The Battle for the Customer Interface

The Battle for the Customer Interface in the Golf Industry

We believe the primary battle in the golf industry in the future is the Customer Interface.  In what is being coined by many as the 4th Industrial Revolution, disruption and change continue to remodel the landscape of the business world. This evolution has forged a dramatic rise in consumer power and service expectations and as a result, created an organizational battle for the customer interface – the place where an organization meets its customers either physically or digitally.

I think by now most of us have heard different variations of the phrase that goes something like: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.  And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”  I think all of us in the Golf Industry would also say that GolfNow, the world’s largest owner of tee times also owns no golf courses (if you don’t count virtual golf courses).

The Difference

There is, however, one distinct difference between the companies listed above and Golfnow.  None of them are using resources from the industries they are dominating! 

Uber doesn’t use any taxis and is using regular folks to drive their customers around.  Facebook isn’t buying media from the Associated Press, CNN, FOX, or any of the well-known media companies.  And Airbnb isn’t using existing hotel rooms; they are renting out regular people’s homes. 

GolfNow however, is using your tee times at your golf course to be the largest owner of tee times.  I hope you see the difference, but I don’t see them going out to regular folks like Uber and Airbnb did for access to new inventory and services (because there isn’t any) if the golf industry does eventually take back control of its own inventory.

Those who own the Customer Interface own the market. 

Wall Street says the best companies are the ones that sell directly to the consumer (see the valuations of the companies as mentioned above). Just try to think of all of those great new companies that provide a great product with excellent service at a great price that has popped up in the last five years or so. 

As I write this, I am wearing a pair of Warby Parker glasses, shaved this morning with a Harry’s razor, and last night I slept on a Leesa mattress. These items were sent to me directly from the manufacturer because all these companies cut out the middlemen, and only sell directly to the consumer with fantastic results. What a novel idea! 

Somewhere along the line, the golf industry let the fox in the hen house and allowed 3rd party tee time providers place themselves between the golf course and the customer.

In the late ’80s, golf courses still owned the Customer Interface because you had to call the course or physically write your name in the paper tee sheet on the counter to book a tee time.  Then in the ’90s, online tee times were becoming popular, and slowly they started handing over their tee sheet inventory, customer data, and marketing.

Golf Operators then unknowingly let a 3rd party place themselves between the Golf Course and the customer. This started the entire golf industry down a path of allowing 3rd party tee time providers to dominate the Customer Interface. They did this by offering the lowest rates and reinforcing that relationship by owning the customer data. They also offered rewards to book through their interface.

It boils down to two options:

1) Work with a vendor that gives you the tools you need to work directly with your customer (the golfers who play at your course). 

Or

2) Work with a vendor that places themselves between you and your customer so they can own that valuable Customer Interface and sell directly to your customer (also the golfer that plays at your course).

The formula is simple to regain that interface, but it does take effort and time. Retrain your clients to visit your site for the best rates with Tee Time Specials (like $5 off for booking online) and Online Store Value Added Packages (like a burger, soda, bucket of balls, green fee and cart for $10 off). Then you are capturing their data for re-marketing, growing your database, and eventually raising your total rounds and revenue per round.