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Capitalizing on Technology

Q: We seem to be having trouble making greater use of technology to run our club and communicate with the membership. What might the club do to address the opportunities technology can present?

A: With the exception of all but the largest clubs, many clubs are just beginning to deploy technology as a way to better serve and communicate with members. This isn’t to suggest it’s unimportant or will lack effectiveness; it’s just the reality of membership composition and budgets. Clubs are capital-intensive environments and they serve relatively small and diverse audiences. Converting to a new operating system or building a new website can be low priorities when parts of the physical plant are dated or the club lacks the right amenities. There is clear competition for dollars and attention.

This attitude will change as membership’s profile changes— ultimately making it good business for all clubs to be viewed as tech savvy. The Millennials are coming (we hope!) and demographers have already identified shifting technological preferences within this segment. They will be our club members of the future, so get prepared.

However, like all major aspects of your plan for club success, your approach to technology must align with the culture of the club and marketplace. It should be addressed in your strategic plan and given its proper due within the capital and programmatic schemes. We are getting better as an industry at making use of technology, but the blanket statements that we are behind other hospitality organizations miss the point about the unique nature of clubs. What works for a resort or hotel may not be best for a club. And what works for a club serving retirees in the Sunbelt may not fit with a country club in Palo Alto, Calif. On the other hand, if you are not leveraging the advantage you have to use modern tools to serve and understand your members, you are missing the boat.

In the upper echelon of needs, we’d include accounting, billing and reservations. This technology is unobtrusive and efficient on the member side with a proven return on investment. Next is the need to keep members informed and engaged. Members in our surveys continue to rate the weekly e-blast as the most effective and desirable form of communication. That may seem dated to some, but that is what members prefer. Make sure you are pushing out information at regular time frames and under a banner that has the appropriate look and feel. More is not necessarily better here and just because it’s free to pump out e-mails, abuse brings rejection.

Another key technology component is your website, as it is the club’s face to the world. Prospective members almost always begin their evaluation of the club on the Internet. This “first impression” should be given as much consideration as you present along the entrance drive or front door.

Technology presents myriad opportunities for serving members, connecting them to the club and even interacting with one another. We are at the dawn of a new era. It is only a matter of time until we are using analytics to truly understand the member experience. In the meantime, push forward a step at a time and get ready for the Millennials. n

Frank Vain is president of McMahon Group, Inc., a premier full-service, private club consulting firm serving more than 1,600 private clubs around the world. He also serves as a director of NCA and chairs the Communications Committee. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit