From Phone Books to Contacts and Club Chits. Communication Is Vital.
We’ve asked each and every club and home owner association with which we have worked what would be their number one criterion for a new Director of Tennis or Fitness. It wasn’t that they were once ranked top 500 on the ATP Tour or that they competed at Crossfit Nationals. It was simply: communication, communication, communication.
Not to sound like a real estate agent emphasizing location, but it’s so true. In this day and age where we spend more time looking at our phones than speaking to other humans, it’s essential that we communicate through each medium presented to us. This holds true in the world of tennis and fitness.
Tradition versus Modernity
As I continue to work in the industry after a career in marketing and advertising, I realize that the speed of communication changes really from generation to generation. In my grandparents’ day, we had to wait for the Telegram, the fastest mode of communication. Then along came my parents’ generation and the telephone. I can still vividly see the cream colored, wall-mounted, long spiral-cabled phone in my childhood home in the early 70s. And we used to call the exchanges by letters rather numbers – my grandmother lived in Scarsdale, NY so it was SC3 (723 in today’s world). I grew up in South Salem, SO3 (763) and so on. Along came my adulthood and email where we had our Blackberrys logged into our our AOL (remember how it was capitalized?) account. But today, it’s text or IM (we need instant in everything from our coffee to messaging). So quick that my daughter calls it snapchat – oh, that’s the application? Oh, ok.
So as a boy, I flipped through what was known as the White Pages. I don’t think my daughter, who turns 11 in a few weeks, has ever heard that expression. “Dad, were there yellow pages?” Yes there were for commercial phone listings and pink pages for government and official listings. Now we just have “Contacts” in the grasp of our hands. How clutch is that? No pun intended!
One of my board members asks at the annual budget meeting about the cost and need of the yearly “Club Handbook”. It’s a private club tradition. A printed, bound club handbook with each member’s address, phone, email, place of work and the club’s by-laws written in the early decades of the past century. Every club has one. Years ago, one of the clubs where I served as Head Pro disbanded this and put it all on the protected member-only accessed website. What a great idea. Print it out at home if you’d like, or just type in and search for the member. My grandmother would opt for the printout, my daughter for the search bar.
Long gone are the days where the pro would call a home and leave a message to play in a doubles game hoping to hear back by the end of the day. Now, by sharing a text database with membership, members themselves put out a text say to 8 players and get a court of 4 back in a matter of minutes. Long gone are the Men’s and Ladies Days – they just exist in a different world: textual rather than virtual. In fact, Duxbury Yacht Club simply disbanded their formal Men’s and Ladies’ Days and left it to the members to text each other and updated the “sub” list with a text database update! No more bulletin board substitute lists that never get read because by the time you are the club it’s too late to get a substitute.
We stress the importance of the front desk having a fully up-to-date text database on either Google Voice or some other platform in order to communicate with each and every member instantly. No worrying if the member received the voicemail – it’s a text! Breaking down that database by level of player, whether they participate in clinics, or if they have children to whom you can market junior events – this is all helpful. Does it matter if they take clinics? Sure, how are you going to fill that last minute spot in the 9am clinic? With a text banged out to 27 members who love that clinic at 8.34am that same morning! You can do this for Pilates and Yoga classes too, although those members might be doing deep-breathing exercises before they type in their now 6-digit security code on their iPhone.
You can post on Twitter and on Instagram openings in clinics, or new programming ideas and events. Maybe a few people will stop their scrolling to see what their best-friend did last night, look and sign up. On Twitter, you can actually link usually right to your signup software. Tougher to do on Instagram. But Facebook allows direct links too. Many private, elite, member-owned clubs frown on social media. I say, just control your viewership. Easy to do on most social media platforms. By the way, those old, printed club handbooks have a lot of information lying around people’s homes who may no longer be members if we are talking about viewership and confidential information.
The strength of your database is the foundation to your customer and member service. A weak database most likely means poor service. A wonderfully clean and efficient database means better billing, more on-court sales, filled yoga classes, and simply put, better member service. If you’re still using paper chits and not printing member receipts from a POS system, your behind the times in member services.
Don’t Forget To Dot your I’s and Cross Your T’s: Formal Writing
My copy of Strunk and White is never far from my desk. I know, those two names show my age. I just looked – first published in 1959. But, like a classic book, there is still the opportunity for formal writing. A thank you email or, even, a posted letter to thank a member for attending a special event or the summer’s signature event, like a member-guest is always welcomed. Or, a thank you for a gratuity card receipt from an employee or a thank you for a contribution to the staff Christmas fund. A welcome letter at the beginning of the season or a new year is always suggested. And how often does your Director reach out with a letter, either emailed or posted, to all the new members feeling a bit “out-in-the-cold” after the rosé of the initial cocktail party fades? These touches bring members to your facility and growth to club revenues.
However you communicate, keep it professional, informative, to the point and often. Only two times has someone told me I email too often. Countless are the times I’ve heard: “If I had only known…”
Ed Shanaphy once wrote for a well-known magazine with offices in Murray Hill on 35th Street in Manhattan at which he learned that criteria is the plural to criterion. He now muses on the country club industry while consulting for clubs and home-owner associations. His copy of The Elements of Style is so well-thumbed and brittle, MOMA is considering putting it in a glass case.