Saturday, September 26, 2009

Phil Owenby on "Cutting Edge Service"

The successful pro shop in today’s competitive economy is providing "cutting edge", "think outside the box", exemplary service. Anything short of this does not provide the total golf experience that creates word of mouth marketing and should be considered a wasted opportunity. In previous blog entries I have talked about the Nordstrom approach to retail service, the concept of keeping in touch with the customer and using product vendors to help turn your staff into educated retail sales people as well as golf pros and cashiers. The first blog entry posted here (the Johnny the Bagger story) was about inspiring your staff to understand that good service is not a chore or even a challenge so much as it is ideas from the heart as to how to personalize the interaction and end up being sincere, fun efforts at making the customer’s day. Anyone who does not share the vision and understand service as such is going through the motions, will not be warmed up to by the customer and has the potential to ruin the efforts of others. This usually translates into stagnate shop sales at best and members/regulars being disgruntled with the perceived disinterest just as they would be with the lack of service anywhere.

No one that I have worked with in my golf career understands this better, sets the bar higher or translates this to the ‘golf experience’ more effectively than Phil Owenby. The mission at Kinloch Golf Club outside of Richmond where Phil is the Director of Golf is not to make the customer feel simply serviced but to make them feel special to the point where they can’t wait to tell someone about their day at an incredible golf course and how extraordinary everyone was that worked there.

Kinloch Golf Club was recently recognized as America’s 4th best private golf facility in the 2010 Golf World Readers’ Choice Rankings. The club received the only perfect “10.0” rating of the entire listing in the Service category and was ranked 1st in the country.

Phil, it seems that setting the bar high starts at the new hire interview. How do you instill new employees with the Kinloch mantra and what is your tact for defining expectations?

Bringing a new teammate onto the professional staff is a difficult process. You really do not know how an individual will respond to the culture, environment and responsibilities of the position until they are actually in the situation. My focus in the interview process is primarily based on attitude. We are in the hospitality business that requires a “can do” personality and genuine sense of wanting to assist others. It is important our staff members understand from the beginning that our club members and their guests are provided genuine southern hospitality including a friendly, courteous greeting and firm handshake on every visit. This sets the tone for the terrific golf experience that follows. We are very fortunate to have earned some recognition for our world class golf course conditions. The personality and service from our staff must be commensurate to fulfill our mission statement and business model. Our expectation for each staff member is based on attitude, anticipation, presentation and teamwork. These service principles are paramount to the success of our operations and are a continuous challenge to each staff member. Each principle is explained in great detail including examples of expectations and opportunities. We are continually focused on enhancing our service model with input and ideas from our staff members. Our goal is to be better today than we were yesterday.

As a consultant to Kinloch I have had the pleasure of sitting in on a full staff dinner where the primary subject discussed was good and better service. Phil, explain if you will, inspiring your staff in general as it is certainly a daily activity and do you see these efforts as creating revenue for the club?

The staff dinners are perfect times to throw a service topic on the table and let all team members respond. We get together in this setting without the encumbrance of telephones and the usual activities of the day. The idea is to get everyone excited about serving others and generating opportunities to improve our service operations. From these meetings we have incorporated operational programs including our custom golf ball program, vehicle detail service, departing beverage service and other services designed for convenience. Many of these ideas result in revenue producing programs, but are largely formed from service enhancement discussions at these dinners. As you have experienced, these meetings are comfortable and include many light hearted stories about daily activities. This casual environment enhances the opportunity to motivate and challenge us to provide more “knock your socks off” and “raving fans” service programs. The camaraderie and motivation of our team that produces more revenue producing opportunities are certainly the benefits of these dinners.

I continue to use the phrase ‘'think outside the box' in context with service and it starts at Kinloch when you come through the gate. Give us some examples of special treatment and the resulting stories and word of mouth that it can create.

It is standard procedure with our team that we all realize that “little things” make the big difference when it comes to service. Practices as simple as a Titleist 2-ball pack Thank You placed in a member locker for a large purchase or favor. Or, noticing a member (or guest) vehicle low on fuel and taking the time to fill before the round is complete. Another regular practice we promote with all team members is to be attentive when around our members and guests. People will always let you know how you can serve them better. Thinking outside of the box is not a complex phrase. We believe it is doing the little things that create convenience and comfort for our members and operations. The systems we have developed offer our staff members the opportunity to complete the expected tasks and to be aware of unexpected opportunities. A perfect example can be found in our locker room at Kinloch. Our locker room manager, Gilbert Taylor, has a wonderful positive attitude and inspires all of us with his constant flow of service ideas. One day we were talking about the shoes in our locker room and he mentioned that he would like to enhance the “look” of the entrance. His idea to place a Foot-Joy catalog on a pedestal with a display of new shoe styles where our members could review has become a terrific benefit to the operation. As a service to the members, he always reminds them when their golf and/or casual shoes are in need of repair or replacement, so the catalog and display fit perfectly for this subliminal sales opportunity. The benefits far outweigh the increase in revenues as it has created a great teamwork opportunity with the golf professional staff along with the awareness of better performance footwear for our members. Our members are always talking about the unique “look” that GT offers in the locker room.

I have run into people all over the country who have had the privilege and pleasure of spending a day at Kinloch relate their experience with the staff and say they can’t wait to play there again. Obviously this makes members proud as well as anxious to expose guests to their club. If this were true of more facilities and rounds of golf would there not be more golf played? I know your concern is Kinloch but would you agree that collectively everyone in the industry should be looking to enhance the ‘golf experience’?

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.

Kinloch Golf Club opened on April 14, 2001 and along with the above mentioned Golf World acknowledgment has been recognized as:

2001 #1 Best New Private Golf Course by Golf Digest
2008 Golf Digest Index Top 50 Golf Retreats - #7
2008 Golfweek Top 100 Golf Shops – Top 25 Private Clubs
2009 Golfweek Top 100 Modern Courses in US - #12
2009 Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in US - #84