Saturday, August 12, 2017

In-House, On-Line

 About the same time as the Y2K scare there were a number of companies competing to own and IPO the online tee-time business -, etc.  Part of the marketing strategy of these efforts was to promise the shops they were partnering with free in-store kiosks where members/customers could make tee times online and/or shop with participating vendors in real-time inventories tied into POS systems, which were also going to be provided. As it turned out most of the promises were smoke and mirrors, most of those companies are gone and the only thing remaining is the bad reputation of the term shop-kiosk.

Daniel Island Club

One of the first entries on this blog in 2009 entitled ‘The Climate in Orlando’ references reducing inventories by cutting back the space you need to merchandise with a sitting area. One of the asides mentioned in that discussion was that this area could be a spot where shop staff could sit and go through readily available catalogs of partnered vendors and make special order recommendations.

This entry will suggest taking that concept one step further by adding a laptop to the area with a desktop of icon links to all of the major vendors affiliated with the shop. Envision this laptop sitting on a coffee table in front of a small sofa that used to be functional only as a place to sit and try on golf shoes and where now customers can basically point and click to the entire inventory of goods that you have access to by virtue of the shop’s accounts. The backdrop for this desktop of links could be the message that the shop is in the business of servicing the members/regulars corporate and tournament needs. This is obviously an effort to drive the special order and corporate business, but it also accomplishes some things that are more subtle and perhaps, not quite so apparent.

Most customers today fall into one of two categories: Customer A – the computer savvy, who like most of the population, are increasing their online shopping exponentially every year; or Customer B – the computer fearful who have trouble opening their email let alone point and clicking to drill down to a leather jacket from Peter Millar.

Sand Hills Golf Club

 The laptop kiosk being suggested would intrigue Customer A to take the time to become increasingly familiar with all the goods and services your shop can make available. More interesting perhaps is the opportunity for your staff to teach Customer B how easy it is to navigate the desktop and shop online; more of the ‘above and beyond’ service to which we keep aspiring.

The process of creating this desktop should involve asking the following questions:

·        Do the vendors you are researching have web sites that sell to the public? If they do you may want to reconsider your account.

·        Does your mix of vendors include categories such as tailored clothing, lady’s handbags, luggage, crystal, blue jeans and tennis shoes. This is the perfect way to provide these categories with a minimum of - or no inventory?

·        Does the shop want to go after ad specialty categories such as pencils, name-tags, key chains, tee shirts; who are these vendors and how do we open accounts with them?

·        Do we have someone on staff that has the computer savvy to make this seamless and can they be incentivized to take ownership of the project?

·        Could this concept work better in the locker room or the 19th hole?

·        What is going to be the best way to introduce and market this concept to the customer base or membership? Obvious are newsletter and email announcements, but a special order contest among staff members could be fun also.

 Make the screen saver a rolling slide show of pictures from the member guest or corporate outing.  Also icons to vendor videos would provide in-depth product knowledge that could enhance sales. This will certainly attract attention and promote conversation.

For many shops, whether at private clubs or public facilities with a regular customer base, the special order business can represent as much as 20-25% of the total revenue per year and with a healthy hard-goods business, maybe more. Special orders other than the result of a lesson and club-fitting are almost always the idea of the customer. The kiosk will help inspire more of these ideas in-house. If you are already doing this or something similar please leave a comment.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Intimacy Factor

Here is a simple but powerful rule – always give people more than they expect to get.
- Nelson Boswell

The major difference between Golf Shop Retail and other retailing is what I refer to as the Intimacy factor. The finite number of frequently visiting members and or regulars who are there to play golf, expanded by their guests is an intimate customer base. This is obviously more pronounced at private club’s shops than it is at daily fee facilities but most daily fee courses built in the last decade market themselves as providing a “country club for a day” experience. The point is we are not talking about providing superior service to the general public so much as we are creating relationships with avid golfers who are regular visitors to our golf course and shop and who are often as not the more affluent people in the community. This factor is only limiting if misunderstood; it is actually an incredible leg up.

It is easier to acknowledge someone and strike up a conversation if you know their name, their occupation, the rest of their foursome and their handicap. It becomes even easier if you know their likes and dislikes, the clubs they play and the beer they drink. You can personalize this visit by knowing their birthday, their wife’s name and everyone feels special if you ask about their kids. Jack Mitchell who wrote “Hug Your Customer” talks about being able to name his top 250 customers and in many cases mention their dog by name when they enter his domain. Capturing, retaining and then learning to use this information to enhance your customer’s experience should not be considered above and beyond but rather standard operating procedure for your staff and a fundamental of the culture you are striving to create.

