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Cultivating Your Service Culture

This article originally appeared in BoardRoom Magazine in 2014.

Customer service means different things to everyone. Wikipedia defines customer service as “The provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.” defines it as “All interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter.”

But what does this mean in the club business? My general rule of thumb is to first realize that very often our customers are also our owners, bringing an intriguing dynamic to customer service. Secondly, our job is to continuously validate a member’s decision to join the club by seeking ways to make them feel welcome, comfortable, understood, and important with every interaction. In short, we strive for personalized, remarkable service.

As clubs endeavor to keep their membership base and dues line strong, customer service is often overlooked as a key competitive factor. There is an abundance of research available highlighting this fact, with just one example shown below.

Very often, we mistakenly believe members leave for a wide variety of reasons from price to available amenities, but the reality is how they feel when they interact with the club (a.k.a. service) is the most compelling reason to leave.

Creating a solid service culture is a topic about which I have received many calls. Creating a culture that will provide a reputable competitive edge begins with knowing your club’s mission and vision. What makes you special? Why are you here? Who will you be in 10 years?

The decisions you make today will create the experiences tomorrow, so knowing the answers to these questions and effectively communicating them is the first step toward an unshakable service culture.

The next step is hiring right. Many entry-level managers have not been trained properly on how to hire right. Candidates should be hired first and foremost based on a shared set of values between them and the Club. If every person hired has inherent values akin to the club, then creating a consistent service culture will be less complicated.

Once the right people are hired, training must be commonplace and frequent. A one time orientation or two-day training session is not enough. Consider training much like a coach. A coach is constantly reinforcing peak performance and correcting behavior so that the team will continue to grow and develop, achieving their goals. If ‘reinforcement’ training is not a daily habit, the service culture will deviate with new board or committee members, and each staff or management person hired.

Once the right people are hired and trained, there must be definitive roles for accountability and responsibility to protect critical service standards using on-going performance management protocol. Critical standards are 3 – 5 items that every person must be able to achieve. In a club, critical standards may include 1) a warm greeting with a smile using a member’s name; 2) knowledge of the club’s frequently asked questions; 3) understanding how to RSVP or make reservations/tee times.

We often think service occurs only when we see members. However, every interaction from the telephone, website, newsletter, staff presentation and demeanor, to restroom and parking lot conditions impacts the members’ perception of service. Service is an endless array of concerted and complex experiences requiring perpetual management.

Once you have achieved these steps, remember to learn from your mistakes while celebrating your successes. A strong club creates demand for membership usually through existing members. When your members are talking so highly about their club so that others want to join as well so that they, too, can feel welcome, comfortable, understood, and important every day, you have achieved an enduring service culture. Congratulations!


If you're struggling to define your service culture, need a tweak, or need to totally reboot from the ground up, we have training programs to help!

​Give us a call at 623-322-0773 or e-mail us at to get started!

Whitney Reid, president of the RCS Hospitality Group, is a celebrated management consultant, educator, and speaker. RCS, the creators of Food and Beverage Service Boot Camp™, specializes in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs for private clubs, fine dining restaurants, and luxury resorts and hotels. For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

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Whitney Reid Pennell
 Founder & President

Whitney Reid Pennell is the founder and president of the award-winning RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services). She is a published author and widely praised seminar leader, with over 20 years of club operations management and consulting experience. 

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