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Where’s the Wow? How to Provide the Best Member Experience

WOW experiences come from giving pleasant and unexpected surprises. When members’ expectations are exceeded and their needs are thoughtfully addressed in unexpected ways, they feel special—they are WOWed. Taking an authentic interest in the member interactions, not just their transactions, requires an emotional connection: empathy, gratitude and generosity of spirit along with a real understanding of their needs and expectations. In other words, how well do you know your audience?

Many times, member service expectations and needs are only discussed during periods of transition or when pursuing a membership survey, strategic plan or new membership drive. It is during these conversations that a club’s leadership team quickly realizes they have been operating under a dated definition of member service because members’ needs and what is important to them evolves. If you are offering services, amenities or events that are not important or useful to the member, you are missing the mark.

When was the last time you really thought about your member service experience and what is most important to them right now? People join and stay at clubs that best fit their lifestyle and are easy to use. Today’s modern member lives and works in the world of targeted marketing with companies serving up ads based on their web surfing or internet purchasing behavior. These ad campaigns are created using geofencing or remarketing based on your location so once the member expresses interest in a product or service, the product/service follows them around the internet reminding them to purchase. The member may use geofencing themselves for family tracking so they are never out of touch with one another. For instance, tracking tools can help gauge member habits and interests. Members may rent office space at WeWork or telecommute while casually dressed. They may attend meetings via Skype and read reviews on just about anything before buying (e.g., Amazon, Yelp, Trip Advisor, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook Pages). You may have members who are part of the “gig economy” and rather than belonging to another golf or country club, may also belong to a hunting club, auto club or ski club.

Adapting quickly to changing member needs is key to remaining relevant for your existing and future members. Delivering consistent WOW experiences is achieved through constant evolution requiring perpetual innovations while remaining mindful of what is most useful and important to your members. Some of the most exciting innovations will follow, but let’s not lose sight of the real WOW—it comes from the three E’s: Emotional connection, Ease of use, and Engagement. Using these three E’s as a guide, here are 10 tips to consistently achieving the WOW factor.

Have a Clear Service Culture and Simplified Systems

WOW experiences must be built into the product and service design of your member service journey. A continuous service culture must be in place. A WOW culture has seamless service: a trustworthy, attentive and courteous staff; a resourceful, engaged and dynamic leadership team; and an overall focus on responsiveness and anticipation of needs. Virtual training is on the rise as a means to keep employees focused on the club’s culture, its values and their role within the service process.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Once the service culture has been identified and is continuous, the next step is to sweat the small stuff—every detail matters when delivering WOW experiences. Small details such as a warm greeting by name, accurate information provided or order accuracy and timely service are just a few. With all of the technology available to us, knowing names, tracking preferences and learning to anticipate member needs should not be difficult to do, but it does take a strong commitment at every level.

Give Choices When You Can

The more multigenerational your membership is, the more important it is to offer them choices. For example, casual and fast casual dining is on the rise. Why not use technology in these areas to offer either high-touch service or low-touch options for members? Self-order kiosks were dominant at the National Restaurant Association Show in 2018 and the trend is expected to continue.

Be Laser-Focused on Experience

In 1999, the book “Welcome to the Experience Economy” introduced the idea that a “new economic era in which all businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers” had arrived. Clubs have excelled in creating memorable experiences, but this notion is no longer unique to clubs, so we must innovate and adapt. Creating WOW experiences is a strategic decision because there is likely a financial commitment to be made and the experiences will drive membership sales and retention. Host a visioning session to define the standards and invest in your facility and human capital. Hire right, train constantly and implement the operating criteria to be successful: systems, procedures and processes necessary to create the stated experience.

Aesthetics Matter

If they didn’t, we would not be seeing the surge in club renovations (see “Successful Club Renovation Showcase,” Club Director, fall 2018). As more families join clubs and women play a more influential role in the decision-making, aesthetics at the club are more important than ever to creating unique WOW experiences. Keep a sharp eye on lighting, music, cleanliness and other items that touch a member’s senses. Anything that a member can see, feel, hear, touch or smell should be an immediate priority.

