11 Oct

Anticipating Member Needs

How to Determine What Your Members Want

Every club has a history. Often founded by a small group of visionaries, private clubs are grounded in great ideas, imagination, and forethought that is passed down through generations. Over time, these notions contribute to the evolution of a club’s individuality and unique culture. The beauty of the private club industry is that no matter how similar clubs can be with regard to their services, offerings, or operations, no two clubs are the same.

And while this distinction should be celebrated, it also means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting an enduring member experience. Even if the same tactics are utilized by various clubs to obtain information, the information itself—and what club leaders do with that information—is unique to each club. The key is to ensure club leaders are listening closely to their member’s needs and desires—and sometimes digging a little deeper to figure out what they really want makes all the difference.



Of course, private club leaders and general managers are constantly looking for ways to enhance their club experience. They diligently attend industry conferences, share ideas with one another, read the latest industry publications, watch online webinars, listen to podcasts…the list goes on. Although these are all great resources and certainly necessary, there are two key stakeholders in a private club that can provide more insight than any other source—the membership and the staff. For both, the club is an important fixture in their daily life, which makes their intuition and unique point of view a powerful tool for success.



Of course, club leaders know that if they’re ever curious about the overall member experience, the best thing to do is go to the source! Members are more than happy to share their thoughts and ideas on how they feel about their current experience, as well as how they feel it could be enhanced in the future. Today, managers use a variety of methods to obtain this information. From informal round-table discussions with the general manager and casual conversations throughout the clubhouse, to more specific ways of gathering feedback like distributing pulse surveys that focus in on a very specific topic or event; these personal interactions and brief satisfaction surveys help gather vital insights that tap into what members are thinking in a quick, convenient way.



In addition, it is also important to gather feedback in a much broader sense. In today’s tech-driven society, online questionnaires are the perfect way to gather robust, quantitative data that can aid club leaders in their decision-making. “It’s important to survey the membership at least every five years,” says John Snellinger, Director of Planning / Principal of Chambers. “This way, clubs have a point-in-time benchmark of how their members are feeling and what they are looking for in the future.” He adds, “this helps club leaders prioritize what is most important to members, as they can see what elements begin to gather more support from larger portions of the membership over time.”



Snellinger also advises that one of the most important elements of the survey process is analyzing club demographics. As part of the survey questionnaire, it is critical to add a general section asking for information regarding age, membership category, length of membership, club activities, whether the member has children, etc. This way, each question on the survey can be cross-tabulated by the demographic information to better understand the needs and habits of specific user groups.

For example—In a recent survey conducted by Chambers for an athletic club, members were asked for their reasons for joining the club, as well as why they continue their membership. While respondents indicated location, overall family enjoyment, and family/friends being members as the top three reasons for joining, the club’s squash facilities were the top reason they remain members. This speaks to the culture and camaraderie among the membership, and helps the club understand how their programs and services are becoming an important part of their members’ social lives.

In addition, cross-tabulation of member demographics can also help make predictions into the needs of prospective members. “When planning for the future, it is critical to pay close attention to the ‘under 45’ age group as well as the ‘less than five years’ membership group,” adds Snellinger. “These are the members who have joined the club most recently, and their behaviors and interests likely mimic those of prospective members most closely.” While it is important to listen to feedback from all membership categories to create a well-rounded, multi-generational experience, these segments of the membership can aid in anticipating member needs.



And while member wants and needs are important, a private club’s staff can be another major key to success. These individuals work hard to deliver an unmatched experience to members—and they witness member reactions to that experience firsthand. Because of these daily interactions, staff members are likely the most in tune with what members are pleased with, what they are excited about, and perhaps even what changes they wish to see at the club. So, just as club leaders engage and listen to the members, it is also important to listen carefully to club employees, discuss opportunities from a member’s perspective, and brainstorm ways to make improvements. In the end, any chance to involve the staff more into the operations and decision-making at the club helps them feel more included and more invested, which ultimately leads to them delivering a better experience.

So how can we create an atmosphere that is desired by all members and sets the club up for success? Just ask. Start the conversation. The more you listen to member input—directly and indirectly—the better. And the more ways you can find out member input—directly or indirectly—the better.

What steps have you taken to understand the wants and needs of your membership? Comment below and tell us what you’ve found to be most successful!

Check out other articles from this issue by clicking here.

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