Outside customers — that’s easy! The parents, campers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.
The inside customers — what’s that? Hmmmm . . . our staff!
At our camps over the last 30+ years, we’ve always treated our campers and staff like customers. Our staff are valued, and we want them to feel special like our campers and families.
Staff are the key to the success of our camp. They are the frontline people who work directly with the campers. They get to experience the bruises inside and out, the behaviors, attitudes, energy, excitement, and so much more. They are the ones playing the games with the children. Without our staff, camp doesn’t operate. When we treat our staff as customers, we see staff grow and develop as we expect the campers too. We support and give staff the focus they deserve as we value them like our customers!
Throughout the hiring process, our seasonal staff are treated in a similar fashion to a camp parent. Urgency of response, respect, and proactive thinking all go into the support of our camp staff to make them feel special. We want them to know they are important to us. Since staff are the key to the success of our summer, staff should be treated well and respected for what they do for our campers. We respond to camp families the same day or within 24 hours; we respond to staff in the same timeline.
During employment, staff understand there is an open-door policy; however, it is critical they act on it and not just "know it’s there." When staff have a personal need and can communicate in advance, we organize for another staff member to cover for them. When camp is not operating, we offer opportunities, including weekend adventure trips, a staff soccer team, day trips for days off, competitions with other camps, etc. — all for staff! These experiences bring the staff closer together and really form the family we are looking for during their time off. We program with as much intentionality and diligence for our staff as we do our campers. We take time to proactively communicate the good things with our staff, as we do with our camp families.
During time off, we offer staff the opportunity to make use of our program equipment and spaces such as courts and fields, horseback riding, and boats to go canoeing or kayaking. Staff really appreciate this no-cost recreation. Taking camp equipment off property is a huge perk that staff appreciate.
Post-employment is an opportunity for us to come through for our staff. All summer they’ve been doing an amazing job with our campers. When summer is over and they are applying for a job or career advancement, we write excellent letters of recommendation for them. We always get letters of reference back quickly and in support of the staff. If they are a less desirable staffer who made it through the summer and wants a reference, we confirm employment.
An example of how we recognize the two sets of customers are on the same playing field: When the phone rings at our camp, we answer with excitement and energy with a smile on our face. There is no caller ID here. Our excitement to talk to everyone must be genuine and not subconsciously predisposed to "ugh, that parent again," or "oh that staff member can be annoying, what do they want?" Treating every caller with the greeting they deserve is better without caller ID. All callers are equal.
After directing camps for 30+ years, owning our own camp for 20 years, and consulting for others, one thing is for sure: they are all our customers. The parents, the kids, and the staff. Treating them all like customers has allowed us to build a support system for families and staff. The little things so many camps do to raise staff morale, the ice cream and the pizza parties, the special events and secret pals etc. — those things all count too. As we visit with previous staff who have been away from camp for several years, we like to inquire as to what made "the camp connection" happen for them? By far the number one response has been that they feel like they were as important to our camp leadership as the campers.
The equality carrying over to our staff allows them to feel their importance. Sometimes staff feel like they are low on the totem pole, when in fact as the key to the success of our summers, they need to be equal. We give great support to our outside customers — the families. Just as important, and sometimes more important, are your inside customers — the staff!
After directing camps for others for 10+ years, Libby and "H" Rothenberg accomplished their dream of owning and directing their own camp; Triple C in Charlottesville, VA. 2019 will be their 20th year of ownership.
Libby is a registered nurse and American Red Cross life guard instructor trainer. A lifer with the Girl Scouts, she has visited every international Girl Scout center worldwide. Libby continues to Direct Triple C with the support of their two adult children.
"H" has been at camp every summer since 1975 having gone through the ranks of camper, Counselor, Unit Head, Assistant Director, Director and Owner. "H" operates campcoach.com where he helps camps navigate the growth and development of campers, staff. and families.
"H" has been a longtime volunteer with ACA and currently serves on the camp director sub-committee of ACA’s Task Force, Project Real Job.
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts