Lessons From Amazon

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If you were to Google “Why is Amazon so successful?,” you would see that a lot has been written on the subject.

As the manager of a camp, it might never occur to you to turn to Amazon for camp ideas. After all, Amazon is the all-time #1 online business, with an apparent goal of world domination. You might think there is nothing Amazon is doing that you could even begin to, or want to, duplicate.

But what if that’s not true?

A quick look at Amazon reveals that its top three strategies are very adoptable by every business. You’ll see that all three are ultimately tied together and, as a unit, enormously powerful:

1. Put your customers at the center of everything you do
2. Ask the right questions
3. Offer the best website user experience

1. Put your customers at the center of everything you do

Amazon’s own explanation for how it has survived the evolution of the Internet world and made money in the Great Recession despite its financial ups and downs is CEO Jeff Bezos’s #1 goal: Exceptional Customer Service1. He is so passionate about this that he reportedly always leaves one seat empty at every meeting to remind those present to consider the customer’s point of view in the discussion.

This customer-centric focus has been considered and baked into every level of the business, from the way the website works, to the speed at which products are shipped, the suggestions of similar items, bundling, and free or discounted options.

Amazon even uses the Loss-Leader concept in its customer service strategy, willingly losing money to offer something that creates DIE-HARD-AMAZON-FANS, such as delivering the first Harry Potter book in 2005 to all those who ordered it, on the same day it appeared in bookstores. The resulting customer loyalty has paid for itself many times over, to the point where Amazon’s customers will sometimes pay more for the same item at Amazon than they would elsewhere.

Ken Blanchard, author of the book “Raving Fans,” states that “If you really want to ‘own’ a customer, if you want a booming business, you have to go beyond satisfied customers and created Raving Fans.” Raving Fans essentially become salespeople for you.

Beyond that, the cost of gaining new customers is higher than the cost of retaining current ones. According to Bain and Company, a global management consulting firm, “companies can boost profits as much as 255% by retaining merely 5% more of their existing customers.” Think of the strong companies you know that have Raving Fans— Apple, Zappos, Google, Southwest Airlines—and you’ll find that they are all fanatically customer-focused.’

TAKEAWAYS FOR CAMP DIRECTORS:

a. Customer-focus gives you a competitive edge.

Today’s consumers have higher demands than ever, right from the beginning of their relationship with you. Being “nice” and believing that “the customer is always right” are not solid, customer-focused strategies. To stand out, you need to know what people want before they ask and find your own unique way to offer it. Think of what “Raving Fans” look like for your camp. What differentiates them from your other customers?

b. You’ve got to listen.

The best way to value your customers and offer them what they value is to LISTEN TO THEM. End of camp surveys aren’t the only place to listen. Pay attention to repetitive themes that come up in informal conversations, or create focus groups to crowdsource new ideas. Also, ‘listen’ online by visiting forums and by engaging with others on your own—or other people’s—Facebook pages.

Listen to silence, as well. When individuals leaves a business and their absence isn’t noticed, it can confirm to them that they were not a valued customer. Consider sending a “We missed you” email to former camp families who haven’t registered for an upcoming season. Ask if there is a problem or offer an incentive to return. One of the values of camp management software that allows you to pull up reports is learning that sometimes the most important information in your data is who’s not there.

2. Ask the right questions

Innovation—and even exceptional customer service—begin with asking the right questions. Most companies focus on the question: How can I make my business more profitable? Amazon’s CEO asks questions that are centric to his customer service goals, which ultimately helps him meet his business goals.

Barbara Farfan, an About.Com Guide, suggests that the hugely successful Harry Potter, ontime delivery strategy was more likely derived from the question “What can we do for our fanatic Harry Potter fans?” than from asking “How can we boost our quarterly profits?” She says: “Asking questions about profits without an appropriate amount of consideration for the source of those profits (those pesky customers) will eventually have consequences.”

Forbes writer Stephen Wunker believes Bank of America might have asked a similar question when they came up with and patented their “Keep the Change” program that allows purchases to be rounded up to the nearest dollar and the difference funneled into customers’ savings account. A question like “How can customers save money without thinking, planning, or feeling deprived?” could have been the source of this simple but effective idea.

You’ll know you’re asking better questions when you find yourself stumped and in brand-new territory. Don’t resist the uncertainty of that place. New and wonderful ideas are born from uncertainty that is met without resistance.

TAKEAWAYS FOR CAMP DIRECTORS:

a. Frame your questions around what matters to your camper families.

If your goals list looks like it could have been written by any other camp director in the world, you’re not asking the right questions. Don’t frame your questions solely around your problems (“How can we make the drop-off process less chaotic?”) but rather, think in terms of how to delight or surprise parents who are tired, in a hurry, concerned with a reluctant camper, or juggling younger siblings. Clearly, meeting mom at her car with your “digital clipboard” (complete camper information pulled up on your ipad) and helping her instantly solve a missing release form issue is a big win for parents, but what else can you offer? Maybe it’s a colorful, supervised play area for toddlers within view of the reception area. Maybe it’s as simple as a chocolate chip cookie for the road. It’s amazing how big an impact little touches can make. For more real life ideas, read “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?” by Stan Phelps.

b. Ask the right questions at every level of your camp.

As mentioned, camp evaluations from parents and campers are an important source of feedback. Can you think of new, open-ended questions that dig deeper into the values that drive parent searches for camps, like “What’s the most important memory or life lesson you want your child to bring home from camp?”

What about new staffers? They are sometimes the only ones who can see that things which seem clear to regulars may not be as clear to newcomers (e.g. processes, procedures, signage, etc). Consider giving them a one-time-only chance to compare your camp to another camp—you may learn something useful!

Because technology changes at the speed of light these days, back office practices can always be improved with questions that ask, “How can we make the registration process more engaging and efficient?” The right Marketing questions might center on “How can we convey that we care about our camper families all year long, not just at camp?”

3. Offer the best website user experience

This goes hand in hand with customer service, because the user experience is THE REASON Amazon’s website and purchase process is the best in class:

“If there’s one reason we have done better than most of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful.”
Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon

We’ve all experienced online purchasing or registration processes that were so frustrating we eventually gave up, or resorted to phone or paper transactions, while swearing off the offending company forever. About.Com’s Barbara Farfan says that Amazon has worked hard to “remove every possible obstacle to purchasing. It invented one-click ordering, which lets buyers store credit cards and addresses after the first purchase, and it installed software that assesses what people have bought and suggests other purchases. The result: Repeat purchasers account for 66% of sales.”

“The user friendliness of Amazon’s website is unparalleled, the reviews, prices, discounts and similar products are all weaved together into a very helpful interface which makes the final ordering procedure very easy. This is the step which differentiates a successful venture from a failure.”

The website user experience flows naturally into the area of word of mouth advertising, because fans of your business will rave! The flipside of that is that unsatisfied customers will rant at an even greater rate. If Pete Blackshaw, author of “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World”5, is even half right in his math, you want them to rave, not rant! A good website or software system contains within itself the simple and obvious means for customers to share any and every aspect of a positive experience. It should also reveal a visible presence of people behind the technology, people who are engaging with their customers.

TAKEAWAYS FOR CAMP DIRECTORS:

a. Find tools that allow you to replicate relevant features that make Amazon’s online experience so popular.

Allow customers to create accounts so they don’t have to keep filling out the same forms over and over again. Make forms simple and easy to use to keep the registration process frictionless. Accept multiple payment methods to give customers the choices they’ve become accustomed to in online purchasing and registration. Yes, registering a child to camp is vastly different from purchasing toys online but, to the eyes of your parents, both activities are online transactions and they make mental comparisons about their experiences and set their expectations based on the best experience.

The quality and functionality of the software you use directly impacts the acquisition of new customers, as well as current customers who are susceptible to being swayed by other factors than just the quality of your camp. Your camp management software is a competitive advantage, not just a back-office tool!

b. Encourage reviews of your camp from your happiest campers!

Word of mouth is the best advertising, especially given that moms (your target market) are 4 times more likely to trust other moms when making purchasing decisions.6 Your website and blog should include share buttons, review forums, and links to your Facebook and Twitter pages. And your registration forms could also include “tell-a-friend” features to make it easy to recommend your camp.

Next Steps

We hope you’ve been inspired by Amazon’s strategies. Along with inspiration, you also need great customer-facing and management technology to deliver exceptional customer service. Contact us to discuss your goals and how ACTIVE camp management solutions can help.

Camp forms are perfect for managing all camp types from summer camp registration to sports camps, church camps, and more. Let ACTIVE Camps help you efficiently manage your campers.