Knowing what parents need and want
Most childcare providers have an understanding of what parents want in general terms and that is usually enough for a business to get by and do what it does best. However, there are times and circumstances when it is harder to make a surplus or continue with lower occupancy, and these are the times when it’s important to revisit your knowledge and views on what local parents want if you are to remain sustainable or grow your business.
There are always underlying reasons for low demand, locally or nationally, and also for low interest in your setting and corresponding low take up rates. It doesn’t always follow that low market demand means low take up and vice versa, the two are linked but not directly. So in times when you are experiencing a lack of enquiries or you have plenty of enquiries but conversion rates are low, there may be other situations you need to address to increase take up.
The first place to start is with your own understanding of what’s going on and what parents are thinking, or how the market is influencing behaviour. This is all part of normal market research which should be a constant activity for any successful business, and there is no more important part than understanding customers and their preferences…so what can be done?
Facts, Opinions and Assumptions
We have talked before about the need to get feedback from parents in a variety of ways, but what we are considering here is more of a check against what you think you know and what you actually know about customer preferences, needs and wants.
When it comes to gathering information from customers on what’s happening in the childcare market, there are generally three categories that childcare providers tend to rely on to inform their business decisions, with mixed outcomes.
Facts - Obviously, we all need to search for the facts about our marketplace, customers, their choices, trends and attitude to childcare and early education. So we will try to get feedback directly from parents on emerging issues, choices, business changes or challenges at any particular time. For the majority of the time this is the best market knowledge you can acquire, but bear in mind that the way questions are asked or sometimes the responses you get could be just a reaction to the situation and not a considered view. In these cases you could end up collecting information that is not necessarily fully representative and more likely just an opinion or assumption made without real thought.
Tip: Be sure to always qualify any requests for customer feedback and try to test their quality as an accurate representation.
Opinions - When you ask customers for feedback, then it’s likely they will give their opinion which is exactly what you are looking for, a straight answer to highlight the preferences they have. The problem with opinions is that that unless they are based on factual information from contextual understanding of the situation, they won’t help you too much. So the way you gather customer feedback matters.
Tip: Always provide enough facts and contextual information to ensure the opinions you get from customers are given with sound knowledge and all the relevant facts to hand.
Assumptions - Customers may make assumptions to answer requests for feedback and give their views on what matters to them. In a similar way to opinions, it’s important to give clear context and facts around the area of customer preferences you are researching, as people will naturally make assumptions to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Customers don’t generally understand the childcare market as deeply as childcare providers, hence the need for facts and context.
Tip: Always provide enough facts and contextual information to ensure that customers don’t make assumptions about the area of analysis so that they answer with sound knowledge.
The bigger picture
Trying to constantly keep in touch with customers and figure out their ever-changing needs is a much wider task than just talking to them directly. Other things influence customer demand and change their preferences over time. Things like, changes to legislation, local market influences like new more childcare places or perhaps emerging trends in the way people work.
The point about using wider information is that whilst there are facts underlying market changes and they have an effect on customer choices, there is also unlimited information available written by many different organisations, journalists, research companies, influencers, Government bodies, peers, universities…and the list goes on!
Take great care when reading things from well meaning people, (even if they are reputable), because the majority of content will likely be opinions or assumptions of the organisation writing the material and they will undoubtedly put their own spin on things. Try to cut through the material to find “qualified facts”, before you take it too seriously, or better still go to the source of the information to get the facts directly, rather than read someone’s opinion on it!
Tip: When making business decisions, use FACTS, not OPINIONS or ASSUMPTIONS. Do not believe everything you read, or that well meaning people tell you... find out the facts for yourself, take ownership and assess how things affect your customer preferences and ultimately your business.