Improve Your Daycare Business by Focusing on Customer Relationships
A continuation of "Improve Your Daycare Business by Focusing on the Three Pillars"
If you provide value but your customers don’t see it, does that value exist?
Have you ever seen two small children talking to each other on the playground about how great their preschool or daycare is? Not likely, but anyone who has ever spent time on a popular playground knows that this topic dominates the bench where the parents hang out. Daycare operators should always remember that no matter how great the experience you provide for children is (and hopefully it’s excellent), if your parents don’t see that excellence, it might as well not exist. Don’t assume that the joy your children exhibit in the classroom will waft into their parents’ awareness as if by osmosis. Be intentional about ensuring that the value you provide is communicated. This is the essence of customer relationships.
Being intentional about what your paying customers—your parents—experience means looking to the very start of your relationship with them to begin building those positive feelings and the perception of value that will lead them to enroll, renew and then recommend you to friends. This is called customer relationship management, and it is a highly prized skill in the sales industry. As in many other industries, it can take multiple engagements or touch points with a customer for a daycare operator to “make the sale,” or enroll a family’s children. It is important to approach every interaction you have with a potential or current customer as an opportunity to convert them into someone who will use, recommend and remain loyal to your business.
Nurture Your Leads
When a parent calls a daycare to inquire about availability, they are what the sales industry would call a “hot lead.” That means they want to make a decision to spend their money somewhere fairly quickly. If you aren’t one of the first three businesses to return their call, you will likely lose the sale before you even have a chance to make your pitch. Do you have a rule for how quickly calls must be returned? At Callahan Learning Center, we make it a policy to return all calls within business hours—not days. Do you track whether you are meeting those targets?
The sales industry has built impressive customer relationship management (CRM) software programs to help businesses optimize their customer relationships. Unfortunately, many of these programs can’t handle the complex dynamics of daycare, with multiple children and their ages tied to each customer. A solution to consider is Child Care CRM, the only software I’m aware of that specifically optimizes managing your leads for a daycare center and easily interfaces with many day care management platforms on the market. Even without a software solution, you can still implement some of the best practices of lead management to help your daycare business. Start by cultivating a deep understanding of who your true customer base is, whether it’s a parent looking for a Montessori preschool or a parent seeking the lowest-cost provider. If it is clear from an initial phone message that someone does not fit your target clientele, your time is better spent returning calls to an individual who does fit that profile. Similarly, hot leads don’t stay hot for long. If you have a long list of people who have called about openings, remember that the most recent callers are the most likely to still be in decision-making mode. Prioritize those callbacks to the ones you believe will be most successful and recent, instead of starting your return calls in the order that they were received
Show Parents Your Value
Once a parent enrolls their children in your center, you have opportunities every day to provide them proof of the value you are delivering. Take advantage of these opportunities. Parent engagement is an integral part of our day at Callahan Learning Center. We use a parent engagement app that gives parents pictures, updates and information on the learning goals for the day so they can perceive the quality we deliver. You can’t stop at delivering quality education and care. You must deliberately communicate it to your parents if you want them to provide you with referrals and repeat business. Whether you do this through a parent engagement app or through daily written reports, look at these communications as an opportunity to market your business and showcase the value you are providing. Relying solely on the children’s reports to their parents is not dependable. Kids tend to tell about the best and worst part of their day only. In addition, kids don't look for the same values in a daycare that their parents do. Most kids would want full-time recess and a swimming pool, but parents want to be confident that there is structure and learning built into all of their child’s experiences. Never assume the parent will see the value you are providing unless you intentionally put it in front of them.
Parent-teacher conferences are another opportunity to make sure your parents see your value. Consider whether you should add these to your parent engagement tool chest. Use the conference to address both how the child is progressing, as well as to present the key components of your educational program. Connect these components with the growth the child is making, and consider whether specific assessments can be used to provide even greater value in helping your families prepare their children for kindergarten.
Beyond daily reports and regular conferences, think about how you can be seen as a vital partner in helping your customers achieve their parenting goals. A 2015 study of parents revealed that modern parents understand the critical role they play in shaping their children’s brain development in early childhood. Fifty-four percent of parents surveyed said they wished they had more information about how to be a better parent. As a daycare operator, you have a unique opportunity to help parents fulfill this desire to be a better parent. Can your staff recognize when parents may be open to receiving strategies for dealing with common challenges? Can you provide a regular e-mail newsletter that includes tips, activities and information your parents will find helpful? If your customers feel like they are becoming better parents because of their relationship with your business, these efforts will pay dividends.
Be Aware of Your Digital Footprint
It can be hard to find time in the course of a day of running a childcare center to monitor social media, but when you ignore the internet, you are essentially letting somebody stand on your doorstep and yell things about your business to every car that drives by. You need to know what they are saying. Social media, your website, e-mail marketing and digital advertising provide an endless array of opportunities to actively market your business. But at the very least, it is essential that you as a business owner are aware of what your internet footprint looks like. This means setting up a Google alert for your business name, so that you will find notable mentions when they appear online. It means remembering to regularly read reviews on sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Google and others—whether or not you actively use those sites to market your business.
Spend some time on a search engine in the mindset of your prospective parents. What are they going to type into Google if they are researching daycares in your area, and your daycare specifically? What do the results say about your reputation? While you can’t control online reviews, you can mitigate bad ones—and even the best businesses will occasionally get poor reviews—by responding to them professionally in the name of your business. It’s important not to argue with the reviewer or start a fight, but to acknowledge their feelings, apologize and emphasize things that you do that would make that outcome unlikely. Remember that bad experiences motivate people to write reviews more than good ones do. To get more happy customers writing reviews for you, consider something we’ve done at Callahan Learning Center. We bought a big gift basket and entered customers into a drawing to win it if they agreed to write an online review of our business. We didn’t dictate what they wrote, but this was a good way to get people who were generally happy with our business to take the time to put their feelings about us in writing.
Communication is Key
To successfully manage customer relationships, childcare center operators need to think strategically about every touch point they have with parents, from the first moment they inquire about availability. Set up office practices and processes that will ensure that you engage with potential customers while they are in decision-making mode. For current customers, remember to look at daily reports, teacher conferences and all other forms of communication with enrolled parents as opportunities to explicitly show parents the level of quality you are providing. While focusing on these priorities within your business, don’t forget to set up habits and systems that will allow you to monitor what is being said about your business online. These actions will build the foundation for strong customer relationships that will strengthen your business.
The Three Pillars of Daycare Overview
Pillar 2: Operational Excellence