“Customer centric” isn’t a buzzword for Steve & Kate’s Camps. It’s a way of doing business.
Every year, thousands of parents choose to send their kids to one of 38 day camp locations run by Steve & Kate’s Camps across the U.S.
If you’re a parent sending your child to camp, you’re sure to have questions for the people running the place.
Callie Rae McCarthy, Head of Family Experience for Steve & Kate’s Camps, has heard just about all of them:
- “Will my kids have fun?”
- “Will there be food?”
- “How much does it cost?”
- “Are your employees screened?”
- “Will my kids be safe there?”
- “What activities do you offer?”
- “What if something goes wrong?”
And probably a thousand more.
“Parents always have questions,” McCarthy said with a laugh when we spoke with her recently.
She would know. As part of her responsibilities, McCarthy is the head of a decentralized customer service team that supports all 38 camps.
A customer-centric business model
Most day camps follow a schedule of activities, and kids are told what to do and where to go pretty much every minute of the day.
At Steve & Kate’s, kids choose how to spend their time.
“We definitely have children who come for the first time and are like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’” McCarthy told us. “And we get to say, ‘What’s exciting to you? What do you like to do?’”
The focus on trusting individuals to make their own decisions isn’t limited to kids.
From top to bottom, Steve & Kate’s Camps are all about empowering people.
McCarthy and the camp director team spend their days talking to parents, answering thousands of questions every year mostly through a Groove Shared Inbox. That tool helps the team keep track of customer conversations over time. They also have regular phone calls with parents who want to have more in-depth conversations.
In all their efforts, their goal is simple…
“It shouldn’t be hard to send your kids to camp,” McCarthy told us. “We try to make things as easy as possible for parents. And that means empowering them in every way we can.”
No matter what kind of business you run, five lessons stand out.
1. They have simple pricing and automatic refunds for unused days
Parents have two options when purchasing a day at a Steve & Kate’s Camp.
As with most camps, parents can buy individual days or a pass for the entire summer.
That part isn’t unique. What’s unique is what Steve & Kate’s does if you don’t use all the days you paid for.
“If you don’t use the days you purchased, we refund them back in full for exactly the same value you paid for them,” McCarthy explained. “And we do it automatically. You don’t have to request a refund from us. At the end of the summer, we send out emails to anyone who didn’t use their days and tell them ‘Hey, we’re going to refund you.’”
The policy is clearly stated on the website and in the camp’s materials, but even so, every year, customers are surprised when the refunds actually start going out.
“We always have people who write us back and you can tell that they’re shocked,” McCarthy said. “They say, ‘Nobody does this.’”
2. They take a customer centric approach to innovation
In a variety of ways, Steve & Kate’s is always looking for ways to improve the customer experience for campers and their parents.
Lunch and snacks are included, for example, so parents don’t have to worry about packing a lunch or sending money.
“That was something Kate always talks about,” McCarthy told us. “Steve would notice that some kids were buying lunch, some kids weren’t. And he said, ‘We should just include it.’”
A few years ago, there was often a back-up in the morning during peak drop-off time, so someone suggested adding a self check-in station for campers who had been to the camp before and already had a pass.
That enabled return campers to enter the camp faster, and it allowed staff to better serve new campers who needed help getting checked in on their first day.
“There are a lot of things like that where Steve & Kate would notice something that felt off to them, and then we’d change it,” McCarthy added. “It’s one of the things that’s exciting about working here. We’re always trying to make decisions that are best for the kids.”
3. They listen for ‘the question behind the question’
Parents often have anxiety about leaving their children at a new place.
“You can tell when people have a list from a blog or something,” McCarthy told us. “They’ll be going down a ‘15 essential questions to ask your summer camp’ list, and you can just feel the anxiety they have about sending their child to camp with us.”
“What they really want to ask is, ‘Will my kids be okay?’ or ‘Will I be okay?’” McCarthy said. “We answer all their direct questions, but also, we try to listen to what’s in their heart and help reassure them.”
4. They empower parents by providing resources to answer their own questions
McCarthy and her team has been building out a Knowledge Base over the last few years, providing answers to the most common questions they hear from parents.
“We didn’t have anything like that for a very long time,” McCarthy said. “We had this 20-page internal FAQ document that we’ve created and trained everyone to use.”
As soon as the team started adding some those FAQ answers to the knowledge base, they could tell parents appreciated it.
“We checked it and according to the numbers we had like a thousand visitors over the course of two weeks,” McCarthy said. “It’s been huge for us.”
The knowledge base has empowered parents to make their own decisions as they look for answers to their questions.
“It’s interesting because our program is so self-directed, and this has allowed parents to be self-directed in finding their own answers,” McCarthy said. “We still get lots of questions from parents, but that reference has been huge for us.”
5. They empower camp directors to make decisions
Finally, it’s not just children who are empowered.
Steve & Kate’s tries to keep camp directors in one location as much as possible—so they can develop relationships with the parents of the children who are regulars at that camp.
Each camp follows the broad culture you’ll find at any Steve & Kate’s location: a variety of activities and self-directed learning.
But also, each location is a little different.
Some have different activities based on their facility, and each camp director is empowered to try new things to improve the experience at their location.
“There’s not a lot of micromanagement,” McCarthy told us. “Everyone does it a little bit differently. We trust that our directors will know the right decision to make at their camps, and if we told all of them to do things the same, it wouldn’t be as good.”
The business impact of a customer centric approach
What’s the business impact of being this committed to the customer experience?
For Steve & Kate’s Camps, the value is in the fiercely committed base of customers who return to camp day after day, week after week, and year after year.
“I think it goes back to just treating people fairly,” McCarthy told us. “We’re not trying to be rich. We’re just trying to run a really good program and have a whole bunch of families be able to be impacted by it.”
“That mentality is why we have families trust us enough to come back for five or six years in a row the way they do.”