Important Parent Phone Calls your Camp Might not be Making
How a few extra minutes of calls per week increased our retention and thrilled parents
Recently, we were having a discussion about handling parent phone calls inside the Go Camp Pro private forum. In discussing the when/where/why of parent phone calls, it occurred to me that I'd been handling camper parent phone calls a little bit differently than many, and I'd love to share that with you now.
The big difference?
The majority of our parent phone calls are to the parents of campers who are doing well.
Why we do it
There are three major reasons we call parents of kids who are doing well. 1) It's a nice thing to do, and parents really appreciate it. 2) It establishes a relationship of trust in case we need to call them about harder issues later in the session. 3) It sets concerned parents' minds at ease if things are going well.
It's just like what you tell your staff when it comes to managing relationships with campers - when you tell parents how wonderful their children are, they will be more likely to listen if you come to them for guidance in managing certain behaviors later in the week. You're an ally, instead of another grown-up calling to complain about their child.
How we choose which parents to call
This is really where the special sauce lies. Obviously, most camps won't be able to call the parents of every single child and share a unique and truthful touching moment about each camper (although we're working up to trying that this summer by having counselors report one kind thing each child has done each day). Given that most camps won't have the infrastructure in place to call everyone, here's how we break down who gets a phone call, and what those phone calls are like.
Parents who "warn" you beforehand that a camper may behave badly
You know these parents. "Watch out for Emily! She gave her teachers fits this year!" They're trying to communicate how nervous they are that Emily will give you a hard time, and make a joke as a sign of discomfort. Or, they just warn you flat out: Watch out, this kid is trouble.
With these campers, I have my staff monitor them closely (or I have one of my leadership team engage them, ideally). If they can make it through the first day positively, I'll reach out to the parent. You can picture their phone ringing: "Oh boy, what did Emily do now?" And then they get to hear a touching story about their daughter helped a friend, or reached out to a new camper, or even participated happily without causing a ton of disruption in her activities.
The parents benefit because they get an incredibly pleasant surprise, Emily benefits because her counselors are looking for her to do things right (instead of wrong), and camp benefits because Emily's mom is going to share that story with others. And if things get tough with Emily later in the week? Mom knows you're an ally, not the enemy.
Parents who are concerned that their child will be lonely, or bullied
These parents called you before registering to share how much trouble their son has making friends, or asked for a rigorous explanation of your bullying policies. They know their son needs to spread his wings, but are TERRIFIED at the prospect. They're sitting by their phone, waiting to hear that things have gone terribly, and are ready to race to camp at a moment's notice to save their baby.
So you call, and say, "Hey Renee! It's James from Camp Stomping Ground, don't worry! Josh is doing great. I know you were a little concerned that he'd have trouble making friends, but I just got back from the lake, and he and his friends were laughing hysterically in their canoe."
I've had more than one parent get choked up after receiving this sort of call. And the beauty of it? Josh's mom was going to call later in the week, and ask you how he was doing. And she was probably not going to believe the answer you gave her, figuring you'll say whatever just to help her feel better. Calling in this fashion is a lot more authentic & credible, and again, gives her a story that she'll share with anyone who will listen.
Parents of campers who just do something awesome
Some campers are going to show up and do magical things that we just want to share. We can wait until pick-up day to share these stories, or we can delight parents by giving them a call.
"Hey, Mark! Just wanted to call and let you know that Grace just gave a piggy-back ride to a little girl who cut her foot down by the lake. She carried her a quarter of a mile to the nurse's office! I just wanted to call and say thank you for helping her come to camp this week - she really is a treasure."
The benefits here are obvious. Mark gets a story that allows him to brag about his daughter to other people (what parent doesn't want excuses to do this??), and Grace gets to glow with pride when her parents bring up the story on pick up day (or in a letter, or wherever else). And again, your staff get in the habit of noticing and passing along touching things that happen at your camp.
A culture of customer service
As camps, we have a fantastic product. Sometimes, though, communicating this to parents can be tough. Any opportunity we have to authentically share our pleasure in working with a parent's child is going to make a HUGE difference in their willingness to share the story of our camps with others, and invest in bringing their children back year after year.
By making these calls, we're essentially telling our customers (parents): You are getting what you hoped you were purchasing, whether it was an environment where your kid could make friends, or be just who they are, or where they can grow into better versions of themselves.
Happy customers? Happy camp!