How Many Parents are You Turning Away?

Last week a camp director called me in a panic. "We’re way behind in registrations and I’ve tried everything!  I don’t know what to do!"  While we talked, I pulled up his web site. I asked, "Are you aware that your web site still has your 2010 dates and says "2011 registration coming soon?" Hmm. Tried everything.

Here’s a different way to look at it. We spend tens of thousands of dollars, and days of our most valuable resource, staff hours, convincing parents they should consider our camp; to give us a call. Lots of parents, lots of calls. But many camps leave only a small window open for those contacts to get through, because so many of the calls from parents have been "deflected" away. We’ve inadvertently made the window smaller with a number of small decisions, which together make it more and more unlikely that a potential customer can get through to us. And they end up somewhere else.

Instead of making assumptions, let’s immediately examine our "window" from a parent’s point of view, and fix anything that’s broke:

  • Turn off the voice mail during the day.
  • Change the voicemail message to focus on summer camp registration first.
  • Update the web site: make summer camp the top choice; make the phone number obvious on every page; make it easy to find dates and descriptions; use photos to answer the most common questions, like "why is your camp different?"
  • Extend phone-answering hours during peak registration months, even if you have to answer the calls from your home at night.
  • Teach your receptionist how to put second calls on hold, instead of letting them roll over to voicemail; and encourage them to transfer summer questions to those who can best answer them.
  • "Secret shop" your other sales points and provide the motivation (try brownies!) and training to improve their performance.
  • Have all of your staff trained to "listen first" when they take a call, to fully understand what the parent (or any customer) is looking for before offering suggestions.

Parents and campers have so many choices, and so much research to do in deciding to go to camp, and then choosing a camp.  Some camps make it easy for them, others make it nearly impossible. Every day counts. How fast can you change? 

Gary Forster, Camping Specialist YMCA of the USA,