Are Your Member Surveys Letting You Down?

Solutions to 4 Traditional Survey Problems

Published Saturday, July 1, 2017
by Trevor Coughlan

BUILDING STRONG relationships with members is essential to a club’s success, and in an ideal world all of your members would be happy with your services—but there will always be members who let something small poison their attitude toward the club. As a result, sending surveys should be looked at as an essential part of a club’s marketing strategy.

If there is one process that has stood the test of time in the club business, it’s the annual membership survey. Loaded with questions about facilities and member expectations, the annual membership survey shines a light on what is expected from the club in years to come. It’s a valuable undertaking for management teams and boards concerned with long-term planning.

However, in addition to long-term planning, most annual membership surveys attempt to assess the overall satisfaction of the membership, as well as the service experience, and this is where the traditional membership survey approach is fraught with problems.

Nowadays, traditional surveys can be ineffective with regard to assessing and addressing member experience and engagement. In a world full of busy schedules and the need for immediate satisfaction, traditional surveys can fall short of informing decisions and at times can even be misleading. There are a number of usually unknown factors that can influence surveys and actionable responses in unforeseen ways, including:

  • Member satisfaction can fluctuate throughout the year based on recent experiences.
  • If the survey tries to address too many topics it can cause respondent fatigue and inaccurate results.
  • Staff service levels can rise and fall in relation to the timing of the annual survey.
  • Even members who indicate overall satisfaction can still be at risk of leaving.
  • Satisfaction responses are often based on recent service experiences, not taking into account all club interactions in the time between surveys.
  • The time between survey delivery, staff consultation and eventual member follow up is often far too long to make a meaningful impact on the member experience.

These are just a few of the hurdles that need to be considered when preparing any member survey, but there are ways of addressing these issues directly. In order to do so, it’s important to understand and address the root causes of why so many surveys don’t deliver. Here are four problems with traditional surveys.

1. Surveys tend to ask too many questions

Members are busy. They have work, family, friends, hobbies and a never-ending list of other competing interests in their lives. Add to that the results from a recent study showing the human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish (seriously, look it up), it’s no wonder that an exhaustive survey doesn’t tend to deliver accurate, trend-spotting results. Long surveys cause respondent fatigue, causing respondents to rush through portions of the survey without allotting a proper amount of attention.

As a general rule, surveys should be kept as short as possible—which may sound simple, but execution can be difficult. Just try telling your board that large swaths of your annual survey need to be cut.

Companies like Apple, Hertz, Southwest and hundreds more have adopted the Net Promoter System®, which was first introduced by Bain & Company. The core belief is that single question surveys, sent often, can be the key to understanding customer/member loyalty and engagement.

In the Net Promoter System®, recipients are offered a 0 (least likely) to 10 (most likely) scale and are asked “How willing would you be to recommend X
to friends or family?” or some variation. Based on their response, respondents are categorized as Detractors (0–6), Passives (7–8) or Promoters (9–10).

The system is far more complex than just a single question, and is in fact a detailed management philosophy which we don’t have time to cover here. It’s safe to say though, that this system has a long list of devoted followers, and many consider it the single best way to determine customer loyalty.

2. Surveys don’t get to members in a timely fashion

Most club surveys are delivered annually or semiannually and, as mentioned above, can be great for assessing long-term objectives or capital planning projects. However, spacing surveys so far apart can present a real challenge for clubs looking to assess overall member satisfaction and service experience. Will all of the areas where a club excels be considered for an overall satisfaction rating, or will that member’s review become skewed by a singular service instance last week?

If assessing and improving member experience is on your radar, then long intervals between surveys may be limiting their effectiveness. In a perfect world clubs should be checking in with members on a much more regular basis to gauge recent service experiences. Regular check-ins, as often as once a month, can help to paint a much more accurate picture of how your members really feel.

3. Surveys aren’t specific enough

Suppose you’ve just bought a new car and someone asks you how you like it. It’s a simple enough question, but there are a lot of factors to consider. Maybe you like the ride, but the acceleration isn’t quite up to par. The leather interior and paddle shifters are great, but the touchscreen navigation is a bit of a reach from the driver’s seat. With so many elements contributing to an overall evaluation, your response may be “It’s good. I like it.” But in reality, how reliable is this feedback?

Instead, what if someone were to ask you how you like just one aspect of your new car, such as the steering wheel? You might respond, “The hand-stitched leather feels great, the entire car can be controlled from the wheel-mounted interface, and the fact that it’s heated is a great bonus.”

The difference between asking someone about their car as a whole versus just the steering wheel is much like asking
a member to rate their club as a whole versus just the main dining room. With so many contributing factors—such as departments utilized and even preferred staff members—survey respondents are often forced to make a leap in one direction or another.

The more specific the survey is in regard to an individual service area or experience, the easier it will be to understand where your club is, and isn’t, measuring up.

4. Surveys don’t quickly filter results back to front line employees

How often are we asked by companies to provide our opinion on their service, yet we know that once we’ve taken the time to share our thoughts, little if anything will change. Telecom companies are notorious for this, and at this point most of us feel that the “short survey” after our call concludes is akin to throwing our opinions into a black hole.

This feeling of ineffectiveness can be aggravated in the club business due to the infrequency of surveys and even employee turnover. Many clubs attempt to use their annual surveys to address service issues, but how effective can this process be if months pass before member experiences and requests for change are passed along to departmental managers and front-line employees? Adding to this disconnect is the issue of high employee turnover in the hospitality sector, which, according to the National Restaurant Association, topped 70 percent in 2016.


Surveys sent at a more regular interval not only reinforce to your members that you’re listening, it also gives you the opportunity to channel specific incidents and requests back to staff members who can make an immediate change. Shortening this feedback time, coupled with a policy of member follow up, has the potential to significantly enhance service at your club as well as member satisfaction.

Member surveys have always been a valuable tool for private clubs and always will be, but like so many other things
in the club business today, just because “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t mean we always have to.

Trevor Coughlan is director
 of marketing at Jonas Club Software. He can be reached at 800-352-6647 (ext. 2278) or



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