TechnoTrends: Beyond Buzz Words — How Camps Are Really Using Technology

by Matt Ehrlichman and Jake Cooney

Congratulations! Another successful summer is coming to an end. Before you know it, Summer 2006 will be here. So, before being inundated with paperwork and projects, consider how you can leverage new technologies to make camp easier for your staff, your camper's parents, and yourself.

Many camps view the tasks of manually entering hundreds of registrations and physically mailing out confirmation packets as a fact of life. But, with recent technological advances, there are solutions available to help alleviate these and other common pain points of running camp. Most camps use computer programs like Excel, Access, or FileMaker Pro to help with organization. Chances are, with little effort, most camps can launch a few new initiatives to make 2006 the smoothest and most successful year yet. With new tools, camps are able to do more than stay organized — they can fundamentally improve their operations, communications, recruiting, and improve the customer experience.

It's Time for Registration . . . .

The Joy of 500 (or 5,000 . . .) Paper Forms
Paper forms mean one thing for you: work. If you predominately receive paper registrations, there is a better way —
high-quality online registration. Many camps at this point will think, "Ah-ha! We already offer online registration!" Some do. Most do not. Online registration does not consist of downloadable PDF files or online forms that e-mail information to your inbox. Here is a checklist that you should follow for your online registration system:

  • Is your data completely secure? (If anything is sent via e-mail — particularly a credit card number — the answer is a definitive "no.")
  • Does the data automatically go into your management system without any downloading or data entry?
  • Does your online registration automatically calculate the total owed and apply discounts?
  • Can a customer create an online account that enables future registration forms to be auto-completed?
  • Do you offer real-time credit card processing or e-check payments?
  • Can parents sign-up multiple campers for multiple sessions in a single transaction?
  • Does the registration form look like your Web site?

If so, congratulations! If not, there is room for improvement. Utilizing a powerful online registration system is one of the first ways camps can begin eliminating unnecessary workload.

Ferncliff Solves Registration
David Gill, executive director of Ferncliff Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center was unsure how receptive customers would be to online registration when he first offered it in 2001. After all, the camp is in a fairly remote area, it would be something new for the camp, and there were generally no complaints about the current process. However, in order to stay current with technology and make life easier for his staff, Gill gave it a chance.

"In the years since first offering online registration, we have seen overall registrations increase while the percentage of campers registering online has gone from 15 percent to 90 percent, saving a great deal of staff time," Gill explains. To increase online registration percentages, Ferncliff partnered with a provider of online registration services and promoted this method using the Internet, flyers, voicemail, and word-of-mouth. Because it saves the organization so much work, Ferncliff now offers a $10 discount to those who register online — further increasing the popularity of this option. Gill notes, "Our parents and churches now expect online registration, immediate confirmation, and credit card processing."

It's Time for Confirmation Packets . . . .

Print, Staple, Fold, Lick, Seal, Stamp, Send. Repeat.
Once the camper has signed up, the next big task is sending out confirmation packets, letters, maps, or additional forms. This process is time consuming and expensive. As expected with any manual process, mistakes are made, and some people will not receive their packets.

LAX Camps Automates Confirmation Packets
For California-based Warrior Lacrosse and Field Hockey (LAX Camps), confirmation packet week used to be one of the most cumbersome times of the year. With camps throughout the country and with different sessions requiring different confirmation notices, managing the process was demanding. To help this situation, LAX Camps began utilizing its management system to send customized mass e-mails, including confirmation information to registrants. But the method was still time consuming and left room for errors.

For Summer 2005, LAX Camps took technology a step further to make the confirmation process run more smoothly. Immediately after a registration (either online or paper), LAX Camps' management system automatically sends personalized confirmation e-mails to the campers. These e-mail attachments can be configured to send the confirmation packet corresponding to the session for which the customer registered. After setup in the fall, LAX Camps' entire confirmation process was automated and ready for registrations. This saved significant costs, time, and best of all, their customers loved receiving their confirmation immediately.

It's Time for Parents to Answer Their Own Questions . . . .

The Phone Just Doesn't Stop Ringing
Obviously, parents are going to have questions about registration and their account. But when parents need to call to find out how much money they owe or verify their information, this is a distraction for staff members and a hassle for parents.

Camp Albemarle Empowers Parents
Effective camp software companies offer the benefits of bundling in camp photo and e-mailing services into the parent's online account so that parents can access everything from one login. Starting in 2005, North Carolina's Camp Albemarle has done just this. Rather than requiring parents to call for access codes to view photos or balance information, Camp Albemarle now offers an online area for parents to answer their own questions. Additionally, Albemarle has bundled photo offerings into its online registration and customer account so that they no longer worry about codes — only those customers who have registered will have access.

