Looking for Customer Feedback? Don’t Do This.

20160629_050739My family and I moved into a new house about a year ago – well, new to us, anyway; it was built in the 1950s – and the previous owners were very open with us about the fact that a number of applicances were on their last legs.

They weren’t kidding. The washing machine didn’t even make it to the closing date. Its demise was followed closely by that of the dishwasher and the oven (which fortunately hung through the big-cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays). The refrigerator is still with us, but it’s been making this ominous banging noise that suggests its remaining days are numbered.

All of this is to say that we have gotten intimately acquainted with the Sears home appliance delivery team in recent months. For the most part, the guys they’ve sent over have been great. Which is good, because it seems that their continued employment is hanging in the balance of what kind of evaluation I submit online. One told me in so many words that “You give me a 5 [on a scale of 1 to 5], I get to keep my job.”

It’s not just Sears that’s operating this way these days, either. I got the above note stapled to my receipt after a recent shopping expedition. Meaning: We want your feedback…but only if you have great things to say about us.

I know most of us have an unfortunate tendency to complain to the world when an experience is bad and keep things relatively quiet when an experience is good. But the only useful feedback is honest feedback.

You’re not going to learn information that will help you improve if you’re not open to hearing what people really think. You’re also going to have your staff on pins and needles all the time, living in terror of a negative comment. Finally, your customers don’t appreciate having their arms twisted to say things they may not really feel.

This is no way to run a business. Your goal is not fake praise, but genuine excellence.

By all means, solicit feedback from your families (and your staff, for that matter) on a regular basis. Publicize your glowing testimonials to the world. And welcome negative feedback for the true gift it is: The opportunity to correct a problem and make your terrific center even better.

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

Child Care Hiring Interviews: Dos and Don’ts

handshakeLast week, we talked about how to find good prospects for teacher hires. Today, we’ll look at some key interview dos and don’ts:

DON’T interview anyone who didn’t follow your application instructions. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. If you asked for a cover letter, resume, and 3 references, don’t bother following up with the person who sent only a resume.

Job applications are kind of like first dates: At this early stage of the game, everyone is trying their best to make a good impression. If disregarding your explicit instructions is the best they can do, that’s the kind of talent your center can do without – sort of like the guy on that first date who can’t stop picking his teeth and making bitter comments about his ex-wife.

DO pay close attention to applicants’ cover letters. Cover letters are often far more revealing than resumes. Always request them of your applicants, and read them carefully.

DON’T interview everyone who seems promising. Instead, set up a short (15 minutes or so) phone call first to gather additional info and decide if a second, in-person interview is warranted. Always have the applicant call you rather than the other way around. That way, you can weed out anyone who calls you late – or not at all.

DO give the interview your full attention. If it’s impossible to guarantee calm and privacy at your office, schedule the interview for a different location – at a nearby coffee shop, for example. You can then bring the applicant back to your center for a tour at the conclusion of the interview if it’s gone well.

DON’T stray into illegal territory. Sometimes “just making conversation” can lead to legally treacherous territory in terms of an applicant’s marital status, religion, age, ethnicity, disability, or other protected characteristic. Avoid questions of a personal nature, such as “Do you have kids?” or “Are you married?”

If what you’re concerned about is, say, the applicant’s ability to work certain days or hours, go directly there: “Are you available to work on Sunday mornings?” instead of “Do you attend church regularly?”

DO listen carefully to what the applicant has to say. The best applicants are those who focus on what they can bring to you and your center, rather than why the job would be a good thing for them.

DON’T ignore red flags. If the applicant has gaps on her resume that she can’t satisfactorily explain, or is unable to provide references upon request, these are generally very bad signs. And it goes without saying that you should always check an applicant’s references.

DO ask the million-dollar question. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” There is no single right or wrong answer to this one, but the answer is always highly revealing. If you’re looking for someone who will be at your center for a long time to come, “I’ve always wanted to work at a bank” is not the answer you’re looking for. (“I dunno” is, of course, also bad.)

DON’T expect the interview to be a one-way street. Good applicants will always have questions for you about your center and/or the specific position they’re interviewing for. Beware the applicant who does a lot of nodding but little else.

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

How To Hire Great Staff at Your Child Care Center: 5 Tips

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Everyone knows that ECE professionals are in it for the money, right?

But seriously, folks…given that budgets are tight and good teachers are hard to find, how do you tip the odds in your favor? Here are 5 solid ideas:

1. Solicit referrals from current staff. If you have one of those wonderful, one-in-a-million teachers on staff, thank your lucky stars and treat her (or him) like gold. And then get the word out that you’re looking to hire more people just like her. Great people often know other great people who would be an excellent fit for your center.

Even if you have an upcoming opening that isn’t public knowledge yet, make it clear that you’re always interested in hearing about great teachers who might be looking for work. If they’re truly exceptional, you may even be able to create a spot of some sort for them until something more official opens up.

