Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s President and CEO Toby O’Rourke highlighted the importance of taking care of the customer during her speech at the 2023 RV Industry Power Breakfast on Thursday (May 11) morning at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
A key industry event for RV manufacturers, dealers and other leaders, this year more than 1,000 attendees took part and O’Rourke highlighted the customer’s Camping Journey as she noted that 68% of new campers are lukewarm or unlikely to camp again.
“For the past couple of years, when I’ve been asked about all these new people camping, I have always said that there is going to be a natural drop off,” she explained. “Camping is not going to be for everybody, but I really don’t accept that anymore and I don’t think you should either. I want to know what’s not okay for those people who don’t want to camp again, so we can fix it.”
When asked, 32% of people who went on an RV trip for the first time said the experience was good or great. O’Rourke noted that it begs the question, What was less than OK for the other 68%?
“Here’s the problem as I see it, the reality is that camping is an easy choice, but it’s not always easy,” noted O’Rourke. “What do I mean by that? People didn’t want to stay in hotels and get on airplanes during the pandemic. They wanted to be outdoors instead of indoors and we know that a lot of people now are looking for flexibility since the pandemic and 72% of campers think camping is more flexible than air travel and hotels, it’s also affordable. Two-thirds of people feel camping is more affordable than hotels and airlines.
“Camping continues to show its resiliency for all travelers, not just campers,” O’Rourke added. “Over half think that camping is more affordable and of those people who already own RVs, 33% said they’re going to use it more than more times this year in place of other types of travel.”
However, O’Rourke noted that camping can be intimidating for new RVers as they learn how to drive/tow an RV, set up an RV, learn to start a fire, find a campsite…etc. She took attendees of the Power Breakfast through what she called the Camping Journey, noting that suppliers, RV makers, campgrounds, dealers…etc. all have a role to play in ensuring that a camper remains a camper.
She highlighted the ways in which people camp and that keeping people on the journey points them toward a path of RV ownership.
“We all share the customer in this lifecycle but just as we all share the customer, we can all lose the customer and we can lose the customer at any point,” O’Rourke noted. “They can have a bad experience at one part of the journey and then another part of the segment has lost that customer.
“Maybe the experience at the campground isn’t good and then we have lost a potential RV buyer,” she added. “Maybe they have a terrible RV service experience and decide to sell their RV, then we have lost a repeat camper. We all share the customer and we all lose the customer, and it’s important that we think about how we make it easier across the board. Otherwise, this isn’t a map of a camping journey, this is a map of exit ramps.”
O’Rourke then explored the idea of pain points in the journey that prevents the industry from retaining campers.
A few of the pain points that O’Rourke explored include:
- Only 23% of new campers said the sales team was helpful to them when first buying their RV and learning how to use the RV.
- In the discovery phase, a quarter of people don’t know where to camp or they think there are not enough parks that fit their style of camping.
- Two-thirds of people say packing, driving and setting up is a pain point for them.
- 35% say the quality of their RV and getting service on their RV is a pain point.
- Unpacking and cleaning are other pain points for first-time RVers.
“If we don’t smooth over these pain points, we are at risk of losing those 70% of people that are lukewarm about continuing to camp,” she explained. “We have to demand exceptional service at every point in the process. We have to make it easy to do business with us because our research shows that people who have a great first experience, over half of them are likely to camp again.
“I know we can increase that even more because if we can make the experience seamless, easy and less stressful, and they can focus on spending time with their loved ones and enjoying the outdoors,” O’Rourke added. “That’s the whole reason they went camping in the first place and that emotional attachment to their loved ones is going to get them back camping again. We see that as we talk to teenagers. They have such great memories of or great feelings of camping with their family and then as they become adults, they try to replicate that with their own family. If it is not easy though, they’re likely to drop off.”
Looking at solutions to these pain points, O’Rourke used a buzzword, customer-obsessed.
“Customer obsessed is being hyper-focused on the customer experience,” she noted. “It is a commitment to being customer-centric.”
She broke it down into a three-part outline, “Know. Improve. Measure.”
Know who the customer is and what their pain points are. 70% of new campers are Gen-Z or Millennials, so they are under the age of 42 and the average age of an RV buyer in 2022 was 33.
“We need to use data and invest in research to understand our customers,” said O’Rourke. “I have a lot of research but we have to go deeper and we have to get more granular on this new camper. Sometimes the best way to do it is through what we call ethnographies where you talk to people when they’re in the experience of using a product or engaging in the activity. How does knowing the age of the new camper change how we fix and identify these pain points in the process?”
She also looked at it from an accessibility point, noting that four in 10 campers say they have some difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
Improve products and processes. O’Rourke said that the research companies gather from learning about the customer can help them create products and experiences that match their desires.
“All of these pain points are ripe for innovation and they are also ripe for disruption,” she explained. “There are a lot of new companies starting up in this industry trying to address these pain points. We’re seeing a lot, for example, in the booking experience, trying to aggregate places for people to stay to make it easier for the camper to find somewhere to go.
“I would challenge you to think about how you can disrupt yourselves in the way that you do things,” O’Rourke added. “All of these pain points are also natural places for partnership. There are lots of ways within our ecosystem we can partner, for example, mobile technicians coming to campgrounds. I still think there is a lot to explore on the dealer and campground side.”
Measuring camper feedback is key. O’Rourke said it is important for everyone to be proactive about seeking out feedback.
“Go online and see what’s being said about you and also then respond currently to complaints,” she explained. “We need to move the dial when we measure customer satisfaction.”
O’Rourke touted how KOA has been utilizing the Net Promotor Score (NPS) which actively seeks feedback from customers and then gives companies a score on how they are doing.
“I like NPS because it’s used everywhere and it allows us to benchmark all parts of our business against maybe people we admire or other companies,” O’Rourke said.
She wrapped up her speech by highlighting that this is a call to action for the industry and that everyone along the Camper’s Journey needs to be customer focused.
“I think when we look at this from an economic standpoint, this is a powerful conversation to have,” O’Rourke explained. “When you reframe this and think about the lifetime value of a customer, imagine the impact of a single camping household. Campers, on average, will camp for 33 years and spend 11 nights, on average, camping per year. Imagine what that means when you look at the RVs they may purchase and the investment they are putting into camping. That number can add up pretty quickly.”