United States

Touch Points: Defining various forms of contact with members


A member comes to the dining room and orders a steak that is cooked to perfection. A guest drives through the gates and up to the club house to be greeted by name by the valet. A non-member is reading a review of the golf courses in the region and recognizes the name of a club listed as the best course from the sign she drives by on her way to work every day.

While all of the above scenarios likely conclude with a smile, club professionals know that this is not always the case. The steak was served medium-rare to a member who ordered it well done. The guest felt hassled by the guard at the gate and his name was mispronounced by the valet. The golfer read that the course was poorly cared for and that the cost of membership is unjustified.

Whether positive or negative, each of these scenarios illustrates a touch point (sometimes referred to as a contact point). The term touch point refers to every chance a member of a club's audience has to interact with the club's image. Note that the term is "member of a club's audience" and not a member of the club. In business terms, this is the club's target market—members and prospective members alike. Note also that these members are said to have interacted not with the club or its employees but with its image—again, a far wider reaching term.

While club management can institute training, install technology to facilitate effective communication and make any number of efforts to ensure its target audience smiles after each interaction, not every encounter can, in reality, be controlled. Consider the last scenario. Short of forgoing one's moral compass and finding a critic willing to accept a bribe, a club cannot be sure that every review will glow or that every touch point will be positive. Furthermore, touch points do not have to feature a direct interaction with the club.

Tom Duncan, who authored The Principles of Advertising and IMC, founded the Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) graduate program at the University of Colorado and worked with the well-known advertising agency Leo Burnett, identified four types of touch points: company created touch points, intrinsic touch points, unexpected touch points and customer-initiated touch points.

Company created touch points can be seen as those planned marketing messages that are under the control of the club. In a traditional business sense, promotional tools fall into this category. While many clubs are less likely to run a formal advertisement, few would think of operating without a website today. Just as a website that is easy to navigate and offers a feel consistent with the atmosphere of the clubhouse adds value to the club's image, so too would the reverse be true—a website with photos of a pristine, newly-constructed clubhouse should match the reality even if a few years have passed.

Intrinsic touch points are those that are experienced while purchasing or using whatever is being sold. Club management might not have as much direct control over these contacts, but training and a strong organizational culture help to ensure that a family considering membership at the club is able to experience the allure in all its glory. This could include how they are treated as guests for a day and the ease with which they can complete the invitation/application process. Similarly, contact is made with members countless times and in any number of ways every time they frequent the club and even when they are not physically present (e.g. a phone call or email). Adopting a satisfaction survey style of management in which frequent conversations are had with members (not necessarily through a formal survey process) is one of the many means by which club management can uncover substandard intrinsic touch points and then take steps to improve the relationship before any long-term damage is done. Remember to "walk the property."

Unexpected touch points are the unexpected references or information about the club a member or prospective member receives that cannot be directly controlled by the club. The most powerful and influential example is personal communication. The common business jargon for this type of contact includes word-of-mouth or viral marketing as well as the more technologically oriented word-of-mouse communication. Members and non-members are likely to speak about the club with friends and family who share interests. They might speak about the great food or unkempt tennis courts. They might recommend the clubhouse for an event after attending the wedding of their neighbor's daughter. While a club cannot control these conversations, a well-managed club appreciates how every area of operations influences what they are likely to say.

Customer-initiated touch points are those that occur when a member of the club's audience contacts the club. As anyone who has ever spent time in a customer service role can attest, these touch points most typically involve questions or complaints. They can occur on the telephone, through a contact form online, email or through social media. The main distinction is that the member initiates the contact. While the club cannot control when these touches occur, how well they are managed falls back under the influence of management through processes, procedures, training and culture. Consider the dreaded phone services that lead callers through one automated prompt after another or how prominent the option to contact the club is online. Clubs should be prepared for these contacts at all times and work to facilitate them even before they occur.

Understanding the differences between types of touch points affords management a clearer perspective on what is and is not under its control as well as what lies in between. If these four types of touch points were plotted on a line measuring a club's ability to control them, company created touch points would fall at one extreme as they can be planned and strategized, while unexpected touch points would fall at the other end as they are completely out of the club's control. If that same line is turned into a horizontal access paired with a vertical one depicting impact on a member's impression of the club, as shown below, an inverse relationship between two becomes clear. The type of touch point least controlled by the club (i.e. unexpected) is also the type of touch point that can most greatly enhance or damage a member's impression of the organization. Second to that would be those initiated by the members of the club's audience. With an appreciation for these relationships, clubs are better able to focus their attention at increasing the number of touch points and ensuring that most result in a smile regardless of how or when they were initiated.