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Spokane County Golf Courses Continuously Improve Quality of Customers’ Experience

Spokane County Golf Courses Continuously Improve Quality of Customers’ Experience

Photo courtesy of Spokane County.

As promised in my first blog post, I will be sharing a new story every few months from Spokane County’s front-line staff about how they’re leading our lean transformation at Spokane County – in their own words. This will offer readers a unique insight from staff actually doing government process improvement activities on their lean successes and challenges.

Our second lean story is from Nautice Pham, CPA, Finance Manager for Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf Department. Read the first story here.

I once wondered, “What does "LEAN" stand for in lean management? Is it another one of those acronyms for some fancy management concept?” I soon developed a simple answer of my own after listening to our Chief Operations Officer John Dickson, who champions lean management in Spokane County. To me, it’s simply “a process of achieving continuous improvement in operations.”

Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf fully embraces the lean management concept. Staff continuously looks for opportunities to improve the way things are done, regardless of whether it’s a new process we’ve only started doing last month or it’s a process that has been ongoing for some time within the department.

For example, our Golf Division recently started doing something new, something we hadn’t done before, at least in an official and quantifiable manner. Spokane County owns and proudly cares for three well maintained championship public golf courses: Liberty Lake, Hangman Valley, and Meadow Wood. Aside from management’s ongoing observation of the golf course operations from turf quality and facility maintenance to customer service, we have not formally pursued customer feedback on a regular and on-going basis. It has been our experience that our customers frequently approach our front line staff (e.g. golf professionals, restaurant staff, maintenance staff, etc.) to give them accolades for their good work or to pass on constructive criticism regarding the quality of our products and services. If I have learned one thing about golfers, they are not shy when it comes to describing the golf course experience! However, those comments sometimes stop at the front line staff and in general, management has not had the opportunity to analyze them in any quantifiable manner to inform business decisions.

We asked ourselves one question: “How can we streamline the process of collecting feedback from the most important stakeholders of this operation – our customers – to analyze and continuously improve what we do?” Starting this year, with the help of a robust survey software, we went all-in. Golf course management collaborated to develop a comprehensive Quality of Experience survey that covers everything from basic round information, turf and facility condition, customer service, and products offered, to pace of play and quality of course marshaling. This is a manageable 5-10 minute survey with just the right, carefully targeted questions. The software allows respondents to ignore certain questions and still obtain valuable information. The survey has thus far achieved an 82% completion rate. Even the input from incomplete surveys is not lost as questions answered are still retained for analysis.

We have posted the survey link on our golf website as a passive method of obtaining responses. We also use a feature within our golf course tee time management software to pro-actively send customers with an email address a survey link every time they play a round of golf. A full 90% of our survey responses have come from these direct emails. Monthly drawings for free golf are also offered as an incentive for ongoing survey participation throughout the season. Finally, we’re currently working to install signage around the golf courses to invite our remaining customers to provide their feedback.

Now that we have customer feedback rolling in, we have developed a way to disseminate the information directly to management. Daily survey responses are emailed to the management team consisting of the Parks Director, the Head Golf Professionals, the Golf Course Superintendents, and the Finance Manager.  The management team gets a chance to see the previous day’s customer feedback first thing each morning. We’ve learned that our customers are not shy about sharing their opinions, especially since they can remain anonymous in the survey if they choose. By far, this has been the greatest tool that we’ve used to respond to issues on and off the courses in a timely manner, and especially for issues that need immediate attention. In addition to expressing concerns, our customers often share complements about our staff for the great job they are doing. Members of the management team also enjoy reading those complements and passing them on to staff. This has proven to be a morale booster!

Biweekly management meetings occur at each golf course to discuss customer feedback received by the survey during the days and weeks prior. This time is also used productively to address any other on-going issues in our operation.

The results of the survey have been very positive so far. In less than three months, we’ve received 1,050 completed surveys. Our customers have rated their Quality of Experience score at an average of 86 out of 100, and 97% of our customers have said that we’ve met or exceeded their expectations.

With such impressive figures, we thought: “How can we use this even more to our advantage?” So, we came up with a way to promote some good PR online. On our website it now reads: “Don't just take our word for it. See what your fellow golfers are saying about [Liberty Lake] Golf Course. These are live results of our Quality of Experience Survey.” Here, we share a few key ratings from the survey with the public. What better way to self-promote than to let your customers do it for you?

The Spokane County Golf Division has always been proud of our product and our operation. We just haven’t been able to objectively quantify the quality of our work. The Quality of Experience survey is empowering us to accomplish this goal. It is a tool that enables our customers to provide honest and constructive feedback directly to management on a daily basis. Management is now informed of what really is important to our customers, and we’ve been able to respond more quickly to issues that arise. Sharing the positive feedback with our customers is the cherry on top!  We will continue to go forward improving operations to better serve our customers, thanks to the lean management concept and our ace team from the front lines to the top!

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Photo of John Dickson

About John Dickson

John Dickson writes for MRSC as a guest author.

John is the chief operating officer for Spokane County a role that he began in March 2013. He is leading significant operational improvement activities across Spokane County government to make it more ‘Lean’, efficient and customer-focused. Over 200 county leaders and elected officials have already completed his 4-week Lean Leadership Course and significant cost savings/avoidances are being realized across the county.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.