Putting customers first

In the second part of GOLF RETAILING’s Thought Leadership coverage from the Manor House Hotel and Golf Club in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, our seven guests discuss the significance of professional customer service, and the challenges that golf clubs, retailers and suppliers face in ensuring they provide satisfactory service

Are pro shops in the UK providing an adequate level of customer service?

Matt RobertsMatt Roberts: From 59Club’s pro shop mystery shopper visits we look at shop presentation first and then go onto a shop staff’s interaction with customers. A lot of shops receive high marks for presentation, but as soon as you go into how staff communicate with customers, we see shops starting to drop marks.

I can’t share names of clubs we work with as we have to be very careful with their data, but I have the marks here from a high-profile venue in the UK – a club you would all know – and our marks show that for ‘Quality of shop fittings and decoration’ this pro shop scores 10 out of 10 – 100 percent – for the year to date. The industry average for all the clubs we work with in the UK is 88 percent.

So this is a quality shop that is very well merchandised and it turns over a lot of money, but then the shop only scores 5.8 out of 10 for ‘Initial welcome’ in the year to date, and that is poor. So customers are walking into a really attractive, well-presented retail environment, but then the staff are not following it up by greeting customers and asking how they are doing, just to start the engagement process.

The other point here is that shop staff need to avoid the conversation going:

“Hi, can I help you?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

At least the customer is acknowledged, but a barrier to engagement with the customer has been raised immediately, because it is difficult after that for the member of staff to start a new conversation. Probably the common ‘Initial welcome’ golfers receive is either to be ignored, or to be asked, “Can I help you?”

I don’t know if it is a British mentality, but when shop staff in the UK are supposed to engage customers and then sell to them, we are poor at it.

Mark Stewart: I think it is a British thing. I was recently at a country club in Toronto where all the staff seemed to know all the members by name. Having been used to the relatively low levels of service we get in the UK, I was amazed by this.

Richard Payne: Every club professional should know the all the names of their members, so in the pro shop environment a decent pro should not have the same barrier to overcome than on the high street.

Robin Barwick (GR contributing editor): What is the best way to greet a customer without this barrier to engagement going up?

Matt: There needs to be an initial level of acknowledgement. I worked at the Belfry for 18 years, and we used to have a rule that when customers would enter the shop, they would have to be greeted with “Good morning”, or if you were on the phone, at least some eye contact and some acknowledgement. Then each member of staff would have their own set questions to ask customers, such as, “Are you playing golf today?” Or it could be, “Are you staying at the hotel?” The most important thing was to get away from, “Can I help you?” Between the staff we probably had about a dozen initial questions and we would vary them, because you don’t want a customer walking into the shop and being asked if they are playing golf twice in five minutes by different members of staff.

Service leads to up-sales

Matt: With up-selling, we don’t want staff to take on what we call the ‘service station mentality’, when customers are asked if they want a chocolate bar with their meal deal, but instead there needs to be a reason for the customer to make the purchase, such as reminding golfers that there are a lot of water hazards on the golf course, and that you have a special offer on golf balls, or if the customer has not played the course before, they could be asked if they would like a strokesaver. These are questions that are engaging with the customer and opening opportunities for an up-sell.

Oliver Peebles (GR publishing director): Does the PGA do enough to provide guidance to professionals on customer service?

Richard JewellRichard Jewell: Training at the PGA is certainly better than it once was, but ultimately, you can go to all the seminars on customer service that you like, but it is down to the individual in the shop to actually do something about it.

Matt: We have done some year-three seminars at the PGA, and these people are the next generation of staff in shops. Even though I am a PGA professional myself, it still surprises me to see how many of these guys still just want to play golf. We ask for a show of hands of who wants to be a golf director, or the next Butch Harmon, or a retail manager, and there are still a lot of people who think they are going to make a living playing the game. These guys are in year three, and the chances that if their future was on tour, their career path would have changed before PGA year three.

Pros are given all the tools in their training, but too often we still see the mentality of the arrogant professional in shops.

Trudy Hills: It is not always arrogance that leads to bad customer service. Selling is one of the hardest things to do. It is one thing to set-up a shop very well – it can be done with the doors shut and without any customers around and it can be a very comfortable task for shop staff – but as soon as a customer walks through the door then staff need to go into a sales mode. If you have not had the proper training and you are not a natural sales person, that can be a very uncomfortable thing to do.

