The art of listening

Just how well do you understand your members’ needs and expectations? Do you ask for their views? Because if you don’t, you could be spending time and money in the wrong areas – and to little effect. GGA’s Rob Hill explains.

Member insights can empower your club to lead by anticipating change. But are you listening

Apple’s extraordinary founder showed us all the value of innovation and built a company synonymous with inventing not what customers want, but what they will want. Apple has always had a talent for understanding their customers’ future needs better than the customer themselves. This understanding allowed Apple to consistently anticipate and shape change.

Most club leaders stress the importance of understanding their members in order to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing external environment. So why is it that so few clubs seek to systematically listen to their members and as a result, are constantly reacting to change rather than planning for it?Think back on the last few “leadership” or “planning”meetings you attended at your club. How much of the time was spent discussing internal issues rather than external realities? In how many instances did member feedback/insights change the opinion in the room?

Many clubs speak of being member-centric and yet they are not walking the talk. To be truly member-centric, club boards must use member feedback/insights in major strategic decisions and core processes, not just member-facing ones.

Our analysis indicates that rarely is this the case.

Recent GGA studies involving hundreds of clubs throughout the golfing world, indicate that the benchmark range for clubs that conduct annual member research is 10%-20%, with the norm being just 15%-16%.Member insights provide an essential window into the change that lies ahead through their perceptions,needs, preferences, behaviours and attitudes.

For clubs, the gathering, tracking and application of such insights can empower a club to lead rather than react. It allows them to match strategy and implementation to their environment, and to prepare for change rather than responding to it.

So would you regard your club as a leader or a follower? Just how well do you understand your members’ future needs and expectations? Club leaders intent on increasing their capacity to listen and learn from their membership, might consider the following approaches:

Annual Member Survey
A member survey helps to uncover members’ expectations and attitudes, how they define value,their tolerance for fees and dues increases, and their changing lifestyle. It tells the board and management what the majority of members want from their club, how they wish to use it and distinguishes the opinion of the silent majority from that of the vocal minority.

Implementing such a survey on an annual basis, allows for the measurement and identification of patterns of change. It can serve as a guide to strategic and capital planning, inform operational enhancements, and assist a board in protecting itself from anecdotal or agenda-driven decision making. GGA surveys typically demand between 20 and 25 minutes to complete and clubs should aim for a minimum 35% response rate in order to achieve an appropriate level of confidence that the results reasonably reflect the views of the membership.

For best results, surveys should be managed by an independent professional with total assurance on confidentiality for respondents. This encourages both a greater participation rate and a more candid,reflective response.

PULSE Surveys
Short PULSE surveys, comprising of 8 to 12 questions and requiring no longer than 5 minutes to complete, are an excellent way to take the temperature of a membership on a specific topic and keeping abreast of specific issues. Typical topics include technology, communications, retail, food and beverage experience, capital maintenance and social programmes. These can also be targeted to specific membership categories or demographics within your club.

Focus Groups
Depending on how you wish to use them, focus groups can offer a platform for testing assumptions gathered from a survey or provide the basis for the questions which will make up a survey. They are a qualitative rather than quantitative method which can facilitate deeper insight into member attitudes and perceptions.

The goal is to have a conversation with members and hear their responses in their own words – they are not instructive opportunities. Host a reflective sample of members – between 6 and 12 is ideal – in an environment that encourages open discussion. It can be effective to start with a presentation to provide context and this should ideally take no longer than 15% of the entire session time.

Work to either a rigid set of questions, or a rigid set of topics where the wording of questions is flexible.Your facilitator should be knowledgeable on the topic(s), an effective communicator and entirely objective.

Be certain to set clear objectives for the session and structure it to achieve conclusions for these. 

Membership Mapping
Graphically representing your club’s membership on a map, is a useful exercise in examining your members’ source of origin, identifying trends in their proximity to the club and plotting neighbourhoods of interest for future membership development. There are online tools to assist you with this such as which will give you some quick and interesting results.

Demographic and Psychographic Analysis
Demographic insights on your membership can be assembled and evaluated from your membership management system or through survey survey. For your catchment area, free demographic data is usually available from each country’s respective census website.This information can help you not only understand the profile of your membership and local area, but also identify trends in the demographic make-up of both.

Often members’ interest in a club can be determined by their lifestyle. In other instances members may wish to express their lifestyle through the club of which they are a member. Psychographic analysis is a method of segmenting members (or a population) according to variables such as lifestyle, personality and social class.The objective is to predict behaviors and attitudes. To understand why members or populations behave the way they do. This is a powerful predictive tool.

Overlaying the demographic and psychographic profile of your club’s membership against that of your catchment area, will present a graphic representation of the likely current and future health of the membership market for your club.

Listening to and measuring insights from your membership is a practice your board and management should embrace if they are to predict and navigate the inevitable change that is coming to every club. And critically, in the case of private clubs, the insights and measurement garnered from such a listening culture should serve as the basis for the large majority of your club’s formal performance metrics.

Only then can your club claim to be truly member centric and lead rather than follow.

Article published in Clubhouse Europe magazine issue 8