Consider the following experience:

“Mr. Smith, good to see you again. We have some lockers set up for your guests and the Titleist ball that you play are on sale. By the way, how is your boy Kevin doing at the University of Michigan? Is he still on the golf team? We just put out some of those Adidas shorts he likes so much. When your friends show up I’ll check them in and send them up to the range. I am really looking forward to meeting them.”

Now consider an alternative typical occurrence:

Mr. Smith walks in to the shop and has a tee time in ½ an hour with three friends who have never played this course which is Mr. Smith’s regular stomping ground. The assistant pro behind the counter asks Mr. Smith his name and tee-time even though he has played there twice a month for the last five years. “Is the rest of your group here yet? Please see to it they check in and that will be $100 each for the tee time. Report to the starter, show him your receipt and he’ll get you on the tee.”

These incidents could as easily take place at private as well as semi-private or daily-fee pro shops. Mr. Smith A is impressed, bought his son a pair of shorts, himself a dozen balls and is going to make sure to introduce his friends to the staff. He will probably tell anyone who will listen about the way they take care of you at his course of choice. Mr. Smith B is not impressed, as a matter of fact that evening he runs into Mr. Smith A and decides over drinks to change up his regular haunt.

Capturing and retaining information to be used as in the Mr. Smith sample above can be as simple as asking for a business card or jotting some notes and adding to a file but retaining customer information is much easier than it used to be when good retailers kept card files or hand written rolodex. Thirty seconds in the right computer screen and Mr. Smith is becoming a relationship instead of a greens fee.

Both Mr. Smiths made their tee times for themselves and their friends a week ahead of time. Your staff is looking forward to their arrival and impressing them and their guests with proactive service or they are missing an incredible opportunity. It should be standard operating procedure to prepare for arrivals with as much of a personal touch as is possible. If the understanding of the staff/customer interaction at your facility is that they take the money for the tee time and go back to whatever it is they were doing when they were interrupted ala Mr. Smith B then you (the Leader) are a poor captain of a rudderless ship.

The leader and staff that serviced Mr. Smith A realize that in order to continue to effectively Wow customers we need to capture, retain and learn to use pertinent information about pertinent regulars.

Possible specific actions:

  • Challenge each shop associate to create a customer profile of all the existing members/regulars that they have developed a relationship with. This can be done individually but more effective is electronically with Excel or specific software that the entire staff can access.

  • Discuss at all staff meetings creative ways to use these profiles.

  • Challenge each key staff member to develop at least one new relationship and profile per day. At clubs this may seem like a finite number that would be quickly exhausted but it isn’t when you consider guests of members.

The best prospect for a new member and loyal customer is an impressed guest.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Develop True Customer Loyalty - 5 - Hiring to the Culture

TPC Sawgrass

In the first installment of this update to "The Winning Golf Culture" we started with the preface that customers who have a personal loyalty to your business should be every golf facility's primary goal. Patrons and/or members with this type of connection with your brand provide word of mouth marketing and both repeat and new business. 

In an effort to further develope this all-important theme we looked at the following five areas that could help refine our culture and reaffired that putting the right staff together that is capable of this refinement would be the last topic discussed, but perhaps the most important: 
  • The Empathy that your staff projects to the customer's desired experience.
  • The First Impression that the customer has of your facility - both visual and emotional.
  • The Anticipation and fulfillment of customer's needs.
  • This entry will look at the Language and Tone of your brand.

  • Hiring to this Culture to create a memorable team

I'm going to repost the chapter from "The Winning Golf Culture" that deals with the hiring of an exemplary team and then add some new considerations in italics.

Fountain Head Country Club


Hiring to the Culture

Although your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.

 -     Kate Zabriskie

To quote Jack Mitchell again, author of “Hug Your Customer” and one of the owners of a 65 million dollar retail clothing business in a Connecticut town of 28,000 people, hiring to the culture is “the big secret.” Hire well; surround yourself with good people who take ownership and everything else becomes incredibly easier. The attributes they look for at Mitchells and Richards in prospective employees are the following:

1.      Competence
2.      Confidence
3.      Positive attitude
4.      Passion to be the best
5.      Integrity

Another company known for its service and hiring practices is Enterprise Car Rental. There are some similarities between Enterprise offices and golf facilities in that Enterprise keeps their management pipeline, as well as their counters, manned by hiring college interns who are then, when deemed qualified, offered positions with the company as seniors. Many of these offers are accepted because the Enterprise entry on a resume says all the right things about customer care. They ask open –ended questions at the interview that require applicants to directly relate examples of how they have helped people in the past. They look for the following skills[i]:

 1.      A passion for taking care of customers.
     2.      A willingness to be flexible. 
     3.     A work ethic based on dedication to the company 
             and it's mission.                
    4.      An eagerness to learn and work their way up.
    5.      Self- motivation and goal orientation.
    6.      Persuasive sales skills.
    7.      Excellent communication skills.
    8.      Leadership ability.

