Sunday, April 21, 2013

Word of Mouth - The Defining Criteria of Exemplary Service

I am often asked what I believe defines exemplary customer service and my response is always that it doesn't matter what I define it as – what matters is does the customer want to brag about their experience. There is no more valuable advertising than word of mouth advertising and now with social media the field is obviously expanded.  People believe what their family, friends and neighbors say about your club or facility, and they remember it for a long time. It is also true that very few people will complain – to you. They simply take their business elsewhere. Your golf operation generates word of mouth advertising, whether you are aware of it or not. Satisfied customers tell 4 to 5 people of their positive experience and dissatisfied customers tell 9 to 12. So the question is, what people are saying after the experience your product provides?

The basis of all positive word of mouth advertising is providing excellent products and services. This is also the basis for success of most marketing and advertising. Loyal customers will notice and read your ads or marketing efforts and become even more effective ambassadors as these advertisements act as positive reminders of your great products and services. Recent studies show that this is particularly true among the 20-30 demographic, a group that’s notoriously suspicious of advertising and well aware of the proliferation of fake positive (and negative) reviews as well. This group obviously is also  the future of the game. Superior products and exemplary service, combined with ongoing marketing and advertising, are the ideal keys to success. 

The story I often tell as an example of word of mouth ambassadors I call the "Philadelphia Story": 

I was in the Philadelphia airport several years ago and I was wearing a Kinloch Golf Club logo. A man I had never seen before approached me, half-gestured at the logo and asked me if I was a member. I replied that I was not but had the pleasure of working with the staff, particularly in the shop. The fellow introduced himself and began his "Then you will appreciate what I am about to tell you" story. 

I was in Richmond recently on business I played there with a member and can’t wait to go back.

It’s a great course isn’t it, I said.

Yes, it is – but the whole experience was incredible. I drove to the course and when we first went in the shop the head pro introduced himself; shook our hands and asked me if I wanted my car detailed while we played. The staff at the front door had already valeted the car and had the keys, all I had to do was say yes and I did. When we finished for the day my car was waiting at the front door, bags loaded, staff thanking us for being there. It was a hot July day and two things that struck me when we got in the car was that the car hadn’t been this clean since I bought it and there were cold bottles of water in the console with a ‘Thank you for spending your day with us’ note. I drove the car about 50 feet in the driveway, re-parked and went into to the Pro Shop to thank someone for the thoughtfulness. I ended up buying $500 worth of shirts and shorts and the friends that I had played with did the same. The shop was great also by the way.

The point of this story is that you never know what will be the Wow Factor. The devil is most definitely in the details and it is more often than not the small thing that ends up counting the most. I tell this story often to head pros that complain about their staff and budget cuts. It was the cold water, the note and the thoughtfulness, not the detailing (which they paid for) which created this word of mouth emissary. A bottle of water costs about 89 cents and the note takes less than a minute to write. Most facilities fulfil their customer’s expectations but people will talk about you if you surpass their expectations. Do the few extra things, and you will have loyal players that recommend you to their friends, neighbours, family, church members, and people they don’t know in airports. You want the underlying philosophy of your culture to be that any visit that does not provide such a story and the desire to tell it to someone is a missed opportunity.

Every customer is not profitable or even desirable; some people have unrealistic expectations, and will not be happy no matter what. This is true in every business. One of the beauties of the golf business and an aspect I like to refer to as The Intimacy Factor is that these people are easy to identify in golf and need not be paid much attention to until an effort has been made to wow them over.

Regular customers, on the other hand, that become unhappy actually have the potential to be your best advocates. As Zig Ziglar points out, "Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business."

When you resolve problems to the satisfaction of these customers, they will become your loyal, staunch supporters, and they will spread positive word of mouth advertising for you.  It’s human nature. We respect people that admit mistakes, and correct the situation. We give them the benefit of the doubt in the future, and we tell others that they fix their mistakes and keep their promises. It leads to great customer loyalty. If you really want to stand out, go in search of the unhappy customer that never complained. If you really want people to say great things about you, find and fix the problems that the customer didn’t identify. Ask for feedback from your customers, and follow up. You will win customers and friends; and they will actively influence other people with their positive recommendations about your facility.

Finally, take the time and give careful thought to taking care of your ambassadors and remember it doesn't hurt to ask for references. Give additional discounts for each reference, a free service, special treatment, and don't forget the occasional gift to better customers. People will recommend you if they believe in you and your staff, and a little perk always help remind them to tell the story.