Whether you work for a private or public course, nothing says “service” more to your customer or member than recognition, even in its simplest form.
Have you ever been to a business where everyone speaks to you as you walk by? And then visited their competitor down the street…and felt as if you were invisible?
In almost every case, the first place to look is the top. Those businesses that train for days instead of minutes. Who understand the power of a simple hello, a name remembered each time they visit, and that little extra that makes the customer want to come back.
If you don’t already have this kind of atmosphere at your club, your customer or member will tolerate it, but only for so long.
I visited Camargo Golf Club last week to try my hand at qualifying for the U.S. Amateur. The club is a perfectly preserved Seth Raynor gem, with an equally impressive staff that understands the power of exceptional service. When you consider the club has few members (by choice) and still acts as if everyone on the property is a valued member, the only conclusion one can draw is that everything is being done on purpose.
I’m not sure if Head Professional, Tom Cecil actually has a formal “thirty foot rule” written policy, but his staff certainly practices it. What is the “thirty foot rule”? It simply says, “if you are within thirty feet of a guest or member, speak”.
Simple. Right? But you would be shocked to find the number of pro shops I visit where employees barely lift their heads from their phones, as if you are a nuance that doesn’t pay their checks each week.
Saying “hello” should be the bare minimum you should accept from your employees (by the way), but better, would be an actual conversation like:
- Great to see you out here today Mr. Smith, I hope you play well.
- How are your kids doing, I saw they participated in the junior event last week?
- How is your golf game coming since you started taking lessons with John?
- We just got in a few new shirts in your size, can you tell me your honest opinion on them?
One of the things that struck me about my visit at Camargo was EVERYONE, not just the Pro Shop staff, followed the “thirty foot rule” when:
- The Head Chef brought my sandwich to me personally and after my last round asked how I played (wow!).
- The cart attendant asked how I played having taken several minutes the day before my round to explain where to hit certain shots.
- The Head Professional introduced himself in person (removing his hat of course), after hearing the starter announce my name and then later asking how I got along with my caddie Steve.
The difference in a warm welcome and a cold one often comes down to the intentionality of the employees and their desire to create an experience each time they come in contact with a member or guest.
If your members were issued a grade card to determine well your staff created a “Wow” experience, how do you think they would perform?
By now, it should be clear how important the first thirty days of a new members life is to your club.
I say “should be” with my tongue firmly pressed in cheek, since many members have a tough time distinguishing between the first thirty days, to the next ninety days, to the next three-hundred and sixty days, as it relates to how you and your staff interacts with them.
Being really friendly doesn’t count. That is expected. Remembering their name each time they visit doesn’t count either. That is also a given.
The deeper question you should be asking…
The one that should be answered every day, every interaction, and every chance they visit the club…is “HOW SPECIAL DO I MAKE MY MEMBERS FEEL”?
One of the best ways to separate yourself from all of the other business they interact with on a regular basis, is how you handle that critical first thirty days.
Think about how excited they are! They just joined your club. They are probably hoping to meet new people. Hoping to make memories with their families. Hoping to have a great place to take clients. There is never a better time to capitalize on their excitement…and double it…if you are intentional about it.
If you don’t already have a formalized plan in place or want a suggestion or two on how to make your current process better, keep reading:
- Within twenty-four hours of joining, call them personally and thank them. It sounds something like, “…Mr. Smith, I heard through the grapevine you joined our club today!?!? I just wanted to call and personally thank you, and send my warmest welcome to you and your family…”. Five minutes tops, bonus if they decide to talk longer. If you sold them their membership yourself, have the General Manager or Club President make the call. They will feel like a million bucks!
- Within twenty-four hours of joining, send them a hand-written thank you note. You don’t have to get too wordy. Something short and sweet will do. No one does this, but you can, and believe me, they’ll remember the gesture.
- Within 72 hours, schedule a time where they can personally meet with the Tennis Pro, Golf Pro, or whomever is responsible for the area they told you most interested them about the club. This will be a great time for their respective Pro to sign them up for lessons, fun tournaments that you probably hold every few weeks, or to meet with your Social Programs leader to help them meet new people.
- Within two weeks, mail them a voucher for lunch or dinner in whatever denomination your club can afford: Free, buy one entree get one free, spend $25 get $25, 50% off their total bill, etc. Ask them to use this in the next two weeks because you, “wanted to get their honest opinion about the food quality, portions, and service, as you are always trying to improve the members experience at the club”.
