Only connect – the importance of first contact

Mark Reed, director at 59Club, examines the importance of initial contact at golf venues and finds some wide variances in performance.

Apparently it takes about seven seconds for the human brain to compute whether or not a person is likeable and trustworthy upon first contact. It’s clear then that first impressions are hugely important – and nowhere more so than in an environment where one party is hoping to encourage the second to part with some folding stuff.

So this month we’re looking at the warmth and friendliness of staff during initial contact. And, as always, the figures come from across our three categories: 59Club podium, the average score of the three clubs which have, during the period covered, offered the best overall customer experience; 59Club venues, clubs within the 59Club benchmarking system; and the industry average – clubs tested outside of the 59Club scheme and not privy to the management tool.

Very often, initial contact with a visiting golfer is via a telephone call, as they look to reserve a tee-time. And, one of the most important questions which should be asked – ‘have you played here before?’ – is, apparently, often overlooked. The best-performing sector here is the 59Club venues which recorded a hardly impressive 24 percent. The podium score was equally disappointing at just 21 percent, while clubs outside the 59Club system just don’t bother, recording zero.

Mystery-Shopper-Graphs-AugustNow, admittedly, it’s unlikely anybody will make a decision to play based purely on the asking of that question alone, but it’s a genuine conversation starter, provides information about the caller and also indicates an interest in them – not a bad way to make that first impression.

On arrival at the venue, the same question is given a much higher priority, emphasising its importance as an opening ‘gambit’. Podium clubs recorded a 100 percent rating, while non-59Club venues managed 73 percent. There is still room for improvement across 59Club venues, however, with a score of 66 percent – many of the venues scored here are new to the 59Club system following the recent partnership with England Golf.

Likewise, the podium clubs scored best when it came to staff attempting to engage in conversation with the tester. The podium score was 86 percent – respectable, but still with room for improvement – while the performance elsewhere of 59Club venues (65 percent) and the industry average (64 percent) was consistent, yet uninspiring. Is complacency creeping in here? Are we thinking ‘they’re here, therefore our work is done’? On the contrary, our work is just beginning.

If the course has a starter, they should also look to engage in conversation, and, while the podium score here was a reasonable 86 percent, there is much room for improvement elsewhere, with 59Club venues recording just 26 percent and the industry average just 18 percent.

There is also the same expectation of engaging in conversation when it comes to the F&B staff. Again, the podium clubs were the top performers – though one could argue that should be expected of them given their top overall status – with a perfect 100 percent. The 59Club average was 59 percent and the average industry score improved upon that by five percentage points.

In the golf shop we are able to look at the performance thus far in 2015 in comparison with an overall 2014 rating. Again, an influx of new member clubs may skew the scores slightly for the current year, but the figures still tell a story.

When we look at the staff greeting, we consider four aspects: acknowledgment, welcome, smile and eye contact. Last year the podium clubs scored a perfect 100 percent across the board, dropping to 86 percent this year only in terms of eye contact. And a quick check of the graph on this page illustrates only minor changes year on year for both 59Club venues and the industry average – but it’s the direction of change that requires closer examination.

In terms of acknowledgement, both sectors have dropped performance levels in 2015 – and we know how negative it feels to be ignored. 59Club venues improved their performance when it comes to the welcome and smile, and maintained their 83 percent in terms of eye contact. However, the industry average has dropped across the board, suggesting the proverbial eye has been taken off the ball.

Staff should always be helpful, of course – that’s what they’re there for – and, ideally, friendly. But while the podium clubs have improved to 100 percent this year, standards elsewhere have dropped – not significantly, but they weren’t starting from a particularly high level. Remember, be friendly, approachable, and, most of all, interesting and interested – it’s really not that hard.