It’s Rarely The Money

With the Masters tournament complete, many clubs are excited about the prospect of bringing on new members.  Enticing new people should always be a top priority, but it does little for moving the club forward if at the same time current members are departing.

Two of the biggest head-scratchers as it relates to membership retention continues to be the failure of clubs to recognize who is about to leave…and worse…saving those that should still be members, but have resigned.

The first issue is fairly simple and has been addressed in past Pillars of Golf articles.  In short, identify your bottom 10% “spenders” and meet with them (in person) if possible.  Those are the most likely to leave.

The second issue should be loads easier to identify, since most clubs require a thirty day notice before a member can resign, but this is where many clubs freeze.  How?  Many have no step by step resignation process or procedure in place.  In fact,  I would lay money that nine times out of ten, clubs (gasp) don’t even bother to have lunch with the about-to-resign member?

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Can’t we all agree that keeping a member is at least fifty times easier than getting a new one?

“…but everyone says they are resigning because of the money?  How are we supposed to fix that”?

In the sales world, there is a little known nugget of truth called the “rule of three”.  The rule of three states that, “the (first) reason the prospect/customer gives you for not moving forward is never the real issue, it is usually three levels deeper”.  In other words, money may be a possible indicator of why they are resigning, but likely, not what is really going on.  For our purposes, it would be best to assume it isn’t the money, because in truth, it rarely is…but you will have to dig a little to find out.

It sounds something like this, “Fred, I got your resignation letter and I gotta tell you, I am really sorry to see you go.  I know you referenced financial reasons for dropping your membership and I can appreciate that.  Can we talk a little bit about your experience at the club?  What I would really like to know is…how can we improve”?

More than likely they will open up because, 1) people love to be heard and in most cases, 2) few ask for their honest appraisal.

A brief checklist of every area of your club over lunch is the best approach.  The key is have the member score each question/area either numerically or with a letter grade.  As you work through the questions, ask without justifying or defending, or you will run the risk of shutting them down.  For example, “Fred, you gave our pro shop staff a 7, in your view, how could I move them to at least a nine”?  

If you hear all high marks…than money is the most likely scenario for them choosing to leave.  After all, who would leave if your club hit all of their hot buttons…consistently?

If you hear average to low scores, than you know it is likely more than just money.

For example, “Fred, you mentioned it was hard to get a tee time a week ahead of time…can you tell me a little more about that”?

Fred:  “Well, I usually call 5-10 minutes after the club opens one week ahead of time and inevitably there are three tee times left in a three hour span?  You can’t tell me that in five minutes, 16 out of 18 tee times are already taken”.

Or another…”Fred, it sounds like you are frustrated by the number of outside events we have, can we talk a little more about that”?

Fred:  “We are a private club!?!?  I barely play in the winter due to the weather, then I figure nearly 2-3 weeks in the fall and spring you can barely play due to aerification…and on top of that we book twenty tournaments.  It’s too much”.

One more…”It sounds like you are frustrated by the two sets of rules at the club, can you explain what you meant by that”?

Fred:  “Well…if you are part of Walter’s group, it seems you can drive your cart wherever you want, get drunk in front of my family while dining, and cuss all you want after errant shots…and nobody says a word because he and his group have been here for twenty years.  You guys want new members all of the time, but who wants to come when fifteen guys ruin it for the other 350?  Clubs to me are about respect…for everyone”.

Note:  For the sake of space, I am over-simplifying how easy people will speak up, but the point is, this will/should be done over a 45-60 minute lunch and over that amount of time, and with a sincere attitude to listen and fix things, the real reason(s) will probably surface for their decision.

Once you gather all of the data from the exit interview the next step is to try and save them as members.  Does your club have a hardship or medical leave policy in place?  Can the board or GM, at their discretion, freeze a membership or move the member to a social category for a few months?  If so, offer one of these as an option…90% of the time, the member will take you up on it, and more than likely stay.

“Fred, what if I could put you on a temporary leave?  We could give you some time to get back on your feet.  In the mean time, if we can fix some of the more pressing issues you have brought up and your financial situation improves, do you think we could get you to rethink things”?

With Fred temporarily frozen, now is the time to work on any issues that came to light from your meeting.  More than likely, other members are sitting in silence and could be your next “Fred”.

Most clubs do a poor job communicating why people like Fred leave, but in reality it should be as important as the price of fertilizer going up, a menu change, or whether to add another tournament to the schedule.

Think about how many people resign from your club per year and next ponder how likely they will be to return if you ignore them?

If you don’t have a formal process in place, develop one.  A one-two page questionnaire may seem long, but again, many people will give you their honest opinion if you are truly concerned.  When you consider how hard it (typically) is to bring in new members, the time and effort to save the ones you already have is really small in the grand scheme of things.  And on the off-chance you don’t or can’t save them, you’ll have really good data moving forward.

Good luck!

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