Saturday, August 27, 2011

Service – the Differentiator

Over the next several weeks the entries for Successful Pro Shop will consist of interviews with some of the club pros at clubs known for their great service. I am often asked to speak to professional staffs or groups of pros about important trends in the industry and there is one outstanding development over the last several years that pervades all business – there is a new and/or renewed commitment to exemplary customer service, or business is probably slipping. The average consumer is working longer, harder and smarter just to maintain and expects the same from those with whom he or she does business. Service in that respect has become the great differentiator, and Scott Nye at Merion G.C. in Ardmore, Pa., John Marino at Old Chatham G.C. in Raleigh, N.C., and Gene Mattare at Saucon Valley C.C. in Bethlehem, Pa., have impeccable reputations as leaders of service cultures.

Listen Twice – Act Once

Scott Nye served as the head professional at the C.C. of York (Pa.) from 1990 to 2000. He has been in his current position as the PGA head professional at Merion G.C. since November 2000. Merion G.C. is the site of the 2013 US Open Championship.

I asked Scott to come up with a theme for an interview that would highlight the service culture that he has created and the success he has had at Merion G.C. Not surprisingly he responded that listening carefully and acting accordingly was a key to his method. The title “Listen Twice – Act Once” is his, although I wish I could take credit for coining it.

Good listening is important at every level of business. You obviously have a great respect for this attribute.

I have always admired a good listener. Throughout the past 26 years in golf, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some great people. In fact, the first year in my current position I calculated that I met over 7,000 new people. That’s a lot of conversations and just as many faces! You meet some amazing people in golf, and I’m always drawn to those that are interested in what others have to say and don’t always need to be “center stage.” As one prominent golf professional said: “It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.” Wise individuals listen to others, ask for something to be repeated when necessary, and then contribute respectfully to the conversation. They typically summarize what they have heard prior to sharing their thoughts on a particular topic. Yes, they ask for something to be repeated so they fully understand another’s position, then they act.

We have discussed service at the club level and I loved your discerning between “genuine service and anticipation” and “hyped service” so to speak. Listening carefully to your membership and contemplating (sometimes outside of the box) their needs is something that has created some very unique and successful changes at Merion. Would you share some examples with us?

I’m turned off by “hyped service.” I get a kick out of some courses that have a bunch of employees running around with headsets and microphones wrapped around their heads. It isn’t very hard to remember a name when someone is feeding it to you moments before the person arrives in your area. “Handbook Service” is fine, but a strong relationship forged with “kindness over time” is more sincere. We work extremely hard to listen to suggestions and will pay even more attention when we hear something more than once. Members kept telling us that they didn’t want a ranger to bother them on the course. We learned by listening that the true battle with pace-of-play is only conquered when members take responsibility for their own actions. It is a fact that the average round of golf at the club is 20 minutes faster and has been that way for the past six years. The education process was painful at first, but is now the cornerstone of a faster pace at Merion.

Obviously, member comments and requests are not the only source of great input, and I know you to interact often and meaningfully with your staff. What are some of the forums for fostering this resource of all-important ideas?

Over the years, I have always tried to hire individuals with experience from other top clubs. In fact, our current staff has been employed at a total of 35 different clubs. That represents several different ways to run an operation. They have seen good and bad and feel comfortable sharing best practices from other operations. We also have a Staff Responsibilities list that changes from year to year. Staff members are encouraged to change roles each season. They usually have the opportunity to play a supporting role on a given task and then take it over the following year. It creates a place for each of them to shine and add their own spin to a task. This seems to benefit the operation because, in most instances, they feel as though it is an opportunity to make something better. I am also a big believer in getting a percentage of the staff to find off-season employment in golf. This gives them a chance to grow professionally and to bring back fresh ideas to this operation.

I know from our conversations over the years that you are a genuinely effective communicator who takes his time reacting but always resourcefully pulls the trigger. This, I’m sure, inspires confidence in those around you that they are heading down a road that will be a win-win-win for Merion, its members and your staff.

I am sure that some people think I am afraid to pull the trigger and that I procrastinate on certain decisions. I am always disappointed in myself when I make a poor decision quickly. Sometimes you have to make a quick decision, but in many instances you can take your time and even re-visit the information you have and then make a more informed decision. I’ve got several bosses, and it is important to think about how the decision impacts all types of people. I can rest easy when I know that I have gone with my gut.

In your history at Merion, you have turned out a number of head professionals at high-profile clubs. Do you see our theme of good listening and acting carefully as an important part of your hiring process?
There is no question that listening to prospective employees is a key ingredient to the hiring process. I strongly believe that it is important to let individuals speak freely in an interview. We always ask people in the interview process to tell their best experience with customer service. Often times, we find that it is something very simple that an employee has done that comes out when we ask the question. When our employees take the time to listen to the customer, they are in a much better position to do something to enhance the experience.

“Acre for acre,” Jack Nicklaus once said of Merion, “it may be the best test of golf in the world.”
“If only there were more acres,” was a comment made by Joe Logan in a 2009 article in Resurrecting Merion. I would add to that “If only there were more Scott Nye’s.”
The next interview in this series will be with John Marino at Old Chatham G.C. in Raleigh, N.C., whose commitment to great service is a 24/7 project that never stands still.