Tag Archives: golf

Retraining For Retaining

As usual, I have golf on the brain this morning. It’s probably because I’m in the midst of planning the annual soiree to Myrtle Beach that has been the highlight of my year for the last 23. I’ve written about how it’s my annual Board Of Advisors meeting and I highly recommend a similar trip – whether golf-related or not – to each of you.

With this much golf on my brain, I got to thinking about what’s going on in the golf world these days. As it turns out, it has a lot to do with what’s going on in nearly every business. If you have read anything at all about the golf industry over the last few years, you keep reading about the need to grow the game. According to the latest from the National Golf Foundation, interest in playing the game continues to grow but actual on-course participation has been flat at best. Much ink has been spilled over the need to make the game more accessible, lower the cost and speed up play so that new people will become regular participants. I suspect your business spends some time thinking about how to attract new customers too.

What some folks in the golf industry are beginning to realize is that they don’t spend enough time on customer retention rather than customer capture. You might have heard (you certainly could have read it on this screed!) that it costs five times more to get a new customer than to retain an old one. Why not focus on something that is 80% less expensive?

Let me put it in golf terms and I think you’ll see the parallels. If you go to some courses, particularly the high-end courses, you’re often treated like they’re doing you a favor for letting you play. It’s almost like the customer is a distraction rather than the sole reason for the business to exist. The course does nothing to help speed up play. If conditions are poor (shabby greens, standing water in fairways, etc.), that’s never said before you pay or even acknowledged after your round is done. How about stating that you’re sorry for the course not being in top shape and offering to buy a drink or lunch at the end of the round? How about a coupon to come back at half price when the course is in better condition?

You’d be shocked if you encountered some of the rude employees I’ve met in my years of golfing. There clearly hasn’t been an emphasis on customer service at some places. Instead, the emphasis is on holding their hands out for a tip. All they want to do in the shop is to sell you overpriced shirts, hats, and balls with their logo on it. None of that aids customer retention.

What they – and you – need to be asking yourself is what can I do to improve the customer experience? How can I get this customer to come back? Little things go a long way – it can be as simple as a towel on a cart or ice in the cooler or enough sand to fix divots. I’m sure you can think of little amenities you can offer – it can be as simple as a bottle of water on a hot day to customers entering your store or a personalized thank you note for a past purchase. What are the things that will help retention?

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Getting Fitted Correctly

I hope you all had a relaxing Labor Day and were able to indulge in one or more of your favorite activities. I did, and doing so reminded me of some very basic things each of us needs to keep in mind as we leave Summer and get back to business.

I spent $99 for a process known as a full bag fitting. Yes, it’s golf-related (hey – you write what you know, right?). It’s a process in which you go through the various types of clubs in your bag while hitting balls using a launch monitor. I’m not going to get technical but it’s basically a tool that shows you everything you’d ever want to know about how the club is performing and allows you to change club brands and components to improve the results. My fitting was scheduled for two hours with a wonderful Irish golf pro named Martin. Here are some of the things I noticed that apply to you and your business.

  1. Go beyond expectations. I’ve gone through this process before and it was fairly clinical. Hit the ball, watch the result, change the club a little, rinse, repeat. Martin was personable and non-judgemental (there were quite a few horrible shots). Where he really went beyond expectations was in giving me little swing tips as we went. A minor grip change and a slight change in my address position had me striking the ball more solidly. I went to have my clubs checked and fitted and he went beyond that by checking me too.
  2. Be human. We hear a lot about bots – automated processes – taking over a lot of tasks these days, particular customer services. I suppose as I think about it, this process could have been fairly automated as well. The bot could have used the numbers to have me change out club shafts or heads until the numbers were optimized. What it couldn’t do was give me the feedback Martin did. He ignored data from what were occasional bad swings and only used the numbers from the normal ones. Most importantly, by the time we got to hitting driver, the last type of club left, I had hit close to 300 shots. I was tired and my swing was breaking down. Martin saw it after I was unable to hit anything normally. Rather than continue and give a good analysis of a faulty, tired swing, Martin suggested I go away for a couple of hours and recover. At this point, we were already over the 2 hour time but he said we’d do the driver analysis later for no charge. That’s something no bot would suggest.
  3. Communicate effectively. The monitor spits out a lot of very complicated data. Even though I know what most of it means, Martin took the time to be sure that I was interpreting the data correctly and understood how the changes we were making were improving the result, even when the visual representation of the ball flight looked off.

After two trips to the monitor bay and a total of three hours, I left with a list of club specifications that will hopefully translate into better play. More importantly, I left with an appreciation of how any of us can keep customers happy and solve the cost/value equation. Make sense?

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Slow Play

Another Monday, another golf-related rant. But as with most things golf-related, there are points to be made about life well beyond the links.

