Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Flushing Away Enrollment -Bathrooms and Classrooms

As I have performed customer service audits at colleges, one area that is significantly important to our customers (students, staff, faculty, administrators, visitors……) – external as well as internal – is usually one the most ignored. This important area is the area itself and the actual services we provide within it. Too many colleges overlook or ignore the objective correlative and customer service aspects of facilities, grounds and how we use them to serve our customers – students and employees.

This was extremely well summed up by a student who said the biggest problems at his university were “classrooms and bathrooms”. The classrooms were poorly lit, hot in the summer which made people sleepy or cold in the winter so it was difficult to write with mittens. And, they were filled with furniture that neither fit the students nor the faculty needs. (More on furniture and how we use it later. For discussion on admissions and furniture, click here.)

And the bathrooms…!

Well, at this school, the easiest way to say it is students and staff probably would have preferred a shovel and an old Sears' catalogue to what they had in the bathrooms. The men’s room in the Student Union had holes in the wall, scratched, woobly and loose toilet seats that threatened to slip off, crude and rude graffiti covering walls and stalls and a general feeling of dirt and dust that pervaded the place. The women’s room was not much better, just no holes in the wall, but two fluorescents were out making it even darker than its usual gloomy, medieval chamber appearance.

From an enrollment and retention and retention point of view, these were killers. And though these may have been extremes, they are not that far off from most of the colleges I have worked with on customer service. Simply put too many schools miss the very important concepts involved with the Objective Correlative factor in enrolment and retention, especially in bathrooms.

Bathrooms are uniquely important to people. They are places where people can feel exposed and vulnerable. Because, well, they are more or less exposed. (To save space and explanation that may be too explicit for some, just think on it and emote.)

Bathrooms are essential and primary to students. At one school, a survey we did had as the top two problems, not enough challenging classrooms and too challenging bathrooms. When asked what they wanted dealt with first, students overwhelming responded the bathrooms.

At another residence hall school at which students were fleeing the dorms, students said they could deal with the cramped, old dorm rooms but not the old bathrooms and dingy showers. Some students said they would not even use them. They would actually forgo showers and take their gear to the newer student union and use the toilet facilities there and shower at the athletic facilities.

Staff and everyone else will judge a school negatively if they feel uncomfortable in a bathroom. If it is dark or dirty or littered; not good at all. If the faucets drip or the sinks are dingy, stained or ringed, bad. Lack of toilet paper – enough said! The stalls and commodes, well as Lenny Bruce had a convict say to a man on the way to the electric chair “Just don’t sit down”.

Studies and surveys of staff show a consistent level of dissatisfaction with working conditions that correlates with their rating of bathroom facilities. When we probed staff concerns at a school with discussion of a union among staff and middle management and asked what would staff change immediately if they could do so, one of the top three requests when bathroom facilities were rated as inadequate was “upgrading restroom facilities”.

College employees care about bathrooms at work as much as they do at home. And why not? Consider that actually more awake time is spent at the workplace than at home and you’ll start to catch on.

Tomorrow – some solutions and how to’s to make your bathrooms positive parts of the admissions and retention process.

AcademicMAPS has been a leading provider of retention, enrollment and morale solutions for students and employees since 1999. Its campus audits have proven to be extremely valuable tools for schools and colleges that wish to strengthen their positive customer service ratings. For information, contact us at or 413.219.6939

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