Technology has a central role to play in the children’s activities sector today and by the very nature of the club-to-parent relationship, managing day to day communications alone an be a time-intensive battle in itself. Although technology in general is perceived well across the children’s activity industry, its use is still quite fragmented and in many cases is yet to be fully integrated across the different business functions, whether that is managing bookings, taking payments, invoicing and finance, sales, operations, or communications with parents as a prime target customer.
Technology can play a key role in boosting productivity and customer service and that is sometimes overlooked. For instance, children’s clubs and activity organisers are usually happy to introduce more efficient ways to advertise their services and to take bookings; most of them have a website and social media accounts and some even take bookings directly via social media channels. But often, clubs are still left manually dealing with enquiries and recording data on archaic spreadsheets or even older systems.
If it ain’t broke…
When it comes to communicating with customers many providers in this sector have moved away from the paper printouts that found themselves lost in kids’ PE bags, and now prefer to share updates via email newsletters and social media. Some even send mass communications via bulk SMS providers, but very few messaging platforms are connected to club registers or their CRM systems.
Payment technology has also moved on in many ways today, although is by no means standardised, which often leaves parents uncertain about how to confirm their bookings. Many clubs will still take cash and cheques, with others insisting on bank transfers. Some take card payments over the phone, and many now use online payment platforms like Stripe and PayPal. The next evolution of businesses are going one step further, connecting bookings and payments to an integrated management system, allowing them to manage bookings and payments, customer details and registers, communications, and finances all in one place.
When it comes to embracing new technologies, the truth is, in the children’s activity there’s still a strong sense that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Whilst this may be true in some cases, the reality is that things are a bit ‘broken’. This industry is still maturing and we don’t have to look back very far to remember its roots; the after-school clubs and evening sessions in community centres, run by mums and dads volunteering their time, with parents dropping a few pound coins into the collection tin.
Innovation drives customer behaviour
Things have most definitely moved on. These clubs are now businesses, catering for increasingly time-poor parents and their expectations of service are changing accordingly. Their customers (parents) have already moved on, and are using technology on a daily basis to book any number of other experiences, services, and products through their mobile devices. Innovation drives customer behaviour, which ultimately drives industry change. Think about Uber and the taxi industry – they used geo-location and mobile payments technologies to drive customer expectations of service, which has eventually resulted in an entire industry shifting its operations and business model.
The children’s activity market is going through a similar change, with parents’ expectations currently in flux. The cashless society has firmly arrived, and parents are frustrated when bookings, payments, and communications aren’t slick and connected. As competition for the parent-pound increases clubs and organisers need more time to focus on delivering excellent classes that kids love, technology starts to play an important role.
Paperwork is absolutely the biggest issue for this sector, juggling enquiries; new bookings, invoices, and chasing outstanding payments etc. can easily occupy 12 hours per week even for smaller businesses. Automation in bookings and online payment technologies such as PayPal, Apple pay and Android pay, are making the move away from cash increasingly simple for consumers and businesses alike.
Being able to communicate with groups of customers, both targeted and en-masse is a big technology draw. It’s still common for children’s activities to have a last minute change of venue, or for outdoor sports to cancel due to adverse weather. Without the ability to communicate to customers and feel confident that they’ve got the message it’s difficult to deliver a first class service. The ability to connect data together and automate processes is also having a huge impact on the time spent completing admin.
Technology is making big changes in this sector, but here are five top ways that technology is changing the children’s activities industry today:
1. The mobile revolution = a gateway to new business
The popularity of sites like Facebook and Instagram have made it much easier for kids activity clubs to connect and engage with parents on mobile, through photo, video, and blog content. Keeping parents updated with what’s going on has never been easier, and by giving parents a space to comment, like, share, and become involved in the conversation, they are extending the reach of the club into new networks and customers previously hidden to them.
2. Online Payments = safer and more efficient accounting
For the first time in history, in 2017/18 the UK economy recorded more ‘cashless’ payments than payments using coins and notes. This move away from cash is forcing small businesses to reconsider the methods of payment they should accept. Adding momentum is the increasingly affordable range of technologies making this possible, from mobile and online banking, Apple and Android pay, to online payment processors like Stripe and PayPal, it’s become a sign of bad business to insist on cash payment. For clubs, this means safer business.
3. Software as a service = extra revenue streams
The cloud-software boom has seen thousands of previously impossible services now available to businesses. Sales and CRM systems like Pipedrive and Salesforce and online shops like eBay, Amazon, and Shopify, have meant that businesses can build quite complex operations on a skeleton staff. This gives small businesses like those in the kids activity market the ability to drive revenue from new sources. Smaller businesses can now offer merchandise, parties, and run more classes than before thanks to the support of these automated databases.
4. Marketing Automation = no more newsletters
One area in particular where kids clubs are buying back time is communications. Email newsletters and mass SMS services have meant that organisers can get targeted messages out to their customers at speed.
5. Less unstructured play for kids = Increased demand for services
On-demand media and the rise of the Internet in the home have meant that kids are spending more time in the home than in past generations. Parents are more reluctant to let their children ‘roam the streets’ and find their own adventure, preferring more structured activities and spending money on technologies to both entertain and educate. This is feeding the demand for great kids classes and fuelling the growth of the kids activity market.
What does the next five years hold?
With children and young people adopting more advanced technology at increasingly younger ages we should expect to see this impacting the kids activity sector in a number of ways. We’re already seeing an increase in computer and technology-based activity classes, with parents keen for their children to learn coding, computer literacy, as well as online safety. With more advanced communication available through mobile devices, we already see adult classes using video, audio, and images to deliver online courses, and the futurist can imagine how some of the more progressive technologies, like Virtual Reality might be used to capture the imagination of young people. Imagine kids using virtual reality headsets to take a virtual yoga class with children from the other side of the world. This technology already exists.
The biggest risk for this sector, if it doesn’t embrace future technology is that parents will take their business elsewhere if their entire customer experience isn’t satisfactory. Simply delivering a great class isn’t enough anymore, people increasingly expect more.