An animation of a full golf swing displaying t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I played a couple of rounds over the weekend (you’re surprised, right?) and both were slow. By slow, I don’t necessarily mean any specific time. It’s more about the general pace of play when compared to the conditions. I also accepted something I have learned about younger (Millenial) golfers. Both have implications for your business.

I’ll admit upfront that I play more quickly than many golfers. I also tend to play early in the morning when the course tends to be empty. When I play 18 holes by myself, it generally takes about two and a quarter hours; two and a half if I’m stinking it up. My regular Sunday game with another gentleman takes up about 2:45 to 3 hours. My regular foursome used to take about three and a half hours. Those are fast times but they’re also times made by doing a few simple things. Keeping up with the group in front of you. Being ready when it’s your turn and not waiting for someone else to hit if they’re behind you but looking for their ball. Lining up your putts while someone else is putting, parking the cart so you never have to walk backward to it, and a few other things that make a few seconds’ difference that add up to many minutes saved in a round.

So what have I learned about many Millenial golfers? I play with them all the time and they are slow. I hate to generalize, but they are. Rather than socializing while traveling between shots, they stand on the tee, staring at an empty fairway, and talk rather than tee off. They are very polite and allow the golfer farthest back to hit even if that golfer isn’t ready. Why aren’t they ready? Another thing: they take forever to make up their minds. They take multiple practice swings. They park both carts together to watch someone hit rather than splitting up, dropping one golfer by their ball and moving on to be ready. In short, they’re not focused on making decisions and on getting things done, and because of that, they fall behind. We played in over four hours yesterday and were never held up once by anyone in front of us. Arrggghh….

What does this have to do with your business? We need to do what faster golfers do. We need to assess the situation, make a decision, and go. We can’t wait on others, we can’t take forever to think, we can’t make endless practice swings (read that as internal meetings and discussions). Golfers have GPS devices and laser yardage readers to help them know where they are on the hole. Businesses have analytics, financial data, and staff meetings.  I’ve yet to play with any golfer who played better because they lollygagged around the course nor have I met many businesspeople who were more successful because they fell behind.

Golfers find a rhythm as they go and so too do businesses. Slow play disrupts that rhythm whether it’s golf or business. The PGA Tour assessed its first slow-play penalty in over twenty years yesterday, this despite 5+hour rounds being routine on tour. That’s ridiculous (and a bad influence on young golfers!). Let’s all speed it up on the course and in the office, ok?

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Mastering Ourselves

Another major championship in golf, another screed about a business lesson learned from watching that championship transpire. Sergio Garcia, a Spanish golfer with a nearly 20-year history of frustration and failure in major championships, won The Masters yesterday. What’s surprising about the win is that it took him so long. He’s won 21 times around the world and has been a fearsome force on European Ryder Cup teams for a long time.

2011 Masters Tournament

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His skill was never in doubt, and yet five years ago at this very tournament, he stated that he didn’t have what it takes to win major championships. What happened and what can we learn and apply to our own endeavors?

Major championship golf is often described as “an examination,” testing both one’s game and one’s character. Sergio has always had the game but what he lacked was the character to deal with the adversity one faces along the way in any major. That’s why he gave exactly the right answer when he was asked yesterday what he liked best about how he won: “the demonstration of character.” Like every champion, he hit some awful shots. This time, however, he stayed calm, stayed positive, made a plan, and let life go on.

The lessons for any of us are clear. Skill and competence can take us a long way but to break through to another level we need the right attitude. We need to develop that maturity and character to deal with setbacks, both self-imposed (hitting a bad shot) and external (a competitor hits a great shot). Control what we can, deal with mistakes (we all make them), and remember that someone else doing well doesn’t mean that you’re doing badly. It might just mean that you have to change your plan and do better to get ahead.

Sorry if I’m becoming predictable in writing about golf after a big tournament, but what Sergio’s win said to me about all of us and business thinking was something I felt I had to share. He had already mastered the game years ago; yesterday he mastered himself. You agree?

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The King Is Dead

It would be impossible for me to let the passing of Arnold Palmer go by without comment. This isn’t another golf screed. It’s some thinking on a great businessman who used golf as a jumping off point to demonstrate some behaviors all of us ought to try to emulate as we go through our business lives.

English: Arnold Palmer, taken by Hospital staf...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Palmer passed last night at 87. A lot of what you need to know about him was captured in something Time Magazine wrote in 1962:

“When God created Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer,” it wrote, “He turned to Nicklaus and said, ‘You will be the greatest the game has ever seen.’ Then He turned to Palmer, adding, ‘But they will love you more.’ ”

Palmer’s achievements on the course were substantial. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour and those wins included 7 major championships. He did so with an “everyman” swagger, a swing that was uniquely his (and was far from classic), and an attitude of going for broke on every shot. But it was off the course where Mr. Palmer’s lessons for all of us begin.

He considered golf a personification of basic life principles. As he wrote:

“Golf resembles life in so many ways. More than any game on earth, golf depends on simple, timeless principles of courtesy and respect.”

