During my time working at Jacobsen we developed what we referred to as the 3 "B"s of our business, these were: 'building relationships' with our customers, we had to 'build' a good product that met our customers' needs and we had to 'back' it up for the life of the machinery. This was, at least partly, a derivation of the traditional saying that all business is about People, Products, and Price.
Over the last many years there is no doubt that the standard of the product produced, the golf course itself, has improved significantly as new agronomic techniques, more advanced equipment and increasing professionalisation of the Golf Course Superintendent have driven up standards across the world, you only have to watch old footage of any golf courses to see how greens, in particular, have improved beyond recognition.
Watching The Masters recently was a great example of how the golf courses today can be manicured to such an amazing standard, I don't think Augusta actually said what speed the greens were stimping at, but watching the best golfers in the world terrified of the putt from the back of the 13th green to the pin at the front was amazing.
This raising of standards helps improve the golfers' experience and is a positive step for the industry. It has, however, led to a trend towards higher costs which has put further financial pressure on clubs already struggling with the increased competition caused by the overbuilding that took place in the 20th Century.
The number of golf courses around the world grew strongly from the mid 50s when TV and the "Palmer" factor drove interest in the game. In more recent years, the number of golfers has been in decline as the baby boomers age out and the new generations have so much more choice and options for their leisure time.
Unfortunately, but inevitably as these pressures increased, clubs looked at other ways to compete and price became more and more a key tool in the battle to keep or gain members and green fees to the extent that now, in much of UK and EU, golf is very inexpensive, making it tough for clubs to continue to invest in the product improvement that has been a feature of the last fifty years or so.
The area where I feel we have some further opportunities to delight our golfers, and maybe make them less focused on either the price or even the product, is to look at how our people interact with our customers. I titled this piece "Why Golf should be a Service Industry" and I believe that enhancing golf's service credential would be good for the industry overall and would certainly give a competitive advantage to any club that truly embraces this philosophy and drives it through their organisation.
Virtually all businesses (except the utility monopolies!) claim that they offer and value customer service above all else. The reality is that some find it easier to say than to actually deliver, and this is true in the golf industry as well. So, what are three simple things that I have experienced successful clubs around the world have implemented to "delight their customers"?
Name recognition is huge in making a member or visitor feel welcome and special and, whilst it does cost some time, it should be inexpensive to implement.
At a club I was fortunate enough to be a member at, all members had to submit a photograph at the time of joining and these were pasted into a book (either real or virtual). Staff members were required to study the book and learn member's names, managers kept an eye on the interactions and made sure that the members were addressed by name. I never met anyone who did not really value being treated in this way.
Interaction with the Pro is a great way of making members and visitors feel they are getting added value out of a driving range experience.
I was a guest at a golf course recently and, prior to our round, we were hitting some balls on the range - why it is easy to hit great drives on the range and then absolute rubbish when on the course is one of the life's great mysteries! - the Pro wandered out of the Pro shop and spent a few minutes with each person on the range and gave a few tips to each one - he suggested I give up golf for example!. So often, the Pro is locked up doing relatively low-level paperwork rather than high-value interactions with guests and members.
It is not a privilege for someone to play/join any golf course. Some friends of mine were recently moving into a new area and wanted to join a club, there were two main 18-hole facilities in the area, both at a similar price for subscription and joining fees.
One of the courses was a slightly better layout and had a higher maintenance standard than the other and, so, their initial reaction was to join the slightly better club. Before committing, however, they played and spent time at both clubs and experienced the culture and staff at each.
In the end, they chose the slightly inferior course simply because the staff attitude was "we want you, we value you, we like you, you are welcome" The staff and management made the difference and became a competitive advantage.
Whilst these are all relatively simple things and most golf courses are already doing them today, I think a focus on delighting customers and making the staff a competitive advantage is something that all of us benefit from keeping at the forefront of our daily thinking.
Golf needs to make sure that the focus on people is just as strong as our desire to improve our product, and this will help us get the best price from our customers.
If you would like to view the original article from Golf Business Monitor please visit HERE.