Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lighting as Customer Service on Campus

I have not written the past little while because I was in and out of the hospital with kidney failure. We now have it fully under control through dialysis and things are back to a new normal. So I am going to be writing the blog again and I hope you find it worthwhile. For this blog I am rewriting one of the most requested ones I ever wrote about lighting. Hardly a week goes by without someone asking for a copy of this piece so I am posting it again here.I should be back to new posts next week so stay tunes and let others know of the blog. Thanks.

September 11 is coming around again and this time it is a big commemoration anniversary. The event is going to resonate again and make some student feel uncomfortable and somewhat insecure or even unsafe  on campus. This is going to be especially so in the evenings when college #2 starts for adults. And we will add to this by making sure that we save money by losing students.

Or at least by decreasing lighting in an attempt to save money which in turn will make some students feel unsafe and not like coming back. People may not realize it, but lighting is a definite customer service objective correlative aspect that directly can affect retention.

Over the years I have studied customer service issues in colleges, and after an event that could make people nervous it is not surprise that students shared that anxiety. This is especially so for evening students.  Evening students are primarily adults who have experienced enough of life to know that hurt or even death can be an entirely random event. They get worried particularly in darker places; where the evil hides. The same levels of concern exist for resident students as for commuter students.

Over the years, I have found a trend among resident students to de­fine distance from home as a comfort factor. The closer the school is to their home, the safer they assume it is. In fact, resident students may even get a bit more careless about safety than commuting students but there is no way of truly knowing that since colleges still are bad at really reporting incidents and many commuter students report incidents to local police; nor campus security.

Leaving Students in the Dark
Commuter students consider a trip of more than 30 minutes in length an annoy­ance and a factor in choosing to attend one college over another. It is not distance but time in commuting that is  factor to look at for your commuting students. And like resident students, the longer it takes to get to campus, the further from home it is even if it just a few miles like for someone who commutes to class on Long Island’s parking lot known as the Long Island Expressway.

But student attitudes about distance to a college are not even close to how they feel about the walk from the car to the classroom.  If they arrive at a parking lot at night that is distant from their classroom and it is dark, many students will turn around and leave even if the class is not that far away but the way is dark. This is especially so if the walk is by a person by him or herself. By the way, this is true for resident students. Walking in the dark is not made to feel any less anxious for them   Students feel vulnerable and do not want to have to walk through a dark campus. 

Classes are starting up as the 9/11 anniversary builds and comes to a conclusion. It will bring back feels nervousness, especially is the campus is not well-lit. If this is the feeling that students have during their first week as night stu­dents, it is likely that they will withdraw.

Over the past decade and even more in the past two years, colleges and universities have become very conscious of the cost of electricity. To cut costs, college officials reduced the number and wattage of bulbs throughout the campus, especially in lobbies and hails. They also installed less expensive, but also less light-intense, neon bulbs and have become lackadaisical about replacing burned out bulbs. But schools need to realize that  what might pass as a romantic or atmospheric dark­ness in a restaurant may not produce the same feelings on campus. In fact I would suggest that darker halls, parking lots and campus pathways will be viewed as precarious and foreboding.

Let them see the light 
Over the years while checking on a school’s campus as customer service factor, I have seen students approach a lobby and hesitate to enter before scanning it. They also halt before entering a hallway to get to classes when the hall is not well lit. In an audit, I saw six students individually approach a weakly lit rear entrance of a classroom build­ing, look in, see no one else inside and wait for another person to come along before they would enter the hall. Four of six waited until another student came to the door and then entered together, and two left.

At one institution, I observed five cars enter a poorly lit parking area at night, circle it three times looking for a spot near one of the working lights and leave when they could not find a well-lit spot. Those that circled and stopped in a darker area, left their cars hesitantly and walked across the lot looking anxiously for any signs of danger.

I see the same reaction in students walking across campuses. Students will travel the brightest pathway and not go onto ones where lights are too dim or out. At one institution, a path was well lit until students entered an area where a dead bulb was not replaced. They walked up to that spot then left the walk to cross over an open , better lit grassy area to get to another walk 200 yards away.

The solution is easy.
Replace all light bulbs that are out. Increase wattage wherever you can. Keep lobbies, entry areas and all walkways well lit. If possible, increase the number of lights in parking areas.  And if possible, offer escort services to all your night students.

The author Dr. Neal Raisman is the leading presenter, researcher and consultant on customer service for retention in colleges, universities, community and career colleges in the US, Canada and Europe. He and his associates have provided retention solutions for over 300 schools and businesses that want to work with higher education. Dr. Raisman is the author of over 400 articles and four books including his latest bestseller The Power of Retention; More Customer Service for Higher Education available from The Administrators' Bookshelf in hard copy and digital editions.


If you would like to discuss a retention issue or see if he has a time available to come to your school or business for a workshop, presentation or other retention solution such as a full customer servicing audit,
413.219.6939 or email

Friday, April 24, 2015

Caring is at Lreast 27% of the Battle

First an apology for not posting a new article recently. I have been distracted by a kidney failure issue that has taken most of my time and strength. But
now I am somewhat back t myself as I start dialysis and search for a volunteer to donate a kidney. Not much fun by the alternative really sucks so I need to do this and locate a donor kidney.

