Conflict at the Counter

Posted By on Jan 5, 2017 | 8 comments


I once oversaw a hotel inspection program at my previous organization, and occasionally would conduct “executive inspections” of properties and guest experiences. I can’t help but look at consumer experiences through the inspector’s lens, but with the owner’s hat on, too—including the golf experience. I’m all about “UI” (user interface) and “UX” (user experience). Such was the case recently in California, where I visited a public course with my brother-in-law, Jens. 

Earlier in the day, I checked the course’s online tee sheet for afternoon availability because my plan to play needed to remain flexible. There were plenty of openings. Jens and I showed up around 2:20 with a palpable anxiety to get out on the course. I approached the gentleman behind the counter with a smile and said, “We’d like to get out for nine holes,” to which he replied matter-of-factly, “We don’t have a nine-hole rate.” 

Keep in mind, with dusk beginning around 5 p.m. that time of year,  there was little chance of squeezing in 18 anyway. Not to mention, the place was looking pretty slow. I inquired further, “Really? Why not?”

“We just don’t,” he replied. OK. Being the undercover industry guy, I pressed him. “Really? I don’t get it. In this day and age, that seems strange.” I could see my brother-in-law getting uncomfortable. The pro shrugged, “We can’t offer nine-hole rates, or people might book nine holes on Saturday morning and eat into our normal 18-hole prices.” I said, “You could restrict nine-hole rates to certain times of the day, you know.” 

Then he added the consolation prize. “If you wait until 3 p.m. to tee off, our twilight rates kick in and you can save $14.” Looking around the shop and peeking out the window, I saw no one else around getting ready to tee off and wondered if I should watch the clock for 30 minutes to save $14, thinking how ridiculous this all feels.

Because we were anxious to play and I didn’t want to be around this guy anymore, I acquiesced to pay for my 18 holes, half a cart and rental clubs. I later noticed on my receipt I was charged a nine-hole rate for the rentals. Despite my desire to point out the obvious double standard, I didn’t have the energy to continue the price strategy discussion with my new friend. 

There are two takeaways from this experience. One, with the push toward dynamic pricing and more variable rates, owners and operators will be well-served to equip front-line staff with proper techniques on handling customers who don’t see logic in (seemingly) illogical pricing policies. And, more critically, how the front-line staff handles conflict may be more important than the reason for the conflict. An easy solution, short of bending the price policy, would have been for the gentleman to say, “You know what? Sorry I can’t do anything about the price, but I’m going to throw a couple of cold beers on your cart for you guys to enjoy. Have a great time out there.” All’s well that ends well.

How do you think this conflict could have been resolved better?

8 Comments

  1. The guy could have given you the twilight rate and let you go off early. But I guess he didn’t fell like he had that kind of authority.

    Sounds a bit like you want to make the pro shop a place where price negotiation is a standard tactic, like a pawn shop or used car lot. If the prices are posted, then that’s how much it costs to play. If you’re asking for a discount, sometimes the answer is no.

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    • Not necessarily. It’s perfectly fine to stick to posted rates. I think it would be wise for them to offer more options for shorter play. An 18-hole only rate for 2:20 pm in late November is old school and tone-deaf. While it might sound like I’m advocating for the customer on this, it’s really advocating for the owner.

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    • We too have twilight rates and stick to the posted times. Give 10 minutes early and next it’s an hour and the rates erode. But, we offer 9 hole rates 7 days a week. The weekend 9 holes would either go off before 18 holes rounds or start on the back 9. Maybe the golf course was debt free and they didn’t have to have the biz…or in a market where normal business produced sufficient returns, neither of which we are. I would hope our staff would have explained the policy and gave you the rate early “this time”. Depending on who was working they may have even thrown in the beers! Of course if they knew you, they would have asked you if we fired the pro, gave you the golf and beer for free and burnt down the clubhouse would that satisfy you…

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  2. This golf club is really lucky since you did not mention their name. Otherwise, the bad news about it would reach much more people.

    I am sure that this is not the experience they want for their customers to have.

    This case tells me that their pricing strategy is outdated and the lack of understanding of CX, social media, and WOM. Furthermore, such employees like him should have received a proper training how to handle such situation when there is no room for changes (e.g. to give a free meal in the restaurant or a free ticket to the gym of the club).

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  3. I’m no golfer (and I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night).

    But I am a Californian. And I can say, with certainty, that my friends who golf here do it whenever they can, and often try to squeeze in as many holes as possible, if the weather is willing.

    You don’t mention if the weather was good. Were I a golfer, that would make a difference.

    I agree that the guy behind the counter could have done a 180 and made this a memorable encounter for you both. He didn’t, most likely because he isn’t paid top dollar, and he lives in a state with a VERY high standard of living.

    Chances are, if he’s an hourly employee (and not a salaried pro), he can’t afford to buy a house here. And that may make his perspective on all this a bit different, since he’s interacting with homeowners all day long who probably make at least 5-10x what he does.

    Again, I may have this all wrong. The guy may just have been a jerk. Or even a highly paid course pro, and also a jerk.

    But living here, I guess I see the whole encounter a bit differently, and just wanted to share that perspective…

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  4. In our case we offer a standing 9 hole rate off the Back 9 in the mornings. We also post in writing that “9 hole play is available during other times of day as space and time permit. Priority will go to 18-hole players.”

    In this case if no one’s heading out for 18 holes our staff have the flexibility to charge the 9 hole rate. If 18 hole players are waiting to go out then the 9 hole rate isn’t available.

    With appropriate controls this can be managed well.

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  5. It seems like they have lost focus on yield management with their Tee sheet. It would be interesting to speak with the owner and get his thoughts on why this practice. I’m guessing he doesn’t attend the Golf Business Conf. and speak to other owners. It would be great to invite him/her to the show and find some answers to the question to why no 9 hole rate. We offer 9 hole rates off the back 9 before play comes through and twilight rates, with the twilight stick to the time set for the rate and not deviate on that time.

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