Thanks for asking

Many of you will recall that I wrote an article in the March issue about member/player surveys (“A Question Left Unasked). In that column, I mentioned how surveys and feedback are the lifeblood of any business, especially those in the hospitality industry. Yet it’s almost unheard of in golf (which is a hospitality/entertainment business, in case you forgot).

The feedback from that article was tremendous—with golfers across Australia espousing the benefits they’ve received since launching their own member/guest surveys.

Indeed, getting honest, solid feedback from the people that play your course, use your clubhouse and experience your staff’s customer service is paramount to maintaining (or improving) your product. If you—or your board—are making decisions at your club based solely upon hunches or gut feelings (and eschewing actual, real-world data) then you are setting yourselves up for failure.

With all that said, you can thus imagine my surprise when the following took place:

At the recent GMA National Conference, I met with a variety of golfers, administrators, GMs, committee-people and Board Members from clubs across the country. During the conference and in some ad-hoc meetings, we discussed a variety of issues plaguing golf in Australia. During one such meeting, I spoke to a Board member whose club is seeing a significant drop-off in members. When I asked this person why their members were leaving, they responded that they “had a few possible guesses/reasons why, but really don’t know for certain”.   

I quietly mentioned to this person that I’d written an article about member surveys, and recapped how a few simple questions can do wonders for generating feedback, like “A) In your opinion, what did we do right? and B) What are one or two things we can do to improve our course/club/service to ensure a better experience?” etc. 

And this is when the surprising thing happened:

“I’m not sure we should do a member survey,” this person said. “Because if we ask the members what they would improve upon, they may then assume that we are going to actually make changes.”

I stood there, dumbfounded, as I tried to process this level of reasoning.

As I sit here now, a month or so later, I still can’t make heads or tails of it. However, I have come to the conclusion that this level of reasoning is not unique in Board-land.  There are many Board and committee members who either don’t have the skills to properly fulfil their obligations, or simply don’t have the passion/energy/commitment to do what is best for their club. Maybe they are afraid of rocking the boat?

Or maybe they forget that a Board/Committee is there to work FOR the members (i.e. on their behalf) and not the other way around. Like the old adage says: “The customer is King.” In this case, the club member is your customer.

As a “customer”, your club members (and their guests) are exposed to your product on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. As a result, every time they are at your club, they are internally making a decision about their membership: they are either reinforcing their happiness, or bolstering their discontent. Over the course of a year, you thus have somewhere between 50-100 (or more) points of contact with your average member (assuming they play once or twice a week).  When their annual subs renewal is up, they will internally tally up those 100 points of contact, and make a decision whether or not the plusses outweigh the minuses.  If the minuses/negatives are too numerous, then you can imagine the decision they will make.

If, however, throughout this period, you give them multiple chances to voice their concerns (via a survey, suggestion box, scheduled focus group or just a simple chat in the member’s lounge) and then make a determined effort to respond/fix the issue(s) raised, it’s far more likely that you can nip the problems in the bud (and maybe add a few plusses to the member’s tally.)

As an example: As some of you know, I sit on the Board at my own club, as well as on the Golf Committee. During one recent round, I made it a point to chat with as many groups as possible on the course…asking them a quick “How is your round? How are you finding the course today? Anything you’d change?”.  And while the feedback was mostly positive, the REAL takeaway from the exercise was that a large number of members genuinely thanked me just for asking. Indeed, some were so happy that I had taken a proactive approach, that they immediately shook my hand and smiled.

Add a few more plusses to the tally!

As usual, see you on the fairways

Richard Fellner

(Story originally appeared in Inside Golf)

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