Anyhow, it was gratifying to see the results of a Gallup Poll of 30,000 students to try and determine what factors kept a student in school through to graduation. When reviewed it seems that most of the reasons students stayed were related to academic customer service as we have been talking about for some time now.

The main reason why students stayed was” I had at least on professor in (college) that got me excited about learning – 63%”. That is a professor has reached out in the classroom through great discussion and teaching or outside of the classroom with extra help or just talking to make students feel that the college is a good and exciting place to learn. The professor has delivered on of the most significant services available at the school- good teaching and likely reaching out to students to keep them involved and knowing the professor cares about them. Caring does count greatly in retaining students,

This leads into the next result “my professors at (college) cared about me as a person – 27%” of respondents. This number matches the one we got when we last studied why students leave school rather than this one’s trying to see why students stay in school.  Our study found  that twenty-seven percent of students left because they did not think anyone cared about them, the obverse question but both came up with the same result.    

These two items from the Gallup survey and our study of why students left again  evidence how the absolute importance of treating every student as a person with integrity, needs and a personality. They show how it is necessary to reach out to students and make them feel welcome and valued. You know, like one would serve a customer in a store, a restaurant, a hospital and any other place where the customer is wanted. Treat people right and they will come back.    

If this makes sense to you get a copy of From Admissions to Graduation or The Power of Retention by Dr. Neal Raisman, the international expert on academic customer service and retention.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Give Recognition to Get Excellence

When I was a dean of academic affairs at Lansing Community College (MI), we began every yearwith what I thought was a kind of hokey ceremony at the time.  I was a cynical liberal artist at the time grieving for my administrative art and montage of post-pre-avant garde modern - traditional learning symbologies (whatever they are.)

The college president Phil Gannon used to start the year with an ingathering of all employees. The usual parade of administrators started it all with our plans for the year and introductions of department chairs who introduced new faculty or staff. Yes, there was a time when colleges actually hired new faculty and staff.  Then he and Ron Dove, the Director of HR would hand out service pins to people.

This is what I thought was a bit hokey. To think that a service pin for five years of service would mean anything?  I mean if you want to make people feel appreciated give them more money. Boy was I wrong. If they had handed out checks the response would have been much more subdued.

They would call out that they were giving out pins for twenty-five years of service. Then they would call out the one or two people who made it to twenty-five years. The recipients would walk down through the auditorium to the applause of all the people there and receive a pin with a small diamond chip in it and a framed certificate. They would wait for all the recipients to be called to get their pin and framed certificate beaming as if they were Sally Fields and had won the Academy Award. “You like me. You really like me!”  Then they would be introduced as recipients of twenty-five year pins and everyone would clap, and whistle and stomp approval as they basked in their peer’s recognition.

This went on through twenty years, fifteen years, ten and five. The enthusiasm from the audience was retained all throughout what I now recognize as the pinning ceremony for employee engagement with the school. And to be able to recognize that the ceremony was the one thing between everyone and lunch yet no one made a move to the door during all the pinnings attests to how important this recognition was at the college.

Years later I was a president of a school that felt beaten down upon. The demands made on everyone were enormous and never seemed to be enough. Meet one goal and an even higher one was given to you. People just did not seem to be able to please corporate. This was a career college. Oh by the way, I have worked in every type of school there us so my experience and suggestions are an amalgamation of experiences and suggestions I make will apply to whatever type of school you, dear reader, are working in.

The people at the school did receive bonuses, cash rewards for meeting some set goals but the money never seemed good enough. Money just paid bills not the sense of value after all. Besides it was earned by meeting goals.

I decided to bring in recognition of service pins among other ways to build morale and recognize people. It took a while to design and choose just the right pins but it was well worth the effort.  We did not announce the ceremony when we had our monthly “Knowledge of the College” (another communication and engagement tool I highly recommend. It is like a convocation but monthly and brings people up to date and into what is happening at the school.) on Thursday afternoon.

Then Mel Lyons (HR Director) and I called one person forward and announced the first ever twenty-five year pin. The faculty member was overwhelmed by the recognition. She had thought no one cared and even knew of her contributions to the school. It didn’t hurt that she had recently been having some issues with a new dean of academic affairs who didn’t seem to care about the faculty member’s long contribution.

We could have shut off the lights and read from the beam of happiness the faculty member was giving off. Her bright joy would be repeated by everyone else we recognized that day and every year following. The people loved those recognition pins and were overjoyed when someone saw the school crest and a jewel on a pin and inquired about it. They really enjoyed saying how they had served the college for X number of years and we had recognized their service in a way that they could show off every day. And some did wear that pin every single day.

What I first thought was kind of hokey just may have been but it was also very meaningful to so many. It was also a very powerful way to show our appreciation and regain many more years of engagement in the school, and its students. Though they were not ever directly studied, I do believe they had a role to play in the college’s 14% increase in enrollment that year.