2. Offer referral bonuses. Big ones. How much is a fantastic teacher worth to your center over the long term? A lot. Which is why it makes sense to invest at least $250-$300 as a referral bonus for each new hire who stays with your center a minimum of 6 months. And don’t limit referral bonuses to current staff, either – parents can also be a good source of teacher referrals.

3. Get on LinkedIn and craigslist. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, set one up ASAP. It’s free and a great way to connect with other ECE professionals around the country (and even around the world). If you’re looking for new staff, chances are good that someone in your network, or someone connected to them, will have some ideas and leads.

And craigslist is great because you can narrowly target your job posting by geography and industry, and it gets a ton of traffic. Also, it ranges from cheap to free to post a job there, depending on where you live.

Other good sources of leads: Your local CCR&R network, as well as area colleges with ECE programs.

4. Be specific about what you’re looking for. If you want someone who’s excited about this field and truly passionate about ECE, then say so. Write an ad that explains why your center is special, what you’re looking for, and what you can offer the right candidate. Be specific. Be genuine. Be funny, if that’s your thing. Just don’t be boring. Ho-hum ads tend to attract ho-hum applicants.

And do be careful not to run astray of the state and federal anti-bias laws. You can specify that you want someone “energetic,” for example, but asking for a “recent college grad” is an invitation to an age discrimination lawsuit.

5. Throw in a few hurdles. By “hurdles,” I mean list a few specific tasks for the people who respond to your ad:

  • “Please include a resume, a detailed cover letter, and the names and contact information for three professional references.”
  • “Please provide answers to the three questions below.”
  • “Please explain why first attracted you to this field, and what you can bring to XYZ Child Care Center.”

While the hurdles are important because they provide valuable info about the job applicants (particularly cover letters), they’re even more important because they act as a screening device.

Anyone who doesn’t follow your directions exactly should be eliminated from contention, period. People who are unwilling or unable to follow directions set forth in a job ad tend to be similarly lax once they actually get hired.

Readers, what strategies do you recommend to find the best teachers? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

Coming next week: Tips for successful interviews. Stay tuned!

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

Q. What Do Your Child Care Center and Pork Bellies Have In Common?

daycare marketing strategies: avoid becoming a commodity

A. They’re both commodities – if you’re not careful to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack, that is.

Think about it: Do all of the centers in your area offer the same type of experience and care? How many brochures and websites have you seen that look basically the same? Smiling children, caring teachers, and so on?

The bottom line is that many parents think that all of the daycare centers in their area are basically the same – so it’s your job to convince them otherwise.

If you can’t think of anything that sets you apart from the competing centers in your area, it’s time to change that – pronto. Do you:

  • Require heightened credentials for your teachers?
  • Serve organic meals?
  • Provide evening care for a weekly or monthly “parents’ night out”?
  • Offer extended morning or evening hours, or weekend care options?
  • Have a really great new piece of playground equipment?
  • Possess a special state-issued certification level that not all centers in your area have?
  • Take the older children on exciting and/or unusual field trips?
  • Offer a lower teacher-to-child ratio than is legally required?
  • Have an unusually low turnover rate in a high turnover industry?

Think outside the box, and you’ll probably be able to come up with a few concrete things that already set you apart from your competition. Highlight those in your marketing. And if not, come up with a few ASAP.

As you’ll see from the list above, many of these suggestions don’t require a huge investment of time or money. You just need something desirable that makes you unique. (And “unique” = higher enrollment and the ability to command higher tuition!)

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

Are You Looking During Your Leap?

Lorelei on the very first day of kindergarten.

Lorelei on the very first day of kindergarten.

My sweet daughter, Lorelei, is finishing up her kindergarten year in just a couple of weeks.

And over the course of the school year, we have been working (among other things) on the essential art of solo street-crossing.

Her easily distracted 3-year-old brother, Nicholas, accompanies us to the bus stop each morning, so he and I always wind up several paces behind, studying ants or leaves or dandelions or the miracle of his own knees while Lorelei strides confidently to her destination.

The other day, I watched Lorelei stop at the end of the crosswalk, look both ways for cars, and start crossing the street. She then made a dead stop in the middle of the street, looked both ways again, and finished crossing.

When Nicholas and I caught up with her at the bus stop, I coached her on her technique. I tried to emphasize that her looking both ways pre-cross was fantastic – but that once she actually started crossing the key thing was to keep going.

Many of us do something similar in our businesses. We do research, we make plans, we anticipate pitfalls, and we tentatively start – but then stop when something unexpected happens, or we’re not sure, or we get scared. In some cases, we actually stop mid-street, turn around, and return to the safety of the very same curb we started from.

An overabundance of caution helps no one, whether you’re crossing a street or implementing a brand-new initiative at your child care center. It can even be downright dangerous.

By all means, do your research and prepare to the extent you can. But when it’s time to execute, your focus should shift from preparation to action – not second-guessing or reconsidering. Don’t get sidetracked (or, as Lorelei likes to say, “roadtracked”).

The time to look is before you leap – not during. So once you’re in motion toward a goal, keep moving.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.