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Saturday, May 8, 2010

How to Retain Current Customers and Reactivate Old Ones

One of the downsides of running a camp, or any organization for that matter, is you're gonna lose customers eventually. People stop coming to you for any number of voluntary or involuntary reasons affecting your customer attrition rate.

Voluntary Reasons Customers Stop Coming to Your Camp

"Voluntary" means customers have made a conscious decision not to attend your camp anymore. There's endless possibilities why. Maybe they found a camp they like better. Maybe they had a bad experience with you. Maybe they didn't feel "connected" to your camp. Maybe they did feel connected, but your prices are too high. Or maybe their kids just felt like they've outgrown your program (a common concern among camp directors).

Involuntary Reasons Customers Stop Coming to Your Camp

Experts say the two most involuntary reasons customers stop patronizing any business is because they either die or move away. This happens about 5% to 10% of the time. Not much you can do; it's just part of the normal customer attrition rate which happens across the board.

But if you have unusually high camper attrition, where families are trying your camp for only a summer or two and stop coming back by choice, you can definitely implement marketing and other strategies to win them back.

How to Win Back Existing Campers Who Don't Attend Your Camp Anymore

Whatever you do, never be content with a one year camper! You've invested too much time, money and other resources in acquiring that single kid for them to come and go in a matter of weeks. If I were you, I'd try squeezing at least 2 or 3 summers out of each camper...and I mean AT LEAST.

From what I've heard from camp managers and directors - and believe me, I talked to lots of them before writing this post - the biggest issue they face seems to be their campers feel like they've outgrown the activities they offer. Consequently those kids look elsewhere to fill their summer camp needs, or they stop going to camp altogether.

And you know what Most of the camp directors I talked to also said they didn't think they could do anything about it.

Huh?

Come on. Why can't you modify your marketing activities and camp program in such a way to keep kids coming back for another few years or even longer?

Now I realize kids outgrow camp eventually. That's part of the deal. But they also outgrow the shoes and clothes they wear, websites they visit, TV shows they watch, movies they see and all that. The difference seems to be that these other industries are adept at modifying their offerings to keep customers for life.

Camps, in comparison, have some catching up to do.

Consider a restaurant business that offers kids meals. When a kid outgrows the kids menu, they migrate over to the adult menu and the restaurant doesn't miss a beat. The kid can keep eating at the same restaurant for the rest of his life.

As camp directors, why can't we offer customers our version of the "adult menu?"

If you want to keep camp families longer (and I don't know why you wouldn't, unless the customer's a real pain in the ass), the first thing I do is make sure you have well-organized customer service, customer loyalty, and customer retention programs in place. By "well-organized" I mean well-thought-out, written plans your whole staff is tuned into. Now here's what else you need.

You also need a formal "customer reactivation program" so you can go back and pick up ex-campers who haven't been with you for awhile turn them into paying customers again. Need some ideas:

  • Offer camp programs designed to appeal to whole the family. (Could you start a family camp?)
  • Offer the same version of your current activities, but tweak them to suit older kids, perhaps with an "Extreme Sports" bent
  • Ask other camp directors with how they fight customer attrition. They'll probably be happy to share information and you might get a bunch of great ideas. 
  • Send a survey to past and current camp families asking for suggestions on what programs or activities they'd like to see for their older kids. (This is important, because your customers will be telling you what they want. That means they're taking the guess work out of your marketing and doing your promotional work for you.) And by the way, almost any feedback you get from customers is pure gold, so don't just sit on the information and ideas they give you. Instead, use them!)

There's so much more you can do. These ideas are just starting points. Play your cards right and old customers you haven't seen in years might come back to you. In fact this just happened to me this week.

I used to have a kid named Pierce who attended Aloha Beach Camp for 5 summers from 2002-2006, then he stopped coming altogether. So I finally put him on our "Inactive Camper List." But I also made certain stay in touch with his family through the years, because unless you can predict the future, you never know how much one single family might be worth to you.

Well, guess what?

Pierce's dad  called me last Wednesday on my cell phone to say he'd like to send Julia, his younger daughter from a different marriage, to camp this summer. Do you know how good that feels??? I couldn't be happier!

Surely I could have written Dan's family off after having them as customers for 5 years and not seeing them for three more. But I figured, why not stay in touch a little longer? So I kept sending them emails and Holiday cards and all that every year. Obviously it paid off in spades.

You just never know what things will lead to. As my friend who owns a 31 Flavors ice-cream franchise (where I eat far too often) always tell me, "It's not how many customers you get, but how many you keep that's important."

Of course kids grow up, and in some cases they WILL outgrown camp by default. But that doesn't mean you can't position yourself to keep them or their families as customers a little longer. To the contrary, you can and you should. It might take some adjustments to the way you're doing things now, the the potential payoff for you could be huge. Good luck!

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