But waitlist management does pose some logistical issues, and keeping your list properly maintained and updated is vital both to your enrollment numbers and to the customer satisfaction of the folks on it (even if some of those people aren’t technically your “customers” yet). Here are 9 tips for success:
1. Get a system in place: Whether you’re going old-school (paper forms in a binder) or new-school (an Excel spreadsheet), you must have a single, unified system in place for your waitlist.
2. Collect all the relevant info: Regardless of what system you use, here’s the info you should gather for each family on your list:
- Parent name, mailing address, phone number, and email address
- Child name, birth date, ideal start date, and requested schedule
- Any special needs/requests
- Additional relevant info (staff child, sibling or child of a center alum, etc.)
3. Organize your list by child age: As you well know, there are no general openings in most child care centers (unless you run a very small program) – spaces open up for specific rooms and age groups. Keeping your list organized by age lets you quickly match up open slots with children the right age to fill them.
4. Prioritize according to a specific set of criteria: I recommend giving priority to children of current families and staff, with everyone else being taken on a first come, first served basis. There may, of course, be occasional exceptions (for example, you’ll probably want to find a space for the granddaughter of your center’s founder!). But those should remain true exceptions.
5. Don’t reveal too much: Never, ever tell a family their exact place on the waiting list – the moment you do this, an unexpected contingency will come up that will come back to bite you. Similarly, don’t make promises you’re not sure you can keep. You can, if pressed, indicate the general likelihood (or not) that a space will open up during the requested timeframe, but avoid specifics until you are officially in a position to offer the space.
6. Set a deadline: You don’t want to be put in the position of offering an open space to a family and then left hanging about whether or not they’ll take it. Give them both a call and an email, along with a date by which you must hear back or you’ll move on to the next name on the list – a week is a good general guideline.
7. Review your list regularly: Make waitlist review a regular part of your routine – depending on how much turnover you have and how active your list is, you may want to do this every two weeks, or once a month. This will help you plan ahead and keep the big picture in mind as your current families move up (and out).
8. Stay in touch: I can’t stress enough how vital this is. Keep your waitlist families looped in by adding them to your newsletter mailing list, and/or establishing a separate email list specifically for those on the waitlist. You may also (again, depending on the size of your list) want to call or email every family on it about once a month, just to check in and touch base. This regular contact will make them feel valued, and will also help solidify you as their #1 choice if spaces open up for them at more than one center.
9. Keep the big picture in mind: Even when a waitlist family decides to attend elsewhere, ask if you can continue to keep them on your mailing list for news and activities. If you’re sending them useful, valuable information, they’ll say yes – and you will stay top of mind if their current placement doesn’t work out for some reason (it happens more often than you might think).