by Steve DiGioia, Featured Contributor
American Express touts the benefits of being a member. So too does AARP, Costco, most museums and any of the thousands of “membership clubs” whether public or private. But does this give the member free reign to do as he or she pleases? Of course not. But with membership comes a certain expectation of “statut favori” or favorite status and the ability to bend the rules to suit one’s needs. Is this realistic?
As a “member” of American Express, can you spread out your “charge” payments over a 12 month period opposed to paying in full at month’s end as usually required? As a member of AARP are you able to waive your membership card at the cashier of a business that does not offer their discount and expect a lower price? At Costco, are members allowed to bring their non-member friends to the store and have them able to make purchases on their own? As a member of The American Museum of Natural History in New York, are you able to park your car in front of the main entrance or eat your lunch while sitting on one of the exhibits? The answer to these questions is a resounding no!
So why do members of some businesses that offer memberships, in addition to being open to the public, believe otherwise?
A vivid example of this can be demonstrated with a golf course/resort.
A major issue that some golf clubs face is, especially on those busy Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the “members” come in from the course, is that they head straight for the restaurant/bar. Why not? They just played a round of golf on a warm summer day and want to wash down their score with a beer…or two…or three. This presents a problem if that same restaurant is open to the public. And what if there are also banquet rooms at this property and the attendees of a party or wedding are coming in soon? With all these competing customers, should those with “membership” take preference over those without?
Many people may say that the members should come first because of their status within the business. That is a perfectly reasonable assumption since there is usually guaranteed revenue that must be spent by each member in order to keep their status active. But what if these same members drive your other customers away? Is their guaranteed revenue worth more than the new customers dining at the restaurant? What will do more for the long term viability and growth of the business but a constant new stream of customers, ones that may turn into members as well, or should we allow the existing members to dictate terms and policy?
There of course is limited space available within any restaurant. We would not expect the restaurant to give up their table real estate to groups of boisterous golfers at this time, especially if they have been shown to not have any consideration to the other guests.
There must be a healthy balance between those with and without membership at businesses that service both, but management needs to gauge the value of each and adjust their methods of handling these diverse groups.
Members show some certain traits when they believe that their needs are not being fulfilled above those of others. Example:
- Feel a sense of entitlement
- Show a lack of patience
- Believe they can set their own terms
- Are superior to those without membership
I have seen members park their golf carts on the sidewalk or in front of the main entrance doors because they believe they are entitled to park wherever they desire if the lot is full. I have heard members speak rudely and berate the staff because they “pay their salary” by way of their dues. I have dealt with members that expect special treatment, above and beyond the norm, such as demanding a table when they walk into the restaurant unannounced with ten people at 8pm on a busy Saturday night and expect to be seated right away.
Membership does have its perks though:
- Price discounts
- Earlier shopping hours
- Preferred parking
- Admission to “member only” events
- Access to “behind-the-scenes” tours
- Discounts on associated products or businesses
Membership does have its privileges but when common courtesy and professionalism is not used, membership will not give one carte blanche. Any business that does not have respect for their product, service, standards or their staff and would allow someone to waive their membership status in their face will not succeed in the long term.
If increasing the membership enrollment of any business or organization is your goal you should take advantage of the members and have them assist in touting its benefits. Have a member host a “networking event” where each member brings in a non-member to tour the business and explain its history and growth. Then give some form of compensation to the member for any new “sign-ups”. We can use a reciprocal, and complimentary, advertizing campaign between the businesses of the members and the resort/club. Maybe even use member testimonials on your website.
These are positive applications of how a member is allowed to feel as if they have a vested interest in the growth and success of the business. I would be surprised if that same member would want to disrupt the dining experience of the other guests when his name, or image, is now associated with it.
If the business desires to keep non-members separate, whether to maintain exclusivity or just to offer various membership price points, it can host “special sale days” where the membership price is offered to all customers. Issue complimentary limited “junior memberships” to attract prospective new members from existing customers. This works as a wonderful surprise just for shopping with you or being a customer. Maybe even go so far as to use a term such as “I’m Not a Member But I’m Treated Like One” on your shopping bags or coupons. Make all your customers feel special, not just the members.
Regardless of the methods used, we should nurture the relationships we have with all our customers. Make them all feel as if they were a member, whether actual or not and never allow one to take preference over the other for fear of losing both.