Thursday, September 02, 2010

Lights as Customer Service

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

No comments: