Greetings. As a matter of full disclosure, I never went to summer camp. It wasn't really part of our family's routine or culture. Besides, I had a bicycle, a skateboard, a basketball, my baseball glove and bat, and completely clear instructions to stay out of trouble until dinnertime. But when our middle daughter Carly expressed an interest in going to sleep away camp, it sounded like a reasonable idea. And why not? Four weeks of hiking, exploring, swimming, canoeing, singing, arts, crafts, food fights, and a bunch of other cool activities far away from her pesty younger brother and the parents who were trying "to control her life." And all paid for by the very same parents who were trying "to control her life." Sounds like a totally sweet deal!
Of course, Lisa and I also held out the belief that she would end up missing us so much that, upon her return, Carly would gladly walk the dog, clean her room, and commit to completing all of her homework without it becoming an epic battle. It was against this backdrop of over-ambitious expectations that we drove 211 miles to Camp Harlam and the beautiful mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. And, in the process, discovered a wonderful twist on world-class customer service.
As with every successful customer-centric organization, the camp's commitment to its customers began months before we arrived. The real beginning was a well-planned combination of outreach which included information sessions designed to make the camp come alive, upbeat and regular communication to prospective campers, and thoughtful and enthusiastic support. Then, upon arrival, the notion of having an awesome summer kicked into high gear. The first thing we noticed was the enthusiasm of everyone working there. They all seemed to be genuinely excited about camp and about welcoming the new and returning campers and their families. And, at each step in the process–from the initial welcome, to the lice and temperature check, to check-in at the cabin, to going over our special requirements–we were overwhelmed by positive engagement. Engagement that included dozens of staff and counselors who smiled, waved, applauded, cheered, thanked us, and danced enthusiastically at our arrival. They were also quick to come to our aid when we seemed the least bit confused, and quick to offer directions, as well as guidance and encouragement for us and our first-time camper. Which made me think that the camp was either great at hiring, brilliant at training, or had put something special in camp food.
Finally, when we arrived at the rustic cabin and Carly picked her bunk, we were welcomed by several counselors who immediately began to build rapport, find out what interested Carly, and introduce her to the other campers. They then told us they would spend the first day together having fun, getting to know each other, and building cabin spirit. All designed to create a wonderful experience from start to finish.
Maybe it's easier to be engaged with customers in a place that's all about fun. But it still takes commitment, effort, and the right culture and values.
We win in camping, business, and life when we go out of our way to welcome those we choose to serve. And when we make it easy for them to take the risk of a totally new experience. How do you treat your new customers? Maybe it's time to discover the genius of summer camp.