford to [let] a very vocal person have a bad experience [at your business].”

The second was a blog post by Peter Shankman titled, The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told, Starring Morton’s Steakhouse.

In it, Peter describes an act of heroic service delivered by a Morton’s Steakhouse in New Jersey that was initiated by a simple tweet by him in Florida hours earlier. While Peter attempts to play down the role his Twitter follower count and related influence may have played, Morton’s is savvy enough to recognize a PR opportunity when they see it.

What happened next is the stuff of legends—though one may debate whether it was legendary customer service or a legendary PR ploy.

Either way, you’ve got to hand it to Morton’s for assertively monitoring its Twitter feed and capitalizing on an opportunity that countless, less engaged businesses would have simply allowed to lapse…

And it was an opportunity. Within one day of Shankman’s blog post, there have already been hundreds, if not thousands, of social media pings—blog comments, Twitter retweets, Facebook Likes, etc.—pertaining to it.

Aside from the obvious benefits to Morton’s reputation, consider this sampling of comments by readers of the post:

  • “I don’t eat out at steakhouses too much, but Morton’s is now on my radar.”
  • “I’ll be looking for an opportunity to visit a Morton’s in my area and will definately remember this story.”
  • “And then you have me, just a guy who has never heard of Morton’s reading this post because a friend linked to it on Facebook. I read it and think, huh, maybe I should try this place.”
  • “I’m from Northern Ontario in Canada and I’ve never even heard of Morton’s but I swear if I’m ever near one I will remember THIS story and I will stop in!!”
  • “I’ve never eaten at a Morton’s…but I’m looking for a place for a special dinner soon and will now be booking it at the Morton’s in Baltimore.”

Whatever resources Morton’s may have invested in this over-the-top PR stunt, its positive return on investment is incalculable.

Randi Zuckerberg cautioned businesses to avoid letting a very vocal person have a bad experience. The opposite is also true: Businesses should go out of their way to ensure that a very vocal person has an exceptional experience.

By capitalizing on the opportunity presented—even unwittingly—by (a very vocal) Peter Shankman, Morton’s did just that. They understand the new reality that, due to the effect of social media, customer service and public relations are now inextricably linked.

Have an opinion? We’re listening.