Over the holiday break, my wife and I had two memorable experiences when we went to Morton's and the Olive Garden for dinner. These chain restaurants sit at different ends of the market, and we had very different experiences -- but not in the way you might expect.
I am not talking about the food; I am talking about how the marketing staffs at both chains responded to me as a customer after I left the premises.
We had a bad experience at Morton's, a top-end steakhouse, and a great experience at the Olive Garden. As an experiment, I posted comments on both chains' website feedback forms, and I posted two tweets on my Twitter account. This is when things got interesting.
One restaurant immediately emailed me an automated response that said it would take up to a week for someone to get back to me. Setting expectations and letting people know that a comment didn't fall into a black hole is a good idea. A few days later, I did get a very nice, personal email that showed me someone had taken the time to research the situation, contact the employees at the restaurant, and send along my comments. I felt appreciated for my business, and I believed the time I spent filling out the form was worthwhile, since the restaurant acted on it quickly.
With the other restaurant, there was no response to the web comment form. Where did the comment go? I have no idea.
Both chains sent almost immediate Twitter feedback. That is to be expected, since both chains' Twitter accounts are fairly active and engaged with followers.
Which chain did what? The Olive Garden was the proactive one, perhaps because I was praising it. But it was clear to me that this chain had the right corporate culture and took its feedback seriously.
From Spaghetti Sauce to Social Media
David Strom found that the Olive Garden has mastered more than garlic knots and lasagna.
Morton's was the laggard. Eventually, a district manager called me (from my Twitter interaction) and offered me a gift certificate to return to the restaurant and try it again. I probably will, just because the temptation for free food is great. But after I posted a column on my personal blog, I heard from other dissatisfied Morton's customers, many of whom didn't take the time to email or tweet about their experiences.
What made the difference? The Olive Garden was proactive in communicating with us, both at the restaurant and afterward. Morton's took its time and was unhelpful until our dissatisfaction with our meal became public.
It shows you how any brand is built on a single experience. Would I go back to the Olive Garden? Definitely yes. How about Morton's? Unlikely, if I have to spend my money.
What is the lesson from this experiment? Take your customers seriously, or they won't be your customers for long. Every interaction is a test to see if everyone in the customer-facing arena can deliver on the best possible experience. And though my Olive Garden meal wasn't as fancy, the level of service was far beyond what Morton's offered. Ultimately, that is what matters. And if you aren't using any social media monitoring tools, there are numerous inexpensive ones, including Gremln.com, Viralheat.com, and Ubervu.com.
— David Strom is a world-known expert on networking and communications technologies. He has worked extensively in the IT end-user computing industry and has managed editorial operations for trade publications in the network computing, electronics components, computer enthusiast, reseller channel, and security markets.