Lee University students pay via app for laundry

Lee University students can pay for washers and dryers to do their laundry via a mobile app. The school says it is saving money on the service. (Medlin)

Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, allows its 2,000 resident students to use a mobile app to pay for machines to wash and dry their laundry and to check whether the machines are available.

The only thing missing seems to be that students still must do the laundry themselves, but the app makes the chore a little easier. It’s also saving the college money, compared to using coin-operated machines previously.

“It’s definitely cheaper overall,” said Jarad Russell, director of resident life and housing at the university, in an interview.

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Students can use a credit card to pay through the app, avoiding the need to load up with quarