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Managing expectation: the key to coming out of lockdown successfully

In his book Alchemy, Vice Chairman at the advertising giant Ogilvy, Rory Sutherland argues powerfully that doing the obvious is not always the right thing to do. It is certainly not the way to make breakthroughs, change paradigms or differentiate yourself from the competition. To do that you need to be creative. As anyone who has had the benefit of listening to him knows, Rory is a master of creative thinking.

Customer insight

As marketing agencies and practitioners begin to help their clients emerge from lockdown, I’ve had my own simple lesson in how doing the obvious thing is not necessarily the right thing. Europe’s largest golf driving range, World of Golf London, was among the first consumer leisure venues to get business moving again, when they opened their doors on May 18. Preparation was thorough and based on some key insights. They knew that some customers would not return to the range, no matter what they did, until the government declared that the pandemic was effectively over and everyone could go about their business as normal. But they also knew, that a significant number would do so, providing they were suitably convinced that appropriate safety measures were in place. Just as importantly, the same hypothesis applied to the staff. So, a thorough ten-point safety plan was drawn up, discussed and walked through with the internal team.

With the driving range bays ensuring that customers automatically maintain a safe social distance when practicing, this aspect of the operation was relatively straightforward. The addition of distance markings, hand cleaning stations, disinfection processes, staff training and online top of facilities (for range cards that release balls from the dispensers) meant that customers could be suitably reassured that they could hit balls in a safe, clean environment.

Obvious. But not right

World of Golf London is not just a driving range. It also has a dinosaur themed adventure golf course, Jurassic Encounter. This facility is aimed at the family market and has always operated on a turn up and pay and play basis. This is where the obvious turned out to be not so obvious. I assumed that in order to get this bit of the operation moving again, we would need to introduce a booking system for the first time. My thinking was that customers travelling to New Malden would do so, in this new context, only if they believed they would not need to wait to get onto the course. I also hypothesized that they would somehow feel safer, in the knowledge that they had a time slot. The client disagreed and the experience of re-opening has proved them to be right. Why? Well the reason relates to something that Rory Sutherland also addresses in his book.

The problem with expectation

The problem with a promised time slot is that it sets an expectation. If that expectation is not fulfilled, for whatever reason – customer arrives late, course gets behind schedule – then immediate dissatisfaction is triggered. If you don’t set that expectation, then each customer makes a personal decision, which they own. For those that do visit, it’s something like this: I may need to queue a bit, but I can accept that, so I will travel. It’s my decision. I can also minimize any queue risk by going when I anticipate it will be less busy

It’s not much different from shopping at your local supermarket. The venue finds a natural rhythm which can be helped on its way with regular updates on social media regarding course traffic at different times of the day.

The other advantage of not having a booking system is that the customer can be more spontaneous. And spontaneity (which has been severely constrained of late) when combined with good fortune (great weather and no queuing) can make for an even better experience – as the early ‘post re-opening’ customer reviews are proving.

So, client right, agency wrong. Lesson learned. Happy days. Anyone fancy some golf?





June 1, 2020


Nick Wake

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