Value. The End.

If being liked is important to you, don’t manage a business.

Management is part art. And part science. A complicated equation with subtle shifts and eddies.

In our early days at the Whitehouse we focused first on being liked. We’d never managed a staff of any size before and we worried in case we were doing it wrong.

So we tried to make sure our staff saw us as one of them. Then we tried to make sure clients saw us as their peers as well.

Doing it wrong squared.

Like follows trust and respect. In that order. The first test applied by staff and customers alike is do they trust you ‘get it’. ‘It’ comes in many forms, but your customers and staff are there for a reason. And they want to know if you’re there for the same one.

After nine years at Loch Lomond we knew why we were there. And when we arrived for our stay in the Fall of 2007, we wanted to know whether the new management team was there for the same reasons.

Eight days later we were pretty sure they weren’t.

The Club’s new President was a man called Niall Flanagan. We were fans of his predecessor, Keith Williams. And after nine years, we knew Keith had the same views of value as we did.

I don’t believe any one person is indispensable to a well designed organization. But after nine years, the transition from one management team to another needs to be sensitively and pro-actively handled.

This one was butchered.

The announcement of Keith’s departure was a two line by-line in the Club newsletter. Which set the phone and email lines buzzing. Human nature, I’m afraid. In the absence of your story, your staff and customers will come up with their own, fueled by any kernel of information. Needless to say, by the time we arrived the stories were rampant and our antenna were up. We were watching for changes. And we found them in abundance.

Most glaring to me was that in eight days, I met Niall once. Chris has never met him. I ran into him by accident in reception. He said hello. Referenced the fact that they had agreed to match a room rate I had requested. And hurried off. He was, I thought, uncomfortable. Or disinterested. Or irritated. Or all of the above.

I decided that he definitely wasn’t there for the same reasons I was.

Taking care of your customers is an art form. A year earlier I had asked whether, on our eight day trip in early October, the Club would honor their discounted October room rates for the first two nights that fell in September. It was confirmed within twenty minutes. This year the same request had also been honored. It had taken three days and several follow up inquiries on my part.

It’s hard to quantify frustration. But when your customers start trying to, you’re already losing.

The fact that Niall’s only point of personal connection with me was to mention what I saw as a begrudging concession earned neither my trust or my respect. When I saw him in the bar over the next few days, it was always sitting in the corner with a group of members, having a drink. We weren’t invited, introduced or acknowledged.

Perception is fact. And my perception had been framed to look for change. I had a bias. I had a narrative. And Niall gave me a lot of evidence to support it.

For twenty-one months I carried that bias with me. This was not my Loch Lomond. And Niall Flanagan was not my President.

The value of providing your customers with visceral as well as practical experiences is that they take visceral with them. And as summer draws to a close each year, my thoughts turn to Loch Lomond.

It’s been two years since we were last there but we continue to receive regular newsletters. Last month’s contained a Fall Package. A lesson in staying in contact with even disaffected customers. People and circumstances change.

Visceral met economic value met Tim’s 50th birthday and our 11th Anniversary.

Expecting nothing I contacted the Club to see whether rooms were available. They were. Only one problem. Our membership is ‘in suspension’. The result of our refusal to pay dues to a Club that had changed so dramatically on our last trip.

Perception is reality. And my perception about Loch Lomond is based on three pillars. None of the staff I know is there any more. The Club’s economic situation is massively uncertain. And Niall’s management philosophy does not deliver an experience I value for the cost of remaining a member.

The first perception is not, I discovered, entirely true. My reservation request was replied to by Alison Rodgers whom we have known since our second visit. And Willie still works in the Locker Room, and Bert is the new head golf pro. We have known all of them for a number of years.

The Club’s economic condition is unquestionably in transition. But it isn’t likely to improve unless the Members get behind it. A point Niall made to me in an exchange of emails last week.

That exchange started after Alison passed on my approach to the Club’s management. Based on my previous experience with Niall, I expected nothing.

When the contact I received came from the Club’s Finance Manager, I knew that in expecting nothing I had actually set the bar too high.

A Club offering an exclusive, service-oriented experience does not serve its strategy well by having its Finance Manager correspond with ten year members about their disaffection with the Club.

Acquiring new customers is essential to every business in the world. The cost of doing so is one of its most significant expenses. But when you’re losing ten year customers out the back door at the same time, you’re writing an equation that returns ‘False’ as its conclusion.

I explained our background. Our lousy experience in 2007. And our unwillingness to pay dues until we could experience Loch Lomond 2.0 for ourselves. I was immediately offered a concession in light of our history. We could pay our 2008 dues and they would confirm our October reservation. I declined.

In response, I was told this was as big a concession as could be made because this was what other members had been offered.

If you’re going to offer a customer a concession, do so. But don’t offer a policy dressed up as a concession. It just alienates your customers further.

I thanked him for his time, told him I thought there were some valuable lessons for my blog in all this. And moved on.

The next day I got an email from Niall. He restated his position, assured me that the Club was better than ever, and hoped I would reconsider.

I explained that my one stay under his management had been closer to a Marriott by the Loch experience, detailed my issues, and told him I’d raised his management approach with the Club’s owners in 2007. In my view, his determination to extract £3,500 in dues before allowing me to return to see the evidence for myself was short-sighted. But it was his policy and he was entitled to apply it as he wished.

He replied with a long and thoughtful email which included a letter from a member describing his visit to Loch Lomond this summer. It was filled with specific examples of very high levels of service and fulsome praise for individual members of staff. It also included a series of quotes from some of the world’s leading golfers about the state of the course.

I told him I could have written both the letter and the golf course endorsement myself until 2007. But that based on what he’d provided us last time, I wasn’t taking the bet again. Fool me once....

If he was so confident in the experience we would now have, why, I suggested, didn’t he pay our 2008 dues himself. If our stay was as advertised, I would reimburse him and pay the 2009 dues as well. If not, he’d have made his own investment in Loch Lomond.

‘It can’t be more important to me than it is to you,’ is a favorite reference point of mine. And paying a business for the opportunity to give them a second chance falls firmly into that camp.

I hit send. And waited.

Speed of response has value. Sometimes as much as the response. Niall’s took 12 minutes.

He accepted. And raised me by offering to also reimburse us for any specific service we were dissatisfied with during our stay.

I would have bet the £3,500 dues he would have declined.

A lesson that there is no such thing as a sure thing. And that most of the time, articulating a win-win scenario is the first step to creating one.

We shall see if that’s the case here. We confirmed our reservations for October yesterday. And I’m looking forward to going back to Loch Lomond more than I can say.

I’m also looking forward to giving Niall a second chance. With an open mind.

A win win. Who would have thought it possible?

Talk about value.