He was legendary for taking time to sign autographs for fans. Each of those signatures was legible because he felt that he should show respect to those who asked for one. You won’t find a picture of him shaking hands where he isn’t looking the other person in the eye. In short, he was beloved because he reciprocated that love.

He was able to turn all that love into a business empire. It’s often said that Mr. Palmer didn’t invent sports marketing but that he perfected it. Endorsement deals with Pennzoil, Arizona Beverages, drug companies, and dozens of others, along with his golf course design business generated a lot of money. But he gave back, and his charity work was an important part of who he was. He also mentored younger golfers and wrote a note every week to whomever won on the Tour. He also answered all of his fan mail. In short, he was among the best on the course and unequalled off the course.

What can you learn from him? First, performance counts. The basic product needs to be among the best to make all the other activities important. Second, show respect for your customers and reciprocate their affection. We talk a lot about engagement, and Mr. Palmer engaged the fans, speaking to them directly and not through press conferences. Third, never let anything you do potentially harm your brand. If you lend your brand to another via licensing or joint venture, be sure that the end result enhances what you do and can’t possibly denigrate your good work to that point.

I know of very few people in the sports business who are universally beloved. Mr. Palmer was at the top of that very short list. Rest easy, sir, and thank you for a lifetime of excellence.

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Make Up Your Mind

At the risk of compelling you to sound like Ronald Reagan (“There you go again”), I’m going to weigh in on a lesson learned from yesterday’s US Open Golf Championship. I promise not to get into a discussion of the rules of golf!

There was a moment when Dustin Johnson, who was leading the tournament, had his golf ball move a tiny bit while he was preparing to putt. He notified the rules official about what had happened and the official told him that since ball moved without Johnson doing anything to cause it, there would be no penalty. At some point, other US Golf Association officials notified the on course officials that they were going to review video of the indecent and that Johnson might be facing a one stroke penalty. What ensued was chaos, and is instructive for any of us in business.

Put yourself in the position of the golfers. At the time, there were several competitors within several strokes of one another. The on-course scoreboards might no longer be accurate and every walking official had been notified that Johnson’s score might be one shot lower than the scoreboards were reporting. Do the golfers play more aggressively? More conservatively? The point is that there was uncertainty and that uncertainty might not be resolved until after the round was over when more officials could chat with Johnson.

That’s the business lesson. Putting aside the complexity of the rules, the USGA should have made a decision immediately. No golfer can compete without knowing how they stand and neither can the folks who work in your business. I’ve worked in organizations where there were rumors of layoffs and/or budget cuts. It was paralyzing. Employees were focused on their jobs and not on their work. Partners were worried about both with whom they’d be dealing and if the business could live up to commitments it had made. I’ve found people can deal with almost anything except not knowing.

There is a corollary lesson here. If the scoreboards aren’t accurate, the golfers don’t know how they stand nor how they should operate going forward. If your data is incomplete or possibly inaccurate, neither do you. We need to make decisions and we need to have accurate, complete information as we do so.  Lesson learned?

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A Lesson On Sorry

You have probably heard of The Ryder Cup even if you’re not a golfer.  The women’s version of that competition is called The Solheim Cup and it was contested over the weekend.  During the run of play, an incident occurred between one of the European golfers and an American.  I’ll explain it in a second (with minimal golf jargon – you’re welcome) but it’s what has happened afterwards that’s instructive to all of us in business.

Solheim Cup

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cup competitions are match play.  The total score you shoot is immaterial; you just need to have a better score than the person you’re playing on any particular hole to win that hole.  Most holes won wins the match.  Unlike the tournaments you’re used to seeing on TV, a golfer doesn’t have to putt out – finish the hole – if their opponent concedes that the next putt will be made.  Most short (2 feet and under) putts are conceded since at this level, golfers rarely miss anything that short.

What happened was that an American missed a long putt and had an 18-inch putt coming back.  The Europeans walked away from the hole and the green, so the American assumed they had conceded the putt and picked up the ball.  At that point, one of the very experienced European golfers informed her that they had not conceded the putt and the US just lost the hole at a critical point in the match.  Everyone was stunned at this bit of gamesmanship.  While she was correct with the rules of the game (you can’t assume the concession and just pick up your ball), it is way out of line with the spirit of these competitions and how the game is played.

I’m sorry for that long introduction, but it’s what has happened since that’s instructive.  In two words: she apologized.  You can read her heartfelt apology here, and it is a model for how any business or businessperson should act when they have screwed up.  It shows the difference between “I’m sorry” and the far too common “I’m sorry but…” or “I’m sorry if I offended anyone”.

This is how she begins:

I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition. I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself! I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.

She goes on to acknowledge each of the offended parties and to ask for forgiveness, promising to earn back each party’s faith and trust.  The next time I need to say I’m sorry for something, this will be my model.  You?

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