- Within thirty days, schedule a “I need your help in honestly evaluating our club” lunch. This is the biggie that no one in town does, or for that matter, few in the country do…but it may be one of the most critical lunches you have as it relates to good or bad employees, member expectations vs. reality, and/or suggestions for bettering the club. You will want to understand the following by the end of lunch:
- What specifically brought them to your club?
- Where you might need to improve?
- What you are doing right?
- If they have ideas for improving things?
- If they know of other people that might want to join?
Since no one ever (1) asks their opinion and/or (2) is humble enough to accept whatever answers are given, they will be very uncomfortable giving you this information for the most part. With that said, the way you word your questions and the tone you use is very important. The goal is to make them feel like they are experts, even if they are the furthest thing from it…but if you think about it, there are probably another twenty potential members that think just like them, that could be your next new member, so listen carefully.
You might specifically ask:
“Mr. Smith, I would like to believe we didn’t have any other competition in town, but the fact is there are other nice clubs in town, as well as several good public options (never slam the competition)…if you don’t mind, could you share with me what were some of the most important factors you looked at before deciding to join the club”
“We are always trying to improve the club, but also are mindful of our members budget and the general consensus of their desires…tell me, if you had a magic wand, how would you make the club better”?
“If we held more events for (Tennis, Golf, juniors, couples), do you see you or your family coming out more? If not, what could we do to get more people out in your view”?
“We would like to think we communicate clearly and often with our membership, but have heard a few say, we could improve. What has your experience been so far”?
“If you could tell others, in a sentence, your experience with us so far, what would you say”?
You get the idea. One thing you don’t want to do is get into a “justifying” match with your new member by being overly defensive. Take their criticism and compliments in equal measure. The goal is to connect, listen, and hopefully turn them into a walking billboard for you club.
In my spare time and for fun (?!?!?), I read anywhere between fifty and sixty Private Club newsletters per month. I applaud many clubs for the time and effort they make in trying to engage their members…but as it relates to actually growing the game of golf with new blood, I give most clubs a BIG FAT F!
What are we doing to attract new people to the game?
If your answer is, “great greens and a sub-four hour round” or “Pan-Asian night”, then please stop reading now.
Do you remember when you first fell in love with the game? I do. I was a twenty-year old sophomore at East Tennessee State University, having just transferred from a small, private college with the dream to play collegiate baseball. I grew up living and breathing the game. Baseball that is, not golf. Growing up in the 1970’s, golf (and soccer) was considered a “sissy” sport played by those that didn’t have the coordination or aggression to play baseball, football, or basketball…but I digress.
My tryout for the ETSU baseball team lasted three days, and I bombed! A few days later (dejected), I got a job at a brand new Play It Again Sports franchise in Johnson City, TN. As it turned out, golf turned out to be our biggest department, taking up some 35% of the floor space. I was fascinated by the same people, who week over week would come in looking for something new, which seemed strange to me having played with the same mitt and bat for years? I often wondered aloud…”what were these people looking for”.
A month later, I got my first set of clubs. A nice Dunlop fourteen club set with matching everything. After work I hit the range a few days per week and for three months couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bazooka. I was terrible! Three months into my “golf career”, a local golf pro, Earl Fennel came into the store. He reminded me of Ben Hogan, although at the time, I only knew of who Ben Hogan was by the number of Apex sets we sold. He had a firm handshake and spoke in crisp absolutes about the game. I told him how bad I was, but said “I am determined to improve”. He gave me his card and said, “Meet me at 2 pm SHARP this Friday”.
Friday comes. I’m excited. Finally, I will learn how to hit it like the pros. I shook Mr. Fennel’s hand and he told me, “grab your seven iron son”. I took my time…and proceeded to hit five worm-burners down the range. He said, “that’s terrible. Let me see your hands”. He changed my grip, worked on my path a little and explained how hitting down would make the ball rise. I was skeptical. I still remember to this day him saying, “Joe, you have to open the door then close the door on the downswing”. My second swing was the one! A high towering seven iron that went a little left instead of right! I was hooked. I stayed and hit balls for two hours that day. And the rest…is history.
