Why the Customer Experience at Morton's Steakhouse Sizzles

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
A 40X increase in customer feedback gives the restaurant chain deep insight into customer preferences.

Steak isn't the only thing with sizzle at Morton's Steakhouse. With 77 restaurants in seven countries, Morton's prides itself on brand consistency built over three decades and makes it a priority to ensure that all of its guests have such a juicy dining experience they can't wait to go back.

Recognizing the importance of customer feedback to achieve those goals, last year Morton's changed the way it reaches out to its guests. Working with CAC Group, Morton's designed a trigger-based customer feedback program to replace its receipt-based surveys. As a result the restaurant chain saw a surge in response rates-from 50 diners answering a survey through a link on their guest receipt every month to a staggering 2,000 monthly replies to a trigger email sent within hours of the dining experience.

This extensive feedback is helping the organization see trends within and across different restaurants, as well as identify positive aspects of the customer experience and changes that need to be made, says Roger Drake, Morton's senior vice president for marketing and communications. "Morton's is the type of dining experience where the bar is set [exceptionally] high, so people are very vocal about what they really enjoy or what didn't match their expectations," Drake says, adding that the company's philosophy is to wow its customers or risk losing them to its competitors.

Feedback is welcomed and listened to

Morton welcomes and encourages feedback not only from its most vocal customers, but from all of its diners. To get the latest insight, it emails guests within 24 hours of dining at a Morton's location, when the meal is still fresh in their minds. Apart from thanking them for their visit, guests are also urged to rate different elements of their dining experience, including hospitality, food preparation, d?r, and noise levels.

The survey results are examined daily and any rating less than the maximum five is reviewed in detail. Regional or restaurant managers contact all guests who indicate they are willing to speak to a Morton's representative, to get specific feedback about their experience. Drake says that while a four or 4.5 rating indicate a guest being satisfied, it's not enough for Morton's. "'Fine' is never a good answer for us."

While this extensive data has not triggered any changes to the restaurant's menu-which, Drake says, stays traditional and does not follow trends-it has helped managers identify areas that need to be strengthened in terms of service, by regions and by individual restaurants. In fact, by concentrating on key customer service areas cited in surveys, a region that was ranked at the bottom has seen significant increases in regional rankings and has climbed up to fourth place among 12 regions in just three quarters. Hospitality is an extremely important element of setting a restaurant apart from others, so Morton's makes excellence in that area a priority. "If we're not meeting expectations in hospitality, we need to refine everything," he says.

Restaurant teams take the customer feedback to heart, understanding that this is a great vehicle for them to improve what they do. Drake says that rather than coming up with excuses, the organization tries to find the truth in information it receives and then figure out ways to resolve any problems and improve any areas that need enhancements. One company-wide change revolved around the initial greeting, which was scoring lower than it should for such a crucial first step of the customer experience. Taking insights from comments, Morton's was able to make operational changes which that have positively impacted the experience, including moving the host in front of the reservation desk and creating a warmer, friendlier initial greeting environment. As a result, the company has seen a 10 percent improvement in scores in just one quarter.

"The feedback that we get, especially the survey feedback because of the volume, can only help a brand like Morton's because we are all about taking care of people," he says.

Reaching out over different channels

Despite receiving ample feedback from its email surveys, Morton's has not stopped listening to guests who feel more comfortable using more traditional modes of communication, and Drake says the restaurant still receives letters from its guests, as well as emails. Every inquiry is answered within 24 hours, regardless of the channel it comes through.

The company has also established a strong social media presence, with a Facebook page and multiple Twitter accounts, which are monitored on a daily basis. Drake says that only by replying to every inquiry was the restaurant able to increase its social media presence. "Since the first day we've kept it simple. We post some good content, but most important, we've responded to every guest. We wouldn't do it any other way and we take pride in the way we do it."

The organization understands that responding to guests makes them more likely to continue giving feedback since they feel their opinions are valued. Drake says there are regular guests who contact him every time they dine at a Morton's restaurant, even though he has never met them. Several long-time employees have a similar relationship with returning diners. This feedback is especially precious since it comes from people who are already aware of the Morton's brand, know what to expect, and are able to point out to anything that was atypical, whether positive or negative.

Drake, who has been involved in marketing and PR at Morton's for the past 20 years, says today's consumers are more educated when it comes to both food and wine and are sending more sophisticated feedback. "Guests are more discriminating in terms of what they like and what they don't," he says.

Although Drake says it's difficult to say whether communicating with guests has led to changes in revenue, Morton's has experienced six consecutive quarters of positive growth and saw a 5.3 percent increase in revenue between 2009 and last year, reaching $296.1 million in 2010. A tasty result, indeed.