Data is a big and often scary topic, especially in today’s climate where Joe Blow citizen feels like his every movement is being logged into some gigantic marketing machine. Hit the social media “like” button on a picture of a table and in no time, you’re getting ads from Wayfair. Search for the nearest Starbucks on a map app and, voilà, you get notified when peppermint lattes are introduced. For people of a certain age (which happens to coincide with the median age of golfers), that sense of Big Brother watching is unnerving.
On the other hand, we don’t bat an eye when our dentist texts to remind us of a cleaning on Tuesday, or the barber sends an email reminding us that it’s been a month since the last haircut. Amazon, for all its Big Brother proclivities, has made its customers’ lives easier. Everything from dog food to a Dodge Grand Caravan can be bought and delivered with one click.
We like the benefits of data mining. But we’re leery of becoming a commodity, marketed and sold without our knowledge or consent. The former - the benefits of having your data out in the virtual world - provides a great opportunity for golf operators to improve customer service and improve the bottom line. The latter, the fear of appearing intrusive, paralyzes operators and leaves golf behind when it comes to data management.
That is not the case for the world’s largest golf operator. Troon Golf not only gathers mountains of user data, they put it to good use, enhancing customer experience while maximizing revenue.
“You can put the data that we capture into different buckets,” said Kris Strauss, Troon’s corporate director of marketing and sales. “You can start with a loyalty bucket and you have a service experience bucket. If you start with the loyalty side of things, we work on cultivating data through Troon Rewards. It’s a points-based loyalty program. I liken it to Marriott Envoy. Through loyalty rewards, we capture data that our clubs can use. That’s an important concept for the audience of Golf Business because anybody can create a loyalty program. All the major tee-sheet providers have that functionality built into their operations.”
Once the data is captured, Troon tracks dollars spent in real time for each facility. Then, in the spirit of competition and to emphasize the importance of data collection, the company creates a leaderboard that shows where each facility stands. “That encourages managers to capture and use data,” Strauss said.
The second bucket is the experiential data, what the customer sees and feels. That’s the golf equivalent to Amazon recommending a book based on your past purchases or sending you a reminder that you haven’t bought pet food in a while and the puppies are hungry. Anyone who has ever made a political contribution knows what those data-mined messages look like. And they can be annoying. But if you are someone who plays golf on Wednesday afternoons, wouldn’t you appreciate getting a notification when the 12:33 time opens up on your day? And if your round took too long or the bunkers weren’t raked, wouldn’t you appreciate someone reaching out and asking for your input? Too many courses have taken the pompous approach of some prestigious clubs that jokingly put the suggestion box in the middle of a lake if they even pretend one exists. The adage “suggestions are for losers” has never been true, even at those facilities. Those owners and operators get advice from the best experts in the business. But for most operators, the best expert is the customer. Finding a mechanism to capture their advice and respond in a timely manner is key.
“After each round of golf, we send out surveys and our operators get that feedback in real time,” Strauss said. “They are then able to respond and reply. If we stub our toe, if we make a mistake, the operators are able to go back and win over that unhappy golfer one interaction at a time. It’s super important that we hit all the levers to make sure we’re capturing all the useful data to maximize the experience of each individual golfer at each touch point.”
The third bucket is data cleansing. You don’t want someone in your system getting four or five of the same emails every week, just as you don’t want to send emails or texts to someone who has passed away or moved to Borneo.
“Indigo (formerly Billy Casper Golf before it was purchased by Troon) had some good processes in place that we haven’t replaced,” Strauss said. “But we have integrated them into our other systems. All the data flows in an automated fashion from the tee sheets into a central database. Then that data is scrubbed to make sure there aren’t matching email addresses or other duplications. Player behaviors are logged, and that data is used by our marketing departments to help our general managers at the clubs, who in turn send out facility-specific emails tailored to entice golfers to come back and play again.
“The other thing Indigo created that we are expanding up is finding trends in when guests are playing frequently. For example, if the data shows that you like to play on Sunday mornings, we have automation that sends you a reminder with availability within that preferred time slot and a link to a booking engine that allows you to book. That’s a great best practice.”
Unfortunately, golf hasn’t caught up to other industries. While Amazon knows you collect old golf clubs and brown drip coffee mugs, your club where you’ve played for 20 years doesn’t know that you play Pro V1s. According to Strauss, that’s a function of how you collect the data on the front end.
“The gap at the moment is player two, three and four on the tee sheet,” he said. “You book a time for four players. Our rewards program is based on the history of that one person, the one booking the tee time. It’s more challenging to capture the data for golfers two, three and four. But that data is important to delivering the same experience in terms of preferences.
“The more people you can get to book online, the more data you will capture. We’ve always had a reservations center and a call center. You can say someday that it will become obsolete. But at the moment it’s still imperative in terms of data collection because it’s so much better than the golf pro who is behind the counter selling balls, checking people in and looking out at the first tee. The data he or she collects as they’re fighting fires is rarely as good as what you find from a call center, which, in turn, isn’t as good as what you capture when people book online or through an app.
“All tee sheets have the ability to track what golfers are doing. But you have to have good data in to get good data out.”
And you have to use that data in an effective way. Brady Wilson, general manager at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, a Troon property in Chandler, Arizona, issued an edict that he wanted at least 53 email campaigns in a calendar year. They would be targeted and customer appropriate. A married member in his 60s with grandkids wouldn’t get invited to Singles Night, but he might get invited to Demo Day to test out some new graphite shafts.
“There’s always something going on at the club with the right message to the right customer,” Strauss said. “It might not be related to golf in the off-peak season. But we still have a wine dinner or a bourbon tasting or some kind of instructional opportunity. Sometimes it’s golf; sometimes it’s dining. (Wilson) found, for example, that people weren’t doing email marketing on weekends. Brady decided that he was going to start a weekend email campaign to touch golfers when they were paying attention to golf and their inboxes weren’t full of work emails.
“In the last 12 rolling months, (Ak-Chin Southern Dunes has) sent 100 email campaigns. Again, targeted to the right customer with the right messaging with specific offerings. There are probably some clubs in America that haven’t hit send on an email to anyone in their database at all this season.”
Data for data’s sake is not just useless, it's annoying. But capturing useful data and using it to enhance the customer experience is a culture. It says a lot about the type of club you are and what you want to be. So it’s important to dive into your tee sheet, capture the email addresses, put a name to it and log transactions and purchases.
It’s hard work. But so is everything in the golf business. Good data usage starts with good leadership. It requires a commitment. And then it requires finding the tools and using them appropriately.
“We have to make the invitation,” Strauss said. “We have to make the invitation for people to come play golf and once they do, we have to make the invitation for them to return. We have to make the invitation for them to come dine with us. We have to offer opportunities for them to buy clubs from us, golf balls from us. That is an advantage that the sales and marketing department at a management company has that an individual operator might not have. We have the resources and expertise to capture and use that data.
“It starts with getting information from your customers and then doing one proactive thing,” Strauss said. “Get a little bit better at email marketing. Get a little bit better at responding to your surveys. Get a little bit better at reacting to your reviews. If you do that, one bite at a time, you are going to see better results tomorrow than you saw yesterday.”