Best practices for reputation management
Average golfers may be ill-equipped to know all the strategies operators incorporate to produce a great golf product, but they are all experts on whether or not they had a good experience at your facility. Here in the digital age, they put that expertise to use by writing online reviews.
It was six years ago in 2014 that online reviews took on such importance within GOLFNOW that a separate business unit, GOLF Advisor, was established in response. Mike Lowe, Vice President and General Manager of GOLF Advisor, has been involved from the beginning with golf’s leading source of course ratings and reviews. “We saw the potential for user-generated reviews and built a great foundation on GOLFNOW,” he recalls. “Within a year, GOLF Advisor had become the Internet’s leading source for golf course reviews.”
According to the industry research group ReviewTrackers, U.S. consumers see themselves in a dialogue with businesses they review. Seven out 10 surveyed customers said they expect to get a reply from brands they review. Approximately 52 percent of those surveyed say that when posting a review that’s positive they expect a reply within seven days. When posting a review that’s negative, a full 72 percent expect to see a posted reply in that same time span.
Those expectations aren’t generally met, however—63 percent of respondents say they have never heard back from a business after writing a review. Which means your golf course is probably ahead of the game if it responds promptly and appropriately to golfers’ reviews of your product and service.
GOLF Advisor’s rapid trajectory has brought it to a point where the platform now hosts 1 million-plus reviews covering more than 15,000 courses worldwide. The customer-supplied reviews have special value, given the profile data that virtually comes with every one. “You know that the golfer giving five stars on a particular course is 55 to 64 years old with a three handicap,” Lowe explains. “It’s also possible, at times, to have a name associated with a review. This gives anyone who looks at GOLF Advisor the best of both worlds—reviews from actual golfers whom their peers relate to.”
That attention to high-quality content has unquestionably paid off. “When we launched, we had no presence in the search engine rankings,” Lowe says. “Today, a major percentage of our traffic comes from search. We rank extremely well for destinations and also really well for golf courses. That strong SEO presence not only is great for getting new customers, but also, once that golfer finds us, they use us as one of their stops. They look to us for advice.”
Lowe says his team is blunt in explaining the importance of ratings and reviews to operators who may take a casual approach to them. “There is no cost to respond to reviews, change photos, feature the course’s strongest characteristics and so forth,” he continued. “Operators can choose to engage or not to engage, but the ones who do get involved really benefit.”
Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla., can attest to that. “To say that GOLF Advisor reviews and ratings have helped the resort is quite an understatement,” said Pat Farrell, Director of Golf Sales. “Golf rounds and golf package growth are up substantially.”
GOLF Advisor sets itself apart from other consumer review platforms because only golf courses are reviewed, no other product or service categories. Also, the other general platforms only have one overall category, so, it’s difficult to truly know how into golf the reviewer is. GOLF Advisor not only has the overall category, but six subcategories that let the golfer rate everything from conditions to friendliness. And golfer profiles show how many reviews they’ve written, as well as the option for handicap and age information. Golfers can filter reviews by which players and reviewers are most like them.
“Even the highest-rated courses receive negative reviews or comments from time to time, said Brandon Tucker, GOLF Advisor managing editor. “If what a review said rings true, an operator can comment on it using their official GOLF Advisor course account. It’s an efficient way to let the review-poster know that their issue is being addressed. It’s also totally constructive to point out anything in a review that is a misunderstanding, or statements that are factually inaccurate.”
Thanking someone for complimentary remarks goes a long way toward cementing a loyal customer relationship. And when a golfer cites something that was lacking in his or her experience, acknowledging the issue directly, perhaps even offering a bounce-back round at a discount, is a proven way to restore a customer’s perception.
Tucker likes to remind operators—especially those concerned about negative review—that the overall average for courses is 3.9 stars out of five. “Most golfers are sharing great experiences,” he says. “And on those occasions where there may have been a bad review because of a course condition or a temporary situation at the facility, our algorithm heavily weighs reviews based on recency. A bad review in the distant past isn’t going to poison your rating forever.”
Reviews are valuable currency, and the more a course has, the better. “Print up business cards that ask golfers to visit GOLF Advisor and rate their round,” Lowe advises. “Have your cart and bag-drop staff pass the cards out. Train them to ask every customer about his or her round and ask for the review. Some operations have iPads available so employees can ask for the review right there with the customer.”
It helps to include a link to the course’s website in email and social communication, and to add a ratings widget to it. Courses can ask their GOLF Business Solutions rep for window decals and other signage. But face-to-face communication is also key. Pro shop staff, greeters and outside service staff should all be asking for feedback on the experience.
If you have a GOLF Business Solutions booking engine, you can have your rep turn on post-interaction emails to trigger a notification to golfers to write a review based on their last visit.
Finally, Lowe reminds all courses to put their best foot forward on GOLF Advisor by updating photos and content and to dedicate some time daily to engaging with reviewers. Two-way conversation is your opportunity to thank customers, acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake and show every potential customer the experience they can expect.
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