In early April, I had the opportunity to spend two days at the 2018 Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta Ga. For those not familiar, the Masters, which began play in 1934, is the first of four major tournaments in the golf year and arguably the most prestigious.
The tournament is special for many reasons that are evident from watching the four-day event on television. The course, with its lush fairways and greens surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms, tall pine trees and picturesque stone bridges, is at its most brilliant in early April. Caddies in their all-white jumpsuits and flower-laden “Amen Corner” are traditional images that add to the spectacle. Guest passes to the event are the most highly sought after in golf with a limited supply available to an eager public, many who have waited years to gain entry. Attending the Masters is a bucket list item of nearly every golfer alive.
What cannot be seen when watching the event on television is the unique customer experience that attendees are presented when entering the course on tournament days. Every detail to make the experience memorable has been carefully thought out and refined. Beyond the course and world-class competitors, the tournament officials and planners go above and beyond simply satisfying their customers needs, they create an experience like no other I have ever seen.
Below are a few observations I made while attending the Masters this year:
Food: A single day round at a golf tournament can last upwards of 10 hours meaning there are tens of thousands of hungry people roaming the course at any given time. Augusta National has several full-service food stations staffed with dozens of cashiers, beverage handlers and resupply workers. Their efforts ensure all attendees are in and out of the foodservice area in mere minutes, regardless of the crowd size. Food, incidentally, is extremely reasonable from a cost standpoint with sandwiches, snacks and beer / soda a fraction of the cost one would pay at an average ballpark or stadium.
Cell Phones and Devices: With the exception of cameras during practice rounds, no electronic devices, phones, iPads, etc. are permitted at Augusta National during the tournament. While there were many times I would have liked to tweet a picture, make a call or send an email, being unplugged was actually a pleasure. The lack of incessant iPhone video and picture taking, texting and talking (by myself and others) made for a truly relaxed atmosphere and easy conversation among attendees.
Restrooms: Strategically placed around the course, the facilities are often crowded but the wait is never very long. All are staffed with attendants whose job it is to make sure the line moves quickly and that each facility is used to its maximum capacity. All are immaculately clean.
Parking: Parking is free and operated by an army of attendants who herd cars into and out of the lots with military precision. Carts are provided for the elderly and handicapped to drive them to the front gates if needed.
Shopping: Although shopping at Augusta National pro shop is by no means inexpensive, the need to carry purchases around the course all day is negated by a UPS shipping window next to the shop exit. This allows tournament attendees to ship their purchases home immediately after paying without having to lug bags of hats, shirts, etc. around the course all day and worry about how it will fit into their luggage for the flight home. Since Augusta National is the only place where official Masters merchandise can be purchased, the number of bags can be quite substantial!
Course Personnel: Yellow-capped rangers, whose job it is to ensure patrons are only in designated areas, patrol nearly every inch of the course. When not ushering the crowds and keeping them out of restricted areas, they openly engage with patrons on the history of the course, past competitions, etc. answering all questions on the Masters and adding color and a personal touch to the experience. On a side note, each and every person working at the Masters (and there are quite literally thousands) offers a pleasant “Good Morning”, “Welcome to the Masters”, “How are you today?” etc. when walking the grounds. This creates and maintains a welcoming feeling that continues during and after the event.
What struck me the most, however, were the presence of iPads in different areas of the course to take surveys of customers to rank their visit and make suggestions on what can be done to make it better. It amazed me that an event, which has no apparent shortage of customers, would seek additional information from its customers to improve their experience. It gave me some perspective on how the tournament has been able to stand the test of time and continue to be as anticipated event today as it has been over the last 84 years. The Masters committee has created a unique setting by listening to their customers and going beyond customer satisfaction to create a one-of-a-kind experience. It is safe to say they are market driven in their approach and most likely considering mere customer satisfaction as an abject failure.
Prior to leaving on my trip to Augusta National, I had the opportunity to speak with several past attendees who, to a person, sang the praises of the event. They offered tips on what to expect, what to bring and how to act (decorum is a must). What they may not have known is they were, in effect, speaking on behalf of the Masters as brand ambassadors. How many companies can say that? Frankly, I know of only a few (Wegman’s and Chick-fil-A) that come to mind. Gallup has reported that 71% of customers are “actively disengaged” with the companies they patronize which means they are highly likely to change to a product or service that offers a better price, additional feature, etc. without much thought. If your company does not provide a memorable customer experience that the remaining 29% in the poll apparently offer, you will continue to fight an uphill battle for new customers along with the others who are part of the 71%. Studies have shown it can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer than retain a current one, so an increased focus on creating the optimal customer experience is obvious, is it not?
In conclusion, when an organization claims to have very high levels of customer satisfaction, think about the folks at Augusta National. If they were content to simply keep customers satisfied and offer the same level of service over the years, the world would be denied a wonderful annual spectacle. One that has endured decades of change around them and continues to be the gold standard of customer experience not just in the world of sports, but beyond it.