Along with all the swimming, sports, strong friendships, and confidence building that occur at camp, customer service plays an important part in many camps’ culture. The best camps make exceptional customer service towards families a priority, working to make camp an amazing experience for campers and as easy on parents as possible. Camp directors know that families have many camp options to choose from, and good camps know how to treat their camp families so their children keep coming back summer after summer.
One of the ways camps excel at customer service is by helping to prepare first-time campers and parents for camp. Camp directors know that children—along with their parents—are often a bit apprehensive about starting day or sleepaway camp, so camp professionals offer families many opportunities to help ease the transition to camp.
“We feel it’s important to hold parents’ hands through the process. Often times, they are more overwhelmed by the camp process than the child is,” says Drew Bitterman, director of Camp Watitoh, a co-ed overnight camp in the Berkshires. “Once a child is enrolled, we do a lot to prepare the child for camp and help keep parents at ease. Each family receives a copy of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow by Michael Thompson, PhD, and new children get assigned a pen pal who is older and has already been at camp. This way, campers already know someone before camp begins.” Paula Rothman, the director of North Shore Day Camp in Glen Cove, NY, knows that taking the bus for the first time can cause some uneasiness for young campers. “Before camp begins, our bus counselors and drivers call parents and set up a time to go to their home and meet them,” she says. “We also have a bus at our camp orientation so campers can get on the bus, so they are more comfortable with the ride on the first day of camp.”
Both day and sleepaway camps host events for new campers before camp begins to assimilate children to camp. “Right before camp begins, we offer an evening parent orientation for the youngest campers where we go over the calendar, what families can expect, and answer any questions parents may have. For older children, we host a parent-camper orientation so campers can meet their group, counselors, tour the camp, and meet other children so they feel well-prepared when the first day arrives,” Rothman says. “When families meet the counselors and get their questions answered, they feel more comfortable and it also establishes a good partnership between the camp and parents going into camp.” Iroquois Springs, a coed overnight camp in Rockhill, NY, has a new camper get-together at the end of May. “We invite all new campers to camp to meet other campers and group leaders, enjoy a BBQ, and take a tour of camp. We also meet with the parents and go through some information on being first-time camp parents,” says Mark Newfield, owner and director of Iroquois Springs. “It’s a great day which further assures families of their choice, and helps kids connect with each other all before camp begins.” Along with a new camper get-together at camp in early June, Camp Watitoh hosts Slice of Watitoh Pizza Parties in winter and spring. “At the pizza parties, we bring together new and returning campers,” Bitterman explains. “The new campers have the chance to meet other campers, which helps them feel more at ease about going to camp.”
Communication is an important part of excellent customer service for camp directors and their leadership team. From emails with important information throughout the year and during the summer, to phone calls on the first day of overnight camp letting parents know their child has arrived safely, to parents getting quick call-backs when they have a question, communication is key to a parent feeling like their child will be taken care of at camp. “Communication is paramount to parents’ comfort level. If a parent calls in the morning and is anxious, they will get a call-back right away. On very hot days, parents often get concerned. We use email and a phone service to send out a message about what we are doing to combat the heat, such as adding extra swims and doing water relays, which are easy ways to reassure parents that things are okay,” Rothman explains. “Like many camps, we post daily photos and videos, but sometimes it’s the little things that can make a difference. I had one parent of a 4-year-old who was so anxious about their child being at camp. I was at the high ropes course the day this child was there, and he did the whole course with no problem. I captured it on video and sent it to his parents. I got an email back saying how her child had low self-esteem and had such a hard year, but that one week at camp has made such a difference for him.” At Iroquois Springs, all of the group leaders and head counselors carry iPads. “We handle parent communication seriously, with every call from a parent getting catalogued into our computer program Zendesk,” Newfield says. “No matter what the issue is, a ticket is opened and it gets assigned to someone. Once it is taken care of and is resolved, the parent is notified and the ticket is closed. This program allows me to know exactly what is happening with each ticket at all times, and nothing slips through the cracks during a busy camp day.”
Camps also offer services that are efficient and simplify things for both campers and parents. “We give fresh towels to campers at each swim,” Rothman says. “This way, we know the towels are clean, won’t get lost, and are dry. Children don’t have to go home with wet towels, and it also makes it easier for parents who now don’t have to wash towels.” Iroquois Springs received numerous enthusiastic emails from parents within minutes of announcing towel service. “We provide towels at the pool and the lake, which has cut down on lost and found and makes it easier for both counselors and campers.” Many sleepaway camps also provide the transport of a child’s bag from home to camp and back home again at the end of the summer, and also unpack campers’ bags for them before the camper arrives. Newfield says, “Campers get to camp and feel right at home because they don’t have to unpack and organize themselves. This also allows the first day to be an activity-based day instead of an unpacking day.”
Camp directors are constantly thinking of new ways to help make camp even better for their campers, and are always listening to feedback provided by families. “Customer service is the only thing that separates a good business from a mediocre businesses,” Newfield comments. “During staff training and throughout the summer, we discuss our three customers: Parents, campers, and staff, and how to speak with each of them and how to give them the best possible experience.”