There are significant advantages to having online accounts for parents. With the ability to log in at any time, parents can view their balance, update their information, or verify their registration status. Camps simply place links on their Web site for password-protected customer accounts. Since online accounts are created at the time of registration, it is easy to send out notifications when there are additional forms online. For example, rather than having a long registration form, many camps require that parents return to the Internet after the initial registration to complete additional forms. As parents fill out their medical, transportation, or other required information, the camp's management system is automatically updated without additional data entry.

It's Time to Collect Balances . . . .

Dear Camper: You still owe $316.
For those camps that give customers the option of paying deposits, the time comes each year to collect additional payments — easier said than done. However, this is anything but easy. First, you need to look through your records to find out which customers still owe money. Then comes invoice printing, mailing, stamping, and sending. When checks pour in, each needs to be recorded and applied to the appropriate balance. Every registrar knows how fun it is when the name on the check does not match that of the customer, when the customer is paying in monthly installments, or when a check bounces. This means more time, more calls, and more headaches.

Camp All-American Tackles Auto Billing

Georgia's Camp All-American has streamlined not only their registration (with around 99 percent of their customers signing up online) but beginning in 2005, their payment collections as well. By allowing customers to pay their deposits using credit cards, debit cards, or e-checks, follow-up payment collection is easy. Auto billing is another way to make payments easier for parents and staff. During registration, customers can give approval to automatically charge balances to their credit cards or e-checks. On the specified date, Camp All-American simply uses its management system to automatically charge all of those people that selected the option. Jamey Short of Camp All-American explains, "Collecting outstanding balances will be so much easier with the ability to automatically charge the balance to the same credit card that the families used to make their deposit. Surprisingly, most families have expressed that they prefer being charged automatically." Their management system is automatically updated, and the appropriate amount is charged in seconds — no paperwork and no hassles.

Conclusion

While these pain points are just a few of the challenges camps face, there are opportunities to make life easier for you and your staff. New technologies are available and being used by camps throughout the country. Rather than spending your time on monotonous tasks, let technology automate redundant chores. Use the extra time to be creative, market, retain customers, and perhaps work a relatively normal week. By investing some time in the fall to get some new tools in place, Summer 2006 can be the easiest one you have ever had.

Camp Technology in Action
As Jamey Short joined the staff of Camp All-American, updating their camp technology was one of his first strategic moves. While they already used technology in some facet, taking advantage of some key features would ultimately transform their operations.

Once Upon a Time
Camp All-American processes over 7,000 registrations so a strong camp software partner is critical. Before the introduction of high-end camp technology, up to four part-time employees were hired specifically for data entry. As this was daunting enough, mailing confirmation packets in such a high volume was difficult and could take upwards of seven days to reach customers. Furthermore, the various elements of their technology were not integrated for maximum usefulness and billing was still a hassle. They were in the same situation as most camps — they were getting by with the traditional methods but had an opportunity to make operations much easier on themselves.

How Times Have Changed
Today, they have eliminated about 99 percent of their paper forms. "Not having piles of registration forms lying around waiting to be entered has helped us to provide much better customer service to our camp families," says Short. Camp All-American took online registration a step further. Short explains, "Even people who come into our office to register do so at our online registration kiosk. This means that whether you are registering in our office or from another state, you have access to exactly the same information." By eliminating most paper forms and data entry for the staff, there is no use for those part-time hires, which saves the camp money.

Gone are the days of mailing confirmation packets that take a week to reach the customer. "This has been huge in terms of customer service," says Short. "Having parents receive instant confirmation via e-mail eases their minds by confirming instantly that they actually got what they registered for. On our side, we are saving tons of time and resources by not mailing out confirmation packets." Rather than mailing checks, customers paying deposits can either login to their online account on Camp All-American's Web site or simply check a box to have their balance automatically billed on the date due. Through partnering with a premium technology partner, Camp All-American was able to move nearly every registration online, save time and money, and make registration easier for parents.

CampRegister's Co-Founder Matt Ehrlichman and its Director of Marketing Jake Cooney provide integrated technology solutions including online registration, management software, secure photo and e-mailing, online accounts for parents, payment processing, and Web site services for camps throughout the country. For more information about CampRegister, call toll-free 877-996-2267, ext. 3, e-mail info@campregister.com, or visit www.campregister.com.

Originally published in the 2005 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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