The attributes I feel are most important to gauge during the hiring, interviewing process are the following:

-          ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE – Is it crystal clear that this candidate is bursting at the seams to get this job? Body language is sometimes as revealing as their answer in that everyone is trying to land the job or they wouldn’t be there. If they are not super enthusiastic now they may be totally disinterested six months from now. Do they look the part and seem like someone your customers will enjoy getting to know? Most importantly, does their personality seem as though it will mesh with and not perch itself above or fall below the culture. If the prospective employee does not get along with the rest of the team they will produce contention that will eventually become a priority that you as a Leader do not need. The candidate will only improve your team by becoming an accepted part of it.

-          ABILITY TO THINK ON YOUR FEET – This is easy to determine if you include one or two open-ended questions in the interview that can only be answered with a story that couldn’t be rehearsed. When I first interviewed to be a golf rep 100 years ago I was asked “What have you done in your life that you are most proud of.” That was it, one question. I guess they liked my answer. I still use that question and at times other than interviews. Another one I like is to ask the candidate to sell me the pad I’m using to take notes. 

-          EMPATHY – Empathy is an important team value but more importantly if you believe in the maxim that “people do business with people they like” then the genuinely empathetic candidate is the only one to consider. Empathetic people are curious and good listeners. They look you in the eye when speaking to you. They are creative because it is part of their nature to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and direct the conversation accordingly instead of reciting the script. Those candidates who don’t convey this quality are usually doomed to shallow relationships and are complainers and blamers rather than problem solvers. During the interview ask them to describe the most empathetic thing they have done lately either at the last job or with family or friends. If they don’t know the definition of empathy help them with a synonym they understand but if, at that point, they are still stuck for an answer – move on.

Any golf facility can hire a great staff with some hard work, patience and a little luck doesn’t hurt. Set the bar high from the first meeting not only about the service culture but what will be expected from them as they fit themselves into the team. Educate often, evaluate those sessions and empower when the time is right.

Reward employees for good service and for salesmanship. Cash incentives and spiffs work well but are not the only way to say “job well done”. Awards, time-off and recognition in a 
newsletter or at staff meetings are powerful culture builders. Treat your salesman of the month to dinner and a movie for them and a significant other.

In order for a culture dedicated to customer service excellence to thrive and survive the Leader must have a burning desire that spreads to all staff members on a daily basis.

Everyone from day one needs to understand that they work for the customer. You cannot have a great golf facility without having a great staff.

The cliche is that -  the chain is only as good as its weakest link. It only takes one inappropriate exchange or action to ruin an experience and defeat all other purposes. Other than the brand and the missed opportunity, the team aspect is what is most affected by the bad apple and that is why a 90 day probationary period that allows without any penalty an assessment of the cohesion with the existing staff is actually best for both parties.

In 2009 I interviewed Phil Owenby who had built the Kinloch experience into an industry adage for service, this is what he replied when asked about his success at building a great culture:

"The Kinloch Experience is all about our team, their attitude and their passion. Every member of our staff has a passion for excellence, enjoys being associated with the golf hospitality business and wants to be a part of the experience. It is about creating relationships with members and guests that creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship. I go back to the four points of service including attitude, anticipation, presentation and teamwork that we continually impress on each other daily. It is truly contagious if you impart a positive, genuine attitude with anticipation of needs and desires while showing a neat, clean and inviting presentation surrounded with great teamwork. I do agree that any facility can benefit individually and collectively from this strategy of enhancing the experience. The Kinloch Experience is our brand that we continually develop and improve through the ideas and performance of our staff members. Our facilities, systems and service all improve through a constant desire to get better at our business model."

In Summary, hiring good people is the most important part of creating a winning culture.

Specific actions to improve the hiring process:

ü  Realize that resumes and references alone do not make all-stars and an all-star team is our goal.

ü  Structure the interview process to include the following:

1.      More than one interview. We are not in a hurry. Think of it more as due diligence.

2.      Have sessions with key staff present as well as yourself.

3.      Ask open-ended questions that allow you to determine the customer friendliness and team spirit of the candidate.

4.      Lay the groundwork of an understanding of what will be expected in terms of service and sales effort.

TPC Sawgrass

[i] Kazanjian, K.,  Exceeding Customer Expectations, New York, NY: Doubleday, 2007.