28 Apr 2020

59club – Driving better standards in the golf and leisure industry

Former Jumeirah Golf Estates duo, Mark Bull and Neal Graham have embarked on a new adventure in the UAE golf industry after joining forces to take over the Middle East and Africa franchise of leading golf, leisure and hospitality focussed customer service research, evaluation and training company 59club. Together with fellow Director, Sally Bull, they will be assisting the hospitality industry in maintaining service and sales standards across their region.

We caught up with Mark and Neal to find out more about the unique service offered by 59club, how it is helping to raise standards and customer experience across the region and the upcoming awards that will honour the best performing clubs in the local industry.


Worldwide Golf: Give us a brief overview what 59club’s core business is?

Neal Graham: To measure, train and support venues in customer service and maximising revenue generation across each area of an operation. Our detailed, non-subjective criteria allows venues to benchmark their performance against competitors, the industry as a whole and the top 3 podium venues across our Global franchises for that applicable time frame.

WWG: How many territories around the world does the company operate in?

NG: We operate in five different regions around the world, currently operating in UK (Head Office), Asia, United States, Western Europe and Middle East and Africa.

WWG: Why did you feel there was a need for such a service in the Middle East and Africa?

NG: 59club has been servicing venues in the Middle East since 2012 and with the growing number of venues in the region, all being driven by high levels of service, the presence of the team on the ground in the region provides an extra layer of service and engagement with our clients as well as the opportunity to grow the brand in other sectors of the hospitality industry, including spa, leisure, restaurants and hotels.

WWG: How detailed is the market research, do you use any specific tools/software etc and what areas of the clubs’ business are covered?

Mark Bull: Our mystery shopping tests cover anything up to 14 different departments and are based around non-subjective criteria, which our testers mark using clear guidance notes. This ensures our clients receive detailed benchmarking data on industry patterns. All of the reports are hosted on an online platform, which our clients can access for internal training and performance management. The areas covered by the reports include:

  • Booking processes via telephone booking and written confirmation analysis
  • Staff engagement and attitude across club operations, retail and F&B departments
  • Quality assurance of golf course, practice areas and food
  • Internal sales processes via our membership call and appointment product, which measures an individual’s ability to learn about a prospective member and match their requirements to the facilities and services on offer at the club
  • New products such as a dedicated training platform for staff development and business metrics software will soon be released also

WWG: What is unique about the way 59 Club’s ‘mystery testers’ conduct their research compared to other mystery shopper businesses?

MB: As mentioned above, our mystery shopping reports are built around non-subjective guidance notes. This effectively means we are instructing our testers on how to mark their experience, removing any subjective comments. We check all reports that get submitted by our testers to ensure the marking guidelines have been adhered to. This also allows us to release our tests to venues on the same day across the board to ensure benchmarking stats remain valid. Our testers also have detailed training before a test and thorough review of the process before we sign off on a report.

WWG: How have you found clubs use the data you provide them with to improve their businesses – can they access your platform or do you provide them with regular reports etc, are there regular follow up checks to assess the progress?

MB: All of our clients have the control over how they use the data received. Our online platform hosts the results and our clients can edit any element of the report to ensure it is tailored to the specific operation they have. Examples of how clients in the region use this data are for creating yearly Key Performance Indicators, which can be linked to bonuses and incentives for individuals or teams. Others have also used the criteria to create induction training for new staff members, thus ensuring consistency service standards across a venue.

Once a report is live in an account, our client can tailor that report to the type of operation a client has, meaning that the results are a true reflection of the services and facility that is actually being operated. For example, if a venue does not operate a course marshal or provide a complimentary gift for their guest, then they can remove these criteria lines, thus adjusting the score. This also adjusts the scores for the benchmarking data we provide so venues can measure themselves “apples for apples”. This is a powerful tool for us when beginning the journey with a new client or trialling a new way of operating with an existing client, as it does not handicap any venue that does not have the resources to match what some of the leading venues around the world have.

WWG: Do you offer any additional service after the research itself?

NG: As mentioned earlier, part of the reason behind setting up our UAE office, was to provide our clients with a more regular and dedicated level of service. This is not purely through regular service meetings with Senior management, but also on site meetings with staff members from any department. The key for us, despite being a mystery shopping business, is that we are not a mystery to our clients. The more we get to know team members and the operations they work in, the more effective we can be for our clients, bringing not only service enhancements but also added revenue.