I tell you this story to (hopefully) remind you of when and why you fell in love with the game. You could probably tell a similar story about your introduction to the game.
Guess what? There are hundreds of kids in your town that if given the chance would fall in love with the game much the same as we did…but they won’t because we collectively are doing little to attract them. Why?
You want the cold, hard truth?
The tennis pro, at every club I read about has more programs and is more engaging than the golf pro. PERIOD!
I can’t begin to tell you the number of clubs that take a full page to explain all of their monthly tennis programs for beginners to advanced players, whether it be in Johnson City, TN or New York City, while the golf calendar has…Men’s league, nine hole ladies, and a weekly dog fight. Zzzzzzzzz.
Why is the financial loser of the club the engaging superstar?
Why do I (almost) always see the tennis pro giving lessons or playing with members while the golf pro is stuck behind a desk?
Take a look at the picture below and ask yourself, “would we really have that much trouble attracting new people to the game if our calendar half-way resembled the tennis pros”?
How many members are you willing to lose before firing the one employee you know is causing the most friction?
How many exposures does it take before a potential member becomes a full-fledged member?
Three, Five, or Seven?
Even with drastically reduced or zero initiation fees now prevalent at all but the top clubs, the number is probably growing for most wouldn’t you say?
If you had to assign your PICOSM (person in charge of selling memberships) a letter grade for their ability to sell memberships, how would they rank?
If memberships were $100,000, how good would you feel about them making the sale?
“I wish we could get $100,000 out of a new member….”
You do (already), you just don’t think of each new guest as a $100,000 sale…and therein lies one of the many reasons your membership roles are down.
“You are talking about the wrong club. Our dues average $350 per month”.
$350 x 12 months = $4,200.
Is it safe to say this member might bring a guest? Eat a few meals? Buy a few shirts or boxes of balls in the pro shop? Is it safer to say that number is probably closer to $5,000 (or more)? Probably.
$5,000 x 20 years = $100,000
What would happen if your PICOSM viewed every guest as a potential $100,000 sale and your club made it worth their while with a great incentive plan?
Would they suddenly start writing hand-written thank you notes to guests?
Might they give up after leaving one voice mail (with no call back) to a potential member and say, “I guess they weren’t interested in joining”?
Do you think they would consider starting a Facebook and/or e-marketing campaign to stay in touch with potential members on the off-chance they didn’t join on their first visit?
“That would be great to create those campaigns but we really don’t have that many visitors per month so I can’t really see the feasibility”.
How many outings will you host this year with eighty or more players?
Could you assume that three or four of those players might be a good fit for membership just by their presence in your outing? Why not?
“Surely you aren’t recommending I call or email eighty people every time we have an outing…do you know how long that would take”?
I do. If you were able to actually speak with each guest, I’m guessing you would spend four-hundred minutes on the phone assuming each person took five minutes. Is that a lot of time? In the grand scheme of things, not really when you (again) consider each member is worth at least $100,000 over the life of their membership.
What should the phone call sound like?
“Hello Mr. Smith, I just wanted to thank you for coming out to play in the XXXXX charity tournament on Monday. My name is ____________________, I’m the _____________ at the club. Do you have a few minutes to talk? Great! What I was hoping for was your help in evaluating our club as we are always trying to improve…”
You might ask:
- Was the tournament well run as compared with others you have played?
- What did you think of the course overall?
- Where do you normally play and how do we stack up against your favorite course?
- I know most people hate to be critical, but I was wondering, if you could improve one thing at the club, what would it be?
- We are always trying to get people like yourself as members of the club…there must be a reason why you haven’t joined in the past?
Be simple. To the point. And really listen to the answers they give. Whatever they say is gold and should help you learn better how to position your club in the future.
If you are one of the .005% that will take up this challenge, you have to do it with the positive thought that is will, 1) make the club better in the end and 2) possibly gain new members. If you think it is a “waste of three hours”, it will sound that way on the other end of the phone.
Separating yourself from the pack will require you to do things you have never done to get results you have never achieved.
Most people would rather not lose, than save. Make sure your Marketing material reflects this truism.
How do you get repeat lessons? A simple thank you and follow-up.
How do you get more purchases in the pro shop? A simple thank you and follow-up.
How do you grow your referral base? Thank you and follow-up.
