It's not just the steak, it's the sizzle

href="">connecting, and anticipating.

In a fit of insomnia last night, I stumbled across a recent example of how one company, Morton's Steak House, managed to turn a listening effort into a great customer service example. [Disclosure: I have no idea if Morton's is an Avaya customer, nor what tools they are using to monitor their social web presence. This story isn't about the technology they use, per se, but rather the value that comes from being more "socially aware" overall when engaging with your customer base and communities.]

Our story starts with a seemingly innocent comment by one Peter Shankman, who tweeted just moments before his New York-bound flight took off:

You can read the full story in Peter's own words on his blog, but [spoiler alert!] it turns out that not only was Morton's listening to their community in real-time, they were able to galvanize what was almost guaranteed to be a completely distributed and decentralized organization to surprise (and delight!) this customer by actually meeting him at the airport with a complete steak dinner.

Peter's story demonstrates a very fundamental lesson many businesses are just beginning to learn: it's not sufficient to simply listen to your customers (or potential customers) -- your organization must be nimble enough to react in real-time to capitalize on the interactions.

In his own words, he nicely summarizes this point:

Stay on top of what people are saying about you. Respond accordingly. Perhaps most importantly, have a chain of command in place that actually lets you do these things in real time. Had Morton's had to get permission to make this happen, at 5:10pm on a Wednesday night, there's no way it ever would have.

Now, some people have taken umbrage with Morton's, questioning whether they would have reacted this way had Peter not had over 100,000 followers on his Twitter account.

Personally, I think they made the right call. The business bookshelves are filled with advice on how to care for customers, but I've never read one that said the best course of action is to treat each and every customer exactly the same way. Peter indicates in his retelling of this story that he is a long-time customer of Morton's, which implies (to me) that his repeat business and value to Morton's may be greater than someone who only eats there once a year. Every business makes decisions on how to maximize their value to their customers, and in reverse, which customers are really valuable to them. If the 80/20 rule applies to your business, you'd probably make a similar call as to which customers you'd go the extra mile for.

I would dare say that Morton's certainly didn't expect that Peter, who was in mid-flight and didn't even know that the steak was hitting their grill with a sizzling sound, would then turn around and say anything about the experience, let alone tweet and write his blog item for his audience (or, heck, even that they'd be able to get that dinner to him in time at the airport when he landed - I fly in and out of Newark frequently, and would have put the odds against pulling this off.)

So there had to be another reason that they reacted in the manner that they did, because they couldn't have known it would turn into the PR bonanza that it did... and that reason (at least in my opinion) had to be tied to customer service and customer relationship management.

And if the reason that Morton's did this was because they knew more about Peter, including his background as a recognized expert in customer service, I'd have to give them even more kudo's for this, because that in itself is a great example of customer intimacy and leveraging what they knew about their customer for an exceptional experience.

Sometimes it's the steak, sometimes it's the sizzle... but nothing beats delivering both to your customers.