Last week, as I was out enjoying a Friday evening with my family, we tried a new restaurant. The food was fine. The atmosphere was decent and the music was great. But the service was slow and boring. So why would we go back? There are so many options to choose from these days, I would never go back to a place that is average or acceptable.
In the service industry, we can’t just meet expectations — we need to exceed them with the quality of our service, communication and attention to every detail. This rings especially true for our summer camps.
It all starts with the bus. The bus to camp is the first and last impression, the most important piece of any and all experiences. All — or most — camps provide bussing, so how are your buses different?
Let’s start with the bus leaders and counselors. Choose bus counselors who are friendly and outgoing. Make sure your bus counselors wear name tags and introduce themselves to every camp family. They should know the names of their campers before the first day, and pay special attention to each one — and their parents.
Yes, this means getting heads out of clipboards, using names with excitement, and making each child feel special.
As crazy as it might sound, depart on time. Camp families should be rewarded for arriving on time, not punished because stragglers arrive late. If you are uncomfortable leaving stragglers to make their own way up to camp, send an extra van. Think of this as it relates to your last airline experience. What did you say when your plane left late, again? Who did you call or text, and what did you say about that experience?
The bus ride home is just as important — it’s your last interaction of the summer camp experience. The most important aspect of the bus ride home is the timing of the arrival. That means arrive when you say you will arrive.
If you are going to be late or even early, how can you inform parents? Can you send a text with updates? Anything you can do to make sure parents know when to arrive and what to expect elevates the experience, eliminates frustration and fear, and helps families go home on a positive note.
With so many options out there for parents to choose from, we have to remember meeting the expectations is simply not good enough anymore. Your summer camp experience starts and ends with the bus ride. What can you do to create raving fans? How will you adjust your bus rides?
Just like a restaurant experience, we want a cool, fun atmosphere with great music and food that arrives fast. When parents leave the bus stop, their first text or call should be about how incredibly easy, simple, fun and safe the experience was. You can choose to make it happen!
Courtney Harrness is a multi-site executive director for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.