My first job was as a sales assistant in Boots, and they recruit bubbly personalities for these jobs, and people who enjoy interacting and who enjoy the sales process, and they train them in customer service and sales. Whereas in the golf industry, the people staffing shops tend to be very good at golf, but not necessarily natural sales people.

Whether it is staff in a pro shop or on the high street, they need to be trained to ask the right questions of customers and to enjoy the interaction. Sometimes shyness can be miss-interpreted as arrogance.

At American Golf we have a full training programme and a lot of what we focus on is how to greet a customer and how to get into conversation with them, and how to learn about a customer’s game and their equipment, and to find out what they are happy with and what they are not happy with.

Certainly all the interactions I have had with colleagues in American Golf stores have shown them to be fabulous people, very friendly, easy to talk to and they have a way with customers. Part of it is to recruit the right people, and part of it is to give them the right training, and we try to do both.

Matt: As soon as golfers look to PGA training, they should forget playing as a career. I sat on the fence myself for a long time, putting more money into competing than I was getting out of it.

Richard Jewell: There was a pro called Roger Mace, and he used to say to me that every time you hit a golf ball it costs you money, but every time you sell a golf ball it makes you money. I say the same thing to my staff today.

ANdy RyanAndy Ryan: At the Manor House we work with 59 Club, and while we don’t always get it right, we are very focused on our customer service. If you can get it right, we have seen that revenue from up-selling will go towards the roof.

What I want to see in our shop is consistency of that level of service. On a golf day we know how many people are coming in and when, and so we are organised with a bag drop service, player registration and we are prepared for the occasion. We know that special event routine off by heart, but we need to make sure we offer all golfers the same level of service on days when we are not primed for a big event. We need a group of four who come in on a Saturday afternoon to receive that sale level of service, as there is usually a certain level of trepidation when visitors arrive at a golf club, and we need all visitors to feel as welcome as possible as soon as they arrive. Other factors like up-selling come into the equation once you have welcomed golfers to the club.

Triggering a cultural shift

Richard Payne:Breaking down that initial trepidation is essential. When golfers visit a club for the first time, they are not sure what kind of welcome they will receive. While improved customer service undoubtedly leads to improved sales, we need take a step back to make sure that clubs are making our whole game friendlier, and attracting more people into clubs.

Matt: You can visit a golf club and have no idea if you are dressed correctly too, which does not help to put visitors at ease. Short socks, long socks, whatever.

Doug Poole: If a couple goes out to dinner, they might expect to pay £40 or £50 a head. At the restaurant, a member of staff might take your jacket. They will say, “Good evening, sir, would you like a drink? I will get you the wine list and the menu.” Then afterwards they ask if you enjoyed your meal. Because of that service, a lot of people are happy to pay £100 for that experience.

Yet, quite often at golf clubs, the experience is not worth the money. Staff don’t ask if you had a good round, they don’t smile in the pro shop, and you have to park in the visitors’ car park behind the hedge, where the birds muck on your car. When you look at it this way, golf clubs are reaping what they sewed 15, 20 years ago. Often the locker rooms in members’ owned clubs are embarrassing.

The industry is not going to change until golf clubs change. That means clubs going to the wall, and then stopping, and then getting people in to run them who understand customer service and who can make the golfing experience worthwhile.

There are clubs like Sunningdale that have greeting staff in the car park, that welcome golfers and point them towards the locker room and help with the golfer’s clubs.

Trudy: That is an experience worth paying for isn’t it?

Doug: Most people in the golf industry know that the game needs to change, but a lot of people at golf clubs don’t, so people in the industry need to explain these factors to people at some clubs.

Matt: You also find in pro shops that staff reflect each other’s behavior and habits, so if one member of staff answers the phone in a particular way, their colleagues will probably do it in a similar way. If a shop employs a member of staff who is head and shoulders above the others, that new employee will go one of two ways: either their behaviour will get dragged down to everyone else’s level, or the others will get dragged up to their level.

Richard Jewell: That is absolutely right, but you need to work to keep the enthusiasm among your staff going. We have a weekly staff meeting at 8:30 every Monday morning to discuss what happened in the shop during the previous week, and to discuss targets for the week ahead. We work hard to try to keep our staff motivated, and to make sure the questions our staff ask customers don’t become automated.

I like the idea of staff having three or four questions that they keep in mind to ask customers.

Mark StewartMark: I find it slightly odd that in golf, if you are a pro but not in the tiniest percentage of players who can make a living on tour, then you work in retail. To me it would make more sense to have a specialist retailer running a golf shop, rather than training a golfer to be a retailer.