Encourage Empowerment

The best service is one in which a member’s request or immediate need can be addressed at the point of service instantaneously. WOW moments are born out of the freedom to act for the benefit of the member. Provide training, structure and guidance so that employees are well equipped to make empowered decisions to resolve a member service recovery quickly. Studies show that a well-handled recovery situation can improve customer loyalty. Since clubs have a captive audience of customers—its members—it is critical that employees are taught how to master the art of service recovery.

7 Solicit (Member and Employee) Feedback

Feedback from members is a gift for your continuous evolution and innovation journey. But, have your employees experienced the club the way a member does to truly understand how to make a member feel welcome, comfortable, understood and important? Allow key employees to experience the club as a member for a day to collect their feedback on the experience.

Go to Them
With the technology and club platforms available, there is no reason not to reach or stay connected with your members. It is also important to use the social media channels your members prefer to stay connected when they aren’t at the club or using the club’s technology. Social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook are still effective and popular, as are text campaigns. Instagram is a boundless medium to tell the club’s story and help potential members envision how the club would fit their lifestyle.

Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is a wonderful example of using social media platforms to stay connected. They use Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to communicate with their members and build brand awareness in the community. The members are encouraged to tag the club in their own photos and to use club hashtags.

The next generation of members and many of the club’s employees use Snapchat. In 2017, McDonald’s looked to hire 250,000 employees using the platform. As you use social media, don’t forget to keep an eye to future recruiting needs in a tightening labor market.

Could a Chatbot be a good solution for your website? HubSpot reports that 40 percent of customers don’t care who answered their query—an agent or bot—as long as it was resolved. Chatbots also lead to labor efficiencies according to Juniper Research, citing a savings of more than $8 billion annually by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017.

Determine what is most important to your members, what technology fits your brand and members’ needs, then incorporate it accordingly as part of your constant evolution.

Exceed Expectations Every Day

The club cannot be too clean or too well run. It only takes one restroom not stocked properly or cleaned frequently enough to make a member start questioning their investment in the club.

Staying in tune with current club trends is critical. One clever club manager, inspired by the fun of a mystery dinner for adults, brought a game of Clue to life as a fun family activity—using the club’s room names, employee names and various “weapons” found at the club. How fun would it be to solve the mystery by announcing, “Bartender Bob did it in the Library with a Pepper Grinder”?

It’s no coincidence that a club that is current with social media trends is also spot on with menu trends. Sawgrass Country Club has offered “Fit Fuel” grab and go packs at their beach club and golf snack bars for years, tapping into the health, wellness and convenience trends.

10 Serve the Employees Well

Happy employees—your internal customers—serve the members better. Engaged employees will attract and delight your members. The club is an extension of a member’s home and having a “family member” (employee) who is recognizable, happy and focused on the member experience will create lasting, unique memories for a members, their families and guests. Treat the employees well and provide tools and resources to do their job efficiently to keep retention levels high.

In response to the kitchen labor shortage and frequent turnover, an innovative and insightful chef in Maryland, James Hudock, has created a kitchen management tool, Cide Kic. This intuitive kitchen management system helps kitchen teams collaborate, providing more consistency, better training and labor savings through a network of tablets and kiosks that streamline menu creation, inventory ordering, production and other critical kitchen functions. It’s only a matter of time before technology like this becomes mainstream.

Companies like Starbucks (at some locations) are offering free Spotify accounts to employees as a recruitment incentive. Other forward-thinking companies are paying for Netflix and iTunes subscriptions. Similar to the service experience, many club leaders have a dated view of recruitment, training and retention. But that is a topic for another day.

The real WOW factor for your members happens by combining empathy with understanding of the member’s needs and expectations. Couple those with a club that is easy to use in ways that are important or useful to the member and offer plenty of engaging, on-trend and fun activities, and you are poised for long term success and a reputation of excellence.

Whitney Reid Pennell is president of RCS Hospitality Group, a club training and consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, operations consulting, food and beverage management, executive recruitment, and training programs. She can be reached at [email protected] or (623) 322-0773. Visit