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March 2017

Vantage Point

Vantage Point‭The NGCOA is headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, where tourism is off the charts. Over the past few years, it’s won about every award imaginable, including top U.S. city to visit by Travel + Leisure. Southern hospitality reigns supreme here. The success of Charleston is due in no small part to the intentionality with which the entire city approaches hospitality and service.

For many years, the local CVB has conducted city-wide customer service training for all the frontline employees at hotels, restaurants, tour companies and attractions. Most hotel chains and independent businesses with healthy budgets likely have their own customer service training programs, but I’m convinced this sharp, city-wide focus to be the absolute best at taking care of visitors has caused Charleston to leapfrog so many other destinations around the country.

How does this apply to golf? We in the industry need to focus more time and attention on customer retention strategies and tactics—doing what we can to close the back door. I’m convinced that if the industry became intentional about upping its hospitality and service game, we’d stand a good chance at staving off the attrition we’ve been experiencing. Having previously overseen a portfolio of some of the nation’s best boutique lodging properties, where we had a 250-point inspection of each property and the guest experience, I became intimately familiar with hospitality from the booking experience all the way through check-out and follow up.

One disadvantage of being a small, independent property—not associated with a chain or conglomerate—is the lack of formal service training available to frontline employees. In golf, the management companies, as well as resorts and clubs with big budgets, likely have their own training programs. But most of golf is played, and subsequently lost, at businesses that aren’t tapped into a customer service training system. Through research and anecdote, we know the relatively unwelcoming culture in golf (real or perceived) is what keeps people away. And that’s something I want to examine closely for remedy.

We know the key to future success and profitability won’t be in finding ways to cut more costs. It’ll be about stimulating more rounds and revenue out of the players coming through our front doors. Getting patrons coming back more frequently than they are today. Doing this will require changes in behavior at the front-line, customer level. We have customers on property for one to five hours, or more, which tells me there are ample opportunities to give good service. We need to get intentional about exploiting this captive time with our customers to deliver amazing service. But I’m not sure most course operators think they need ongoing customer service training, and that’s what I’m worried about.

What do you think? Will getting intentional about better hospitality and customer service be the key to long-term success? After all, for many people, it’s not just about getting the little white ball in the hole. I welcome your thoughts at perspective.ngcoa.org.

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