I’m in manufacturing, and I wouldn’t look for a golfer to be my factory manager. Obviously experience of golf helps with product knowledge when selling golf products, but that does not mean the best golf sellers are necessarily golf  professionals.

Trudy Hills: It is not part of the job description for our retail staff to be golfers, but it helps with their enthusiasm for the job if they enjoy the game. Our PGA pros are in-store purely to offer advice, to teach and to custom fit, but unlike a lot of pro shops, at American Golf we have the luxury of having more than one member of staff on duty all the time, so I understand why you tend to have a pro doing the retailing in a pro shop.

Service from suppliers

Mark: From the suppliers’ perspective, I am always interested to go into retailers and to see how retail staff react to different customer questions, and it emphasises how important it is for us to ensure that shop staff have good knowledge of our products and that they have confidence in what they are selling.

In regard to our own customer service with our trade customers, it sometimes helps to flip the situation on its head and think about what you would do to ensure you offer really bad customer service. To do that with trade customers we would not visit them, we would not phone them up and we would not be responsive when they call us. So then in reality, we just make sure we do the opposite of all those things.

We need to give retailers the confidence that we will be there for them when it matters, because if we are not, pretty soon retailers will stop selling our products.

Trudy Hills: This does have an impact on what shop staff will recommend to customers, particularly with something like a trolley, which has lots of moving parts, some electrical and some mechanical. I have heard colleagues in American Golf tell customers that while two competing models are very similar, that one company is particularly good at its customer service; so while it can’t be guaranteed there won’t be a problem with this model, if there is a problem, this company is very good and sorting it out. This does sway customers’ decisions.

The last thing a retailer wants is to sell a product to a customer if they are going have trouble sorting out any post-sales issues.

Richard Jewell: At Gloucester Golf Centre we are a trolley repair centre, and it is very important that we receive good customer service from suppliers. I won’t say who it was, but last week we called a supplier to ask what the life guarantee is for a lithium battery. The answer we got was, “It’s in the box”. The guarantee was not in the box, and that response was unbelievable. It certainly makes a difference to what we recommend to our customers in the shop.

Trudy: It is the same in any service environment, be it a supplier or a retailer, that the one person you happen to speak to at one given time influences a customer’s opinion of that whole organisation.

Andy: Communication is key. If I have a customer with a problem with a product I need to be able to tell them with confidence how long it will take for it to be replaced, or talk them through the repair process. Good stock support is the other key factor. It is very frustrating if you are in a position to order product for a customer but then can’t get hold of it.

Mark: It can be really tricky for suppliers to get stock levels right. A couple years ago we saw peak sales for a rain cover in July, which was pretty hard for us to predict. You don’t expect to sell a lot of rain covers in the summer, and all of a sudden we had sold in July the amount of rain covers we would normally expect to sell in October, November and December combined. After that July we had sold out of rain covers for the rest of the year. From a retail point of view it is really difficult, but from a supply point of view, forecasting product sales is the most difficult thing we do.

Richard Jewell: It only took us 20 years to realise we sell more waterproofs in the summer than we do in winter, simply because there are more people playing golf.

Andy: As much as possible we will go with suppliers that offer us a stock service – a core line that I know I can get hold of. We have recently gone in with Glenbrae quite heavily with crested attire, and of all the companies I have dealt with Glenbrae has been by far the best. Their customer service has been brilliant, and my team of staff knows it is a quality brand and so it makes it easier for them to sell.

Trudy: Because Glenbrae is UK produced it can have a very responsive product turn-around, without having the complications that come with products that are manufactured in the Far East.

Mark: While all our powered trolleys are made in the UK, we have a push trolley that is made in China, but we are just about to launch a new push trolley that we are making in Gloucestershire, and one of the reasons for this is that when you are bringing trolleys in from China you have to buy them 1,000 at a time and you need to schedule supply at least four months in advance. Producing the trolleys in-house will give us much more control and flexibility for supply.

Richard Payne: Ping does an incredibly good job supplying retailers from its factory in Gainsborough, and as a result Ping holds its market share extremely well and loyalty to the brand is very high among golfers, when other brands tend to fluctuate more. Ping’s product line is also easy for retailers and golfers to understand. At SMS we have carried out customer satisfaction research when someone has called up a hardware company and the customer service rep on the other end did not know what product the customer was talking about, because the rep had not been trained properly regarding new product.

Thought Leadership