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How to stay ahead of customer expectations in the Club Industry

“Be humble, and be willing to learn from those who excel where you don’t”

Over the past 30 years something quite unique happened in the club industry. A shift as to how members view themselves today – the shift from owners to customers. With that in mind, building clubs of the future calls for an innovative approach by club leadership to build deeper and long-lasting relationships with its customers, while continuously investing “capital” in the club. So, how do clubs of the future stay ahead of customer expectations?

Recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos published his annual letter to shareholders. After commending his staff for their commitment to excellence, Bezos delivered a lesson in how to stay ahead in customer expectations.

We, in the club industry, a service industry that is founded upon member satisfaction, yet, in today’s world has somewhat lost its path by keeping up with “customer expectations”, should take note of an industry giant that paved its success via customer obsession. I can see my industry colleagues shaking their heads, but let’s be honest. The club industry has always been “catching-up” with trends and technology, always lagging, and never leading. At a time where the race to reinvent everything is well underway, club leaders, all those with a “COO” at the end of their titles, need to become innovators and visionaries. Take it from here, start viewing your members as customers.

In my previous blog, I talked about the catchphrase, - “Customer Obsession” – a phrase that is often misunderstood. Like any other critical practice or methodology, building a “Customer Obsession” is not about holding a training session or maybe two and then calling your club “member obsessed” – or as I would call it – “customer obsessed”.

Customer Obsession is pure, natural and it is built into an organizational culture, consistently reinforced and strengthened via mechanisms, leadership and high standards. Let’s start by viewing our members as customers, regardless if they are the owners of the club, or not.

Bezos, in his letter to his shareholders, notes that it all comes down to maintaining “High Standards.” Bezos says that the four elements of high standards as we see it – “are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope.”

Bezos goes on by saying that it took Amazon many successes and billions of dollars of failures to learn that lesson, and he went on by saying in his letter to his shareholders that he’d like to share the essentials learned thus far about high standards inside an organization.


Bezos writes, “People are pretty good learning high standards simply through exposure. High standards are contagious. Bring a new person onto a high standards team, and they will adapt quickly.” Bezos also notes that the opposite is true, and if low standards prevail, those too will quickly spread. It all starts with the hiring process. Hire people that are enthusiastic, open to learning and to constructive criticism. Once the employee is used to working at high standards, it becomes self-sustaining.


“If you have high standards in one area, do you automatically have high standards elsewhere?” Bezos asks. “It is our belief that high standards are domain specific, and that you have to learn high standards separately in every arena of interest.” Bezos goes on by saying that upon founding Amazon, he had high standards for inventing, customer care and hiring, but not really for operational processes, which needed to be continuously fixed at the root. “It keeps you humble,” Bezos says, “you can consider yourself a person of high standards in general and still have debilitating blinds spots.” My take-away of his message is – be humble, and be willing to learn from those who excel where you don’t.


Inc. Magazine in its latest issue asked Jeff Bezos the question: “How do you achieve high standards in a specific domain?”

Bezos answer was focused on the ability to recognize what good looks like with a domain. In the interview with Inc. Magazine, Bezos went on to speak about Amazon’s practice of starting meetings with silent reading of “narratively structured memos,” which he describes as a kind of “study hall.” Bezos further notes that not all memos are created equal, but he finds that much of the time the readers react to great memos very similar. In the interview he says:” They know it when they see it. The standard is there, and it is real, even if it’s not easily describable.”

Again, let’s be honest. We are not always able to quantify excellence, but for crying out loud, identify it and praise it. Remember the “One Minute Manager” – One Minute Praising. That will motivate everyone, and everyone will keep on trying harder.


High standards require realistic expectations. Remember the young lad that just gotten the job as an Assistant GM at the club. Full of enthusiasm, eager to learn, with some back-ground experience from Club XYZ. The young lad is motivated and committed. He is so confident that he can do a great job, but soon realizes he needs to learn much more. Achieving “High Standards” set by the company require realistic expectations. You can improve results by simply making it clear up front how much time and effort is needed to achieve great results and high standards. Set the scope, set realistic expectations. Practice “Situational Leadership.”

To illustrate in his interview with the magazine, Bezos tells the story of friend who recently decided to learn how to do a handstand. After her initial efforts left her frustrated, the interview went on by saying that she decided to hire a coach to help her learn. The coach told her that most people (“most people think they can”) can master a handstand in about two weeks of daily practice, but in reality it takes about six months.

Bezos concludes that “unrealistic beliefs on scope, often hidden and undiscussed, kill high standards and to achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be.” Bezos goes on by saying that “everyone is trying to perfect a handstand in just a few weeks, but it just does not work that way.” Tell the lad upfront how much time and effort is needed to achieve great results.

In the interview with the magazine, it’s what Bezos says last that I found most interesting.

Bezos says, someone on the team needs to have the necessary skill to perform a task, but it doesn’t have to be you. And this takes us back to point two: By learning to identify what individuals on your team do well, you can better delegate, giving you time to focus on your own strengths. The result? A whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

“A culture of high standards is protective of all the ‘invisible’ but crucial work that goes on in every company,” writes Bezos. “I am talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it is part of what it means to be a professional.” And Bezos goes on by saying: ‘HIGH STANDARDS ARE FUN! Once you have tasted them, you never go back. And achieving High Standards is well worth the effort, you will never go back.”

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