By | April 19th, 2017

As smartphone use continues to skyrocket, clubs that want to stay at the forefront of members’ minds must maintain a mobile presence.

There is little doubt that Americans are glued to their smartphones. Take a walk down any city street and you’re bound to see pedestrians searching online reviews for the best brunch spot, drivers with a map illuminating a small screen, and bored retail employees scrolling through social media.

Beyond anecdotal evidence, the numbers confirm this mobile addiction: eMarketer, a data and research firm that focuses on digital technology for business professionals, estimated that in 2015, smartphone users of all ages represented 73.4% of all internet users and 59.3% of the overall population. By 2019, eMarketer predicts, 85% of internet users will be on smartphones.

Summing It Up
• With smartphone users making up 73.4% of all internet users in 2015, clubs should ensure that their websites are at least mobile-friendly.
• For clubs with tech-savvy members, apps that feature push notifications and nearly constant access to members’ phones can be a worthwhile investment.
• Clubs with apps in place can take advantage of location-based technology, including beacons and geofencing.

A Gallup poll in May 2015 found that smartphone owners check their phones at least a few times an hour, with 11% doing so every few minutes. While clubs and resorts pride themselves on cultivating real-world social interaction and relationships, those that ignore the potential benefits of these already-established digital habits are passing up a golden opportunity to enhance and expand their connections with both current and potential members and guests.

Shifting Focus
In a February 2017 webinar titled “The Latest Trends in Private Club Technology,” Bill Boothe, President of The Boothe Group, LLC, discussed a handful of established and upcoming trends for the club industry. Established trends cited by Boothe include:
• property-wide wireless services that provide complete coverage, rather than just a few hot spots;
• at least one dedicated member-communications employee who operates the website and handles marketing and traditional communications pieces, as well as social media; and
• websites that are fully mobilized, allowing members to handle all club-related business entirely on their phones, including managing their billing accounts, checking an events calendar, making reservations, and even contacting other members.

According to Boothe, clubs can take three paths to mobilizing their websites. First is creating a website that is mobile-friendly—meaning that while it was built primarily for use on a desktop computer, the design is slimmed down for also viewing on a mobile device. The next step is a mobile-optimized website that is built specifically for viewing on mobile devices and automatically reformats to display properly on smaller screens, with a single-column layout and “thumb-friendly” navigation.

Ensuring Digital Protection

Club rosters can be a target for digital thieves, with members who are often affluent, leaders in the community, political figures and even celebrities. Sensitive information about members—from addresses to e-mail accounts, phone numbers, passwords, and family and financial data—is stored by most clubs, says Bill Boothe, President of The Boothe Group, LLC, and steps must be taken to ensure its complete and continuous protection.

Clubs can protect member information in multiple ways:
• Commercial-grade firewall that is current with all security patches and network vulnerability testing. This type of security is akin to locks on doors and windows in a home—a basic and necessary precaution.
• Ongoing network vulnerability monitoring, similar to an alarm system in a home.
• Employee awareness training. Seventy percent of data breaches at small-to-medium businesses are enabled by innocent employees who are duped into providing access to the company’s computer systems. Employees should be trained to recognize “social engineering” ploys, from e-mails to impersonations by phone or in person.

According to Boothe, the prevailing “trend” is for clubs to secure their systems, but ignore the employee vulnerability. Beyond training employees, he says, clubs have the option of investing in cyber insurance “for when—not if—systems are compromised.” This type of insurance typically costs $2,000 to $4,000 per year, plus a $2,500 retention fee for smaller clubs, and $10,000 per year or more for much larger clubs. The insurance includes handling PR and customer contact if a breach occurs, and typically offers $1 million in coverage.

The final step is a responsive design that automatically reformats the website’s design to fit on the screen of the device that’s viewing it—for mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers and large-screen displays. Each mobilization tier is rewarded with higher Google search rankings.

Beyond ensuring that the website is mobilized, clubs can also opt for a mobile app, which could be handled by an outside vendor. While mobile websites can be accessed by anyone with the URL, mobile apps have a few additional barriers. An app must be downloaded and installed by the user (making it more exclusive, but adding a step for members), Android and iPhone versions must be developed, updates must be pushed to and downloaded by users, and development is more expensive.

However, the benefit of a club-focused app can be worth the cost and effort. Clubs can utilize the app to send push notifications targeted to specific members or member categories (such as tennis players, members of a wine club, or those registered for a particular event) and give the club nearly constant access to members’ phones (and attention spans).

Further, TechCrunch reports that mobile apps have a higher engagement rate than mobile web and desktop, with conversion rates that are 100% to 300% higher—meaning a member is far more likely to tap a club’s app icon than navigate to its website.

Regardless of the benefits of an app, Boothe says, clubs should still maintain a website for members who don’t want an app, as well as for prospective members and guests.

The New Mobile World
“If you’re talking about mobile technology in a mobile world, you have to take Facebook and Instagram into account,” said Christine Warner, Head of Travel for Facebook, in a recent Skift interview. “[Facebook reaches] over 1.8 billion people every month, and 1.2 billion of those people are coming back to us every day. If you think about what that means for marketers, there’s an opportunity to reach people on mobile devices.”

For clubs, reaching members on all possible platforms in a diversified approach, whether through a club-created app or social media that members (statistically) already use with great frequency, means keeping the club front-of-mind, no matter where members are.

“Mobile unlocks the opportunity to connect with people in a more personalized way and to allow them to have what they want, when they want it,” Warner added.

Beyond the moments that members spend away from the club, the newest technological advances are focusing on time spent on-site, with “beacon technology” leading the pack. Available only through club-oriented apps, the location-based technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) through the installation of beacons throughout the property—indoors and outdoors, each with a 1- to 2-year battery life.

For every member who has the club’s app installed and running, the beacons “track” their location on the property, pinging when they reach the bag drop, valet, a certain point on the golf course, or a dining venue—anywhere the club wants to install a tracking signal.

Incorporating beacon technology has the benefit of recording how members are using the property, thus giving management data on ways to improve the member experience, such as tracking pace of play, the pattern of movement after a game of tennis, and more. The technology can also be used to help with member recognition, through which even the newest employees can learn member names immediately.
Of course, some members might recoil at the thought of being “tracked” by the club, so they should be given the option to opt out if the beacon feature is introduced.

Another form of location-based technology is geofencing, which creates a virtual perimeter for a real-world location that’s outdoors. If a member has the app installed and activated on his or her phone and crosses an established threshold on the property, the club can send him or her a message.

One example of this technology in action, Boothe said, can be found at The Union League of Philadelphia, where geofencing is used to direct members to available parking areas when space is at a premium.

One Response to User-Friendly

  1. Jason Wilson says:

    I could not agree more with so many of the points made here. Customer expectations have changed, and they expect a mobile experience in every part of their lives, including at their golf club. The mobile channels and tools today are extremely powerful, and help businesses across numerous verticals enhance engagement with their customers/clients/members. The golf industry still has a lot of catching up to do. My only disagreement regarding mobile apps: I imagine that the majority (meaning 99.9%) of clubs do not have a someone on staff who can build and support a feature rich mobile app solution. Building, submitting, and supporting native apps on Apple and Android takes a little more know how than the weekend coder. Just as clubs would not take on the task of building their own Point of Sale or Electronic Tee Sheet, they should not take on the task of building their own mobile app. There are really great and cost effective solutions already, don’t reinvent the wheel.

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