It is a fact that many championship teams have at last one or two superstars, but without the basics of looking the ball into their mitt in baseball, blocking until the play is whistled dead in football, or following their shot in basketball, many teams would probably end up good, but not great.
Many clubs wonder why they struggle, and I can tell you one of the reasons is their negligent adherence to the basics.
I have taken at least fifty full one hour lessons in my twenty plus years of playing the game of Golf. Guess how many thank you notes I have received in all of those years? One…and it was hand-written (bonus). Guess how many follow-up phone calls I have received a few days after my lesson to see if what I learned actually worked? Zero.
When was the last time you gave a handwritten thank you note to a member, an employee, or a guest to express your appreciation?
My first job after graduating from college was selling mobile phones. In 1996, my company was the first to come out with a digital version of the cellular phone. You would think the task would be easy if you are old enough to remember how much static and the number of dropped calls the old cellular phones users had to live with. But with few digital towers and inexpensive rates to compete against, selling was tough.
After a few of months of bad commission checks, I decided to radically change my approach to the early adopting potential customers in my base. How?
- I committed to train each customer for twenty to thirty minutes on the features of the phone to ensure they could use it to its fullest potential before leaving.
- I wrote hand-written thank you notes to each customer that bought from me.
- I called each customer personally two to three days after their purchase to be sure they were happy with their service and to see if they had any friends that I should speak to.
Again, this was in 1996 when my commission on a new customer was a handsome $20 + 10% on accessory sales.
When you add up the number of years most members stay at their respective clubs, multiplied by the number of dollars each member and their families spend, the decision to not “block”, “follow your shot”, or “look the ball into your mitt”, is a sure predictor of a losing season.
Let’s be honest, your website stinks!
You want me to prove it to you? Well, statistically speaking I can’t because if your like 97% of the Private and Public clubs in America, you don’t track daily, weekly, or even monthly web hits. Equally worse, you have no idea what specific areas potential members are viewing within your website. Ugh!
Aesthetically, I can tell you…your landing page is boooooooooooooooring, confusing, disjointed, and the stock template the youngster you traded out a membership for to create your site is sadly past its prime.
Relevant information about your club? Hard to find or non-existent.
And the pictures taken in 01’ with the clubs 2.1 megapixel camera…looks like they were taken in 2001 with a 2.1 megapixel camera.
When you take into consideration most clubs website is their marketing program, glaring items like the ones pointed out above aren’t sad, they are fatal.
Potential members are looking for a home away from home, and just like the poorly marketed personal residence, if it isn’t presented in the best light, no one will request a showing.
What should you add immediately to spruce up your site?
- A Facebook Button – This simple, free, and powerful medium is your key to the fifty and under crowd (if utilized properly). When people “click” your Facebook button, they become a “fan” of your club and automatically get live feeds of information you create about your club. You want to create a lot of buzz and excitement? This is the perfect tool.
- A Course Tour – I am constantly no longer amazed by the number of clubs that are in horrible financial shape, yet focus on the clubs financial loser, the Restaurant over the financial star, the Golf course. Are you one of the guilty ones with pictures of your Restaurant, a few more shots of the dishes you serve, and a beautiful rendition of your breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu on a downloadable pdf, but few of your course? If so, why? People don’t join a Restaurant club with a Golf course. If your course is truly the star, then let it shine with a shot by shot tour of each hole (bonus points if you ask for an email address to view it).
- Your Newsletters – By now, most clubs have probably converted to a downloadable monthly Newsletter, but few clubs actually post them on their website? Outside of an active Facebook account, nothing puts more personality into your club for the prospective member than a well-written, interesting, and informative newsletter.
- Scrolling pictures of “Hot Buttons” – Can you imagine a television commercial featuring one immovable image with thirty seconds of dialogue playing in the background? Of course not, but many clubs landing page does that very thing making the users first impression drab. You want to draw the prospective member in on multiple fronts and I bet your pictures could tell a powerful story if you added this simple feature to your site.
- A Summation Statement of Why A Person Should Join Your Club -Can you boast of consistent three to four hour rounds? A host of weekly events that any handicap can participate in? A famous design/architectural pedigree you would like to feature, i.e., Ross, Tillinghast, Raynor, or Maxwell? Do you have a great junior program? Why not bullet-point all of these “features and benefits” in one place on the off-chance the husband can’t convince his wife simply because he likes the golf course.