Keeping Your People Happy

Customer service advice from the GCSAA

Published in the April 2009 Issue Published online: Apr 10, 2009 Mark Tensmeyer, staff writer

No matter how good you are at keeping a course green and clean if the customers aren’t satisfied with the service they won’t be coming back.

“Whether you are selling pizzas or professional services, your business is not about you. It’s about the people you serve,” said GCSAA agronomist John Miller.



Miller has been a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) for over two decades and works an agronomist for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGS).

In addition to his background in the science of course maintenance Miller places just as much importance in taking care of the people involved as was the subject of a seminar he gave at the Peaks & Prairies Fall Meeting in Billings, Mont.

Miller instructed golf course superintendents on how to keep customers, employees and local residents happy through ideas like proper communication skills, employee training and “customer mania.” To explore these ideas Miller gave case scenarios challenging the superintendent to make the best decision.



You are planning to spray the golf course today for a member-guest tournament on the weekend. A member calls to tell you he is allergic to all chemicals and asks you not to spray. You have accommodated this person in the past.

Miller quotes Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton who said: “There is only one boss – the customer – and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

In this situation the superintendent has to choose between pleasing the one allergenic customer or risk losing him in favor of spraying for the tournament. The wrong thing to do is ignore him saying that he is one member as opposed to a whole tournament.

Ask yourself if those at the tournament will notice if the course is sprayed or not. If spraying will make a difference try to find a way to make the allergic member feel that spraying was simply something you had to do despite all other efforts. Consider giving him a pass or discount as token of your concern for him.

Miller stresses a principle he calls “Customer Mania” which he defines by saying: “We not only listen and respond to the customer, we are obsessed to go the extra mile to make our customers happy.” 

The superintendent and staff are personally involved with the customer’s comfort and spare no expense in making their experience the best. Miller further explains: “When customer mania is alive and well, customers not only want to come back, they become part of your sales force. They want to brag about it you.”

With this in mind loosing the allergic member business is the least of your worries when alienating him.

The real loss is in losing the customer base he could have brought with him and losing the spirit of Customer Mania at your course.



You are a Golf Course Superintendent at a private club. You come upon a female golfer who has parked her cart next to the green.

There are numerous ways to inform people of the rules in a gentle, polite but realistic manner.

There are certain inoffensive ways to approach the golfer such as giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying: “Where you aware you left your cart parked by the green?”

The reality of things is some people are just difficult and some customers will never be stratified no matter what you do. “It is an unfortunate situation but sometimes you have to cut the strings,” Miller said.



You are in a drought situation and require rainfall to recharge your ponds. A resident that owns a house on a pond calls and demands that you put water in the pond immediately.

Residents who live by the course, whether they are patrons or not, are another group to be considered. The course is likely a reason they bought their home and they depend on you, the superintendent, to maintain the course so they can retain their property value.

Like customers, they can bring business to you or they can make business difficult. Dealing with them in a considerate, personal manner is just as important.

In addition to working with customers and residents, Miller emphasized employee relations.

“Common sense says that if you consistently treat those that serve the customers as if they are the most important people in the company, they will treat the customer as if they are most important people in the world,” he said.

Miller believes the best system for working with your employees is to make them accountable for their actions, have proper training, listen to their feedback and recognize their achievements.

“The most powerful way to motivate your employees is to listen to them,” he said. Listening to employees, training them to do the same, motivates them to turn around and treat the customer for what they are: the reason your course is there.