So, honoring employees in a way that was meaningful to them led to a major re-engagement in the school and students. I cannot recommend the recognition pins more highly. If your school is not doing a recognition ceremony yet, start one thus year and see even stronger engagement occur. Need any help with the pins or ceremony, just contact us. Be glad to help.
Buy a copy of The Power of Recognition or 
From Admissions to Graduation and get a copy of
Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition
through May 1, 2015 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mentoring and Saving Students

Since last week's post I haves been getting inquiries abut what I mean by mentoring so I decided to discuss it further.

Students need to feel they are engaged to and with the college. They need to have their social structure and support systems rebuilt while attending college so they have someone to lean on or go to in times of stress or need. They can go to fellow students for some information such as what professor to never take; what classes will fulfill requirements; which administrator cares about students and will try to help out ; etc. But there are many times when another student can’t help out or provide the support needed in the situation. These are the times when they might have asked a parent what to do but the parents do not understand the system and the school. So, they need a sort of collegiate parent figure – a mentor.

There is a reality rites des passage about college. It really does not come with a user’s manual though the FAQ’s recommended to help end the shuffle could fill the need. College is a strange environment that prior knowledge and experience including orientation do not prepare one for. There are new rules to learn.  Traditions and morĂ©s to absorb. A whole new way of life and a new lace to try and find one’s way around. In fact, college is a strange place not only because it is new and unique but because it seems to put all new students through a rite de passage involved in just finding one’s way around, finding a parking spot in time to get to class or just getting from one place to another on time. It is almost as if universities in particular put new students though a geographical hazing by having them find their way around campus without the use of helpful signs.  Signage on most campuses ranges from weak to non-existent.

There are administrative and procedural challenges and tests that are added on too just to see if a new student is really college material. In most schools for example, there is the rite/test of “find the advisor” which is part of the registration ritual. Students need to sign up for courses of course but to do so they must have them signed off from her academic advisor. But since it is the summer prior to the start of  classes, the advisors are quite often no9t on campus. The advisor might have office hours but since classes have not begun, the hours are neither posted nor the advisor in the office for the unposted hours. So the student has to work to find someone willing to sign off on the schedule unless of course she finds out from another student shuffled around the campus that the way to end the test is to just sign the registration form for the advisor. First, no one at registration checks for an actual signature nor would know the actual one if he saw it. Two, the advisor usually does not know what should actually be taken as well as another student who already passed this test and learned from experience. Or three, the advisor is found or another takes some pity on the student and signs off for the assigned advisor.

These processes do not help further the engagements between student and school. In fact, they initiate rifts between the two. The student begins to find that the school is not showing the engagement and caring that was promised and that he or she is “on my own”.  But this need not be the situation if the college engaged students with mentors. A mentoring system could also increase retention by approximately 84% of the total number of students who were mentored.

Most colleges assign a new student an academic advisor thinking that academics are important as they are, but not to the decision to leave. They forget about the major reason why students leave – the human element of attrition. But mentors can strengthen that attachment, the engagement at least at the beginning of the experience.  Mentors need not be drawn from the academic sector alone by the way. In fact, many students report that though faculty are a primary source of direct contact, many others report that they have found relationships in interactions with others who have reached out to them such as staff and administrators. With some training, everyone, from the president on up at the college can be a mentor if he or she is willing. This includes not just full time employees and faculty but adjuncts As well. It would be a very inexpensive investment to pay adjuncts for another fewer hours  of mentoring some students Keep in mind that students do not draw distinctions between full and adjunct faculty.

And every person at the school should be willing to become a mentor to students. Students are what everyone is there for after all. In fact, it is in helping students that members of the campus community really meet their goals. Helping the college reach its mission by helping students succeed and stay in school  provides most people at a college their reason for being and working at the school.  Moreover, a student completed by AcademicMAPS found that people work at a college not for the high pay and short hours but for the chance to be part of something bigger than they are; a chance to contribute to the school, its students and a better future for everyone.

Tikun Olam
This is a version of a Jewish belief called Tikun Olam - to save the world. Tikun Olam realizes that every person is a world unto him or herself.  So to save a person, to make a person better is to better, to save the world. And that is what people in a college or university do. They strengthen each and every student, each and every world and in so doing, the people who work in a college have many opportunities to save worlds and make our world better as they do so. By engaging students as mentors, they are also engaging in tikun olam which gives their lives greater meaning and value. By doing so, they also better their own worlds as well as the institution itself.

For example, a university with a population of 2,575 students and 300 employees with an attrition rate of 81.1% that has its employees mentor 300 students has an opportunity to save between 300 to 252 student worlds. That could increase their retention rate by up to 14% which could also add $1,387,445 to the budget. And if employees were willing to mentor up to 8 students each, it could be possible to add to the retention rate by a factor of 67% which would be an amazing turnaround.

It is necessary of course to realize that not everyone is capable of reaching out to students in an appropriate manner to mentor students even with training which everyone should have before they do mentor. With this realization, it will be important to focus the mentoring effort on those who will most benefit. This calls for some realistic recognitions that can be guided by grades. Students who earn A’s have likely either already found an engagement in the school or will survive on their own.  Students who are failing will likely have a long road back and may not be “savable”. Thus the effort should focus first on students falling between the B- to D+ range for greatest retention payoff.