The training we provide is based around the four pillars of our mystery shopping process, which are: Sales, Attitude, Process and Facility. These elements allow us to build bespoke training programmes for our clients, which can be carried out on a 1-2-1 basis or in a group environment, based on the subject of the training.

WWG: How can the golfing public sign up to be a mystery tester and what is the process before carrying out a mystery test?

NG: Testers can get in touch with via [email protected] after which they will go through detailed training on the criteria and why we provide these services to our clients. After this the testers carry out “dummy tests” (based on type of test, e.g. golf, leisure, spa, hotel, F&B) online to check their attention to detail and appreciation of the guidance notes previously outlined above. Once we are satisfied that the tester completely understands the process and level of detail required, we will allocate a “live” test to them. 

WWG: Tell us about the Golftell app from a consumer and a business owner perspective?

MB: The golftell member app creates a channel for club members and guests to privately communicate their views direct with club management. Feedback is received via an application, within a secure dashboard, away from the public eye and with total confidentiality. Club managers have the deciding factor on how, when and what feedback they wish to share with its members, guests and staff. The app acts as an electronic comments card encouraging feedback, the member in control of their preference of anonymity. It can also be added to any existing club apps.

Users of the app indicate their level of satisfaction across any area of the operation, from bunker condition to quality of food through a GREAT, GOOD, POOR, AVERAGE scale. They also have the ability to upload pictures and additional comments if relevant.

WWG: Tell us about the Service Excellence Awards and why it was a natural step for you to launch them?

MB: Our annual service excellence awards provide us the opportunity to reward team and individual performance across a testing year. The inaugural MEA awards ceremony was due to take place at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa this month but unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID -19. The non-subjective nature of the testing process ensures that our awards can be something to be very proud of as there is no bias or personal opinion in the results. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze service flags also give us the opportunity to reward each of our venues with a flag award for consistency of service and facility standards across a year. For our longest-standing clients, these are also tools with which to measure development year on year or consistency across many years by maintaining a certain flag status, based on the operation and internal objectives they set themselves

WWG: Have you got any plans to extend this great service outside of golf clubs?

NG: Our product portfolio also includes leisure membership call and appointment tests, spa day experiences, facial, massage treatments and hotel stay experiences so we are able to provide invaluable feedback across the hospitality industry. Our restaurant experiences can also support a range of venue types, from fine dining to casual dining, as well as food to go service.

59CLUB: Inaugural Service Excellence awards announced

WWG: How can businesses who want to utilise your services get in touch?

NG: Our UAE office is operated by Mark and Sally Bull as well as myself. We have over 30 years of industry experience in the region between us and can be contacted directly on [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

We provide a complimentary trial of the relevant mystery shopping product for all new potential clients, which includes a full post-test service meeting to present the results of the trial with the relevant team members.

WWG: Tell us about the my59 survey suite and how this can integrate with venue systems?

MB: Our my59 survey suite provides clients with survey templates across each revenue stream of an operation, e.g. golf course, F&B, retail, leisure facilities, spa treatments. The system has the ability to create single surveys at any point in time and rolling surveys for single or series use. For example, a venue can measure visitor experience by sending a post visit survey, with the data then continually rolling into the clients account, or, a venue could create a series of rolling survey’s whereby a new member joins the club and after 30 days, 3 months and 6 months, they receive a slightly different survey each time, thus measuring that members journey and level of satisfaction. The ultimate goal then is to measure how likely that member is to renew their membership.

The my59 suite can be hooked up to a venues CRM system so the venue manager can create the surveys and then once connected, the surveys are sent automatically, and feedback continually comes into the online account.

The platform also contains guidance notes on launching internal mystery shopping tests across any revenue stream, in the same way as our external programme allows, but the venue would be using their own testers/members/colleagues etc.

We are currently offering a limited time complimentary activation of our COVID-19 template questions within the my59 platform. These questions can be utilised for members, guests and staff during the current closures, allowing venues to gauge current consumer trends or purely to gather feedback on expectations once we are through these challenging times. For details on activating this offer, please contact us on [email protected]

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