Tennis Industry magazine

 

Facility Management: More Influence, But Less Control

Now, we can reach a vastly larger audience than ever before, but that also means a lack of control over what they ultimately decide to do.

By Rod Heckelman

Today, we have more influence over our customers than we have ever had before. Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, e-mail — the list is growing and becoming more diversified by the minute, allowing us to pass on information to the general audience in the blink of an eye. You “Like” one person and another 200 people become your new friends.

These are phenomenal tools that the modern tennis pro, especially those involved in management and the organization of events, can use to promote, inform and organize. But these great new tools come with a new understanding.

Twenty years ago you would call someone on the phone to promote an event or a program. You might hope they would tell their friends, helping you to spread this information. As a consequence of that call, you have influenced a few people. You expect to have a degree of control over that information and also over how many people will be impacted. Through the course of the day you make a number of calls and interact with people on a personal level. Little by little, your plans are being put in motion and your influence remains mostly in your control. It takes a herculean effort, but your efforts pay off and the program or event runs its course properly.

Today’s new technology has changed all that. Now you send one e-mail blast, Tweet once and then post on Facebook and you have reached an unknown number of people. Your once controlled process is now lost, but you’ve been able to reach hundreds of people in a few short steps. The question is, can you deal with this loss of control, and maybe even more important, do you understand how to take advantage of this new world of instant communication?

Goals, Process, Results

The best way to understand this new world of communication is to break it down into several steps — the goals, the process and the expected results. The goal of any organizer, especially a tennis director, head pro or manager, is to get the word out and create interest, enthusiasm and attendance. From that standpoint, having these new communication tools are fantastic as long as there is also an understanding of the target audience and the limits you may have with the event.

It’s a tennis pro’s nightmare to have too many people show up for an event and not have enough facility to host them. It’s even a bigger nightmare to have people show up that do not fit into the program.

As an example, you’re looking to host a 4.0 women’s round robin that will include food and some competitive activities. You know that you have enough court time to take on 24 players. Before you know it, the sign-up sheet that you posted to control the attendance is halfway filled with 3.5 players looking for competition. Sure you can explain during the recruiting that you were only going to allow 4.0 players, but some wanted to bring their friends, others already play on a USTA 4.0 team and feel it would be okay to join in, the reasons are many. The bottom line is that you have influenced more people than ever, created great enthusiasm and interest and now as a result have lost some control. Telling a few people that they can’t attend is manageable; telling half that have already planned to attend and have signed up for the event is another story.

League play has really been impacted by this new technology, and the task to inform and communicate has been greatly enhanced, but the task to manage has become more complicated. At the end of the day, the pro has to realize that when they provide one person with information, they are also providing another 500. Privacy is no longer part of the equation — never forget that and take a few seconds before pushing “Send.”

The Personal Touch

As for the process, many organizers make two fundamental mistakes with this new technology. First, they put too much trust in this new technology. There is an assumption that e-mails are delivered and internet messages are received. Once again, here we have all this ability to influence the public with our messages, but are never quite sure if these messages are getting through. Net result? Less control. It’s an experienced organizer that engineers into the messaging system a method to confirm that any message is received. “Didn’t you get my e-mail?” is not the best way to greet a lesson that has come at the wrong time or a member who has appeared to attend a class that has been cancelled.

Second, overly depending on technical communication can result in a loss in personal contact. It is very easy to lose control over your clientele if you begin to rely only on high-tech communication. Many facilities are learning this lesson the hard way, watching their attrition rate increase and their retention rate decrease. There is no substitute for personal contact, and there never will be. It is only through direct communication that your message is clear and understood.

A good example of watching communication spin out of control is when your message is filtered through a number of people. What starts off as being a suggestion for Tom to play on a 2.5 team so that he can participate and contribute becomes, after weaving through several people, “Tom is not good enough to play at the 3.0 level.”

Public Performance

Lastly, new technological ways of communicating are impacting the results of your work in ways you never saw before. If you ran a tournament, a party, or any event, the success or failure would be reviewed by those attending and maybe a few of their friends the attendees might interact with. Not anymore. Your performance becomes public in numbers that are amazing. Remember the old adage, make one person happy and probably another person will hear about it, but make one person unhappy and 10 will hear about it. These days, take those numbers and magnify them by the hundreds.

While that sounds threatening, it can also be promising, because now if you run a successful event, you no longer have to brag about it; your local tech world will announce it to everyone. This is a perfect example of using your loss of control to your advantage. No longer will you need to be the major push behind your P.R. Now you can unleash the social media system on the public and get far more mileage out of your positive results. If you can master this process, you have successfully learned how to take advantage of this loss of control.

Remember, this new world of communication also creates a new world of rapid change and progress. Tradition, a mainstay mindset of the tennis world for years, has taken a back seat. The public seeks, maybe even demands, new events that are evolving at all times. Tournaments, parties, events and activities must take on this process of evolving with a passion.

Because we live in a more informed world, keeping up with the “Joneses,” or the “Grass is always greener,” is no longer an occasional desire, but has become the common thinking of most people; part of how they perceive a normal lifestyle. If another club is running a new program or event that is successful, you can bet your clients will know about it and want it to happen at their club right away. You cannot afford to watch any event die and lose participation and interest. The tennis world provides too many alternative choices and players will migrate to those choices as rapidly as they receive Twitter or Facebook updates.

Simply put, with all this new technology, we currently have more influence than ever over our customers — but along with that, we have less control than ever. The question is, How will you embrace the result of having less control? Will you stay with your traditional methods, or opt to move into the new technology?

Maybe even more important, do you really have a choice?

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager and tennis pro at the Mount Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif., where he has been for the last 31 years. His career in the industry started in 1967 at the famed John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. In 1970, when Gardiner opened his resort on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., Heckelman, at age 20, became one of the youngest head pros in the country. He created the “Facility Manager’s Manual” based on his years of experience in the tennis business.

 

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