North –south divide in processes for customer service delivery

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 10.06.04In his second article Simon Wordsworth, chief executive of 59Club examines the variation in processes followed by golf clubs across the UK. 59Club is the golf-specific mystery shopper service and a PGA Official Supplier. Simon is a Fellow of the PGA and an R&A Qualified Referee.

Last month in this column, we discussed staff attitude within the pro shop – how seemingly small details like the body language of staff members can have a huge impact on a customer’s experience. But while first impressions and friendly conversations are important foundations for good service, they only set the scene for the full customer experience. In short, it takes a lot more than a friendly welcome and a bit of jovial small talk to send the average customer away with a spring in his or her step.

According to a report produced by market researchers Ipsos Mori, during a period of economic downturn, customer service becomes the top issue people take into account when judging a company. Because when a customer’s money doesn’t go as far as it once did, they want to be treated well when they do decide to part with it.

Mystery-Shopper-GraphsCustomer service, therefore, becomes an integral part of the purchasing experience – and one which is more readily critiqued and scrutinised by customers. Couple that with an increasingly savvy buying public – who are aware that they should expect a certain level of professionalism and quality from staff – and it becomes clear just how vital customer service is.

From the feedback that we get, we would certainly argue that this is abundantly true of the golf industry. After all, golf is not always the cheapest game to play. Indeed, in the same report from Ipsos Mori, two-thirds of British consumers agreed that good customer service is usually more important than low prices.

So the very fact that golf is sometimes an expensive hobby really heightens the importance of making the customer experience – from pre-purchase through purchase, and beyond into after-sales care – as memorable and enjoyable as possible. Of course, this isn’t to say that golfers don’t take into account pricing – of course they have, and will continue to do so – but the importance of getting the basics right day in, day out, remains, however much a customer is or is not paying in the pro shop.

At 59Club we talk a lot about getting the basics right. Good customer service processes are not about treating everybody the same; about treating them as another number on the end-of-year accounts – quite the contrary, in fact. Our advice to clubs is that consistent, repeatable customer service practices should be in place to ensure that every customer receives a consistently high level of service.

So whether they’re turning up on a quiet Tuesday afternoon or a jam-packed Saturday morning, they are treated in a consistent manner. By having customer service ‘best practices’ in place, mistakes and inconsistencies can be more easily identified, ensuring that you and your team do not make the same mistakes again and again.

But we also impress upon clubs the importance of not being rigidly tied to these processes. Staff must, for example, have the flexibility to interact with customers and to think for themselves – in short, to be able to use their judgement and training to tailor the service given wherever possible; because as we said earlier, each customer is a unique person, not just another number.

Most clubs will have a good idea of how they would like people guided through their facility – from their initial arrival in the car park, through the pro shop and the changing rooms, out on to the course, and back into the clubhouse, post-round. At 59Club, we measure a whole range of factors that affect the customer journey at the course. The areas that we have identified to discuss here include:

  • Directions given by staff to key clubhouse facilities and on-course services available.
  • Advice on player etiquette, local rules and any guidance on dress code.
  • General appearance of the retail environment to include displays and in particular the golf desk, shop counter and till area.

When looking at staff attitude in our previous regional analysis, we identified quite a clear difference between the performance of the northern and Scottish regions over their southern counterparts – despite some of our best performing individual sites being located in the midlands, southern England and Wales.

I would love to tell you that the north/south divide would be less apparent when comparing how clubs in each region follow good customer service processes and best practice. However, our statistics suggest that this is not the case. For example, we expect all customers – but especially new visitors – to be given directions to key facilities on arrival, such as locker rooms, pro shop, bar, practice facilities and the first tee.

These small pieces of information can profoundly affect how welcome a new visitor feels to the club. After all, some clubs (often through no fault of their own) can be intimidating places to stroll into. A positive and welcoming explanation of the key facilities can significantly reduce that feeling, while at the same time introducing all the facilities the golfer can utilise at your club.

The geographic difference between clubs in the north-east, who do this 85 percent of the time, compared with the south-east (excluding London and the Home Counties), on less than one in three occasions – is quite dramatic. All other regions sit between the industry average (49 percent) and the podium, the best three venues in the UK, at 85 per cent.

This is also true of the on-course services available on any given day, to include food/beverage availability, toilets, or communicating course conditions/maintenance in order to manage expectations. Again, clubs in the north-east, north-west and Scotland all communicate this to their customers on a more consistent basis (between 42 to 46 percent of the time) while club’s in the southwest only highlight this on one in ten occasions.

Finally, we’ve looked at the cleanliness and tidiness of the pro shop and till areas, and whether or not player etiquette – expected behaviours on the course, such as raking bunkers, repairing pitch marks and so on – is discussed at the point of sale. Again, the story is a familiar one even if, in the case of the overall look of the pro shop and its till areas, the overall standards are high. As the graph shows, while the vast majority of pro shops excel in this regard, clubs in the more northerly parts of the UK continue to have the edge.

Perhaps more surprising is how few golf clubs remind players about course etiquette. Here, Welsh clubs are the leaders of the pack, ensuring that one in four golfers arriving at the course are informed about specific behaviours expected of them on the course. But across the board, as the graph again shows, there is room for improvement across the UK.

But in a nutshell, the findings are clear – in golf club customer service, as in the game itself, it’s often the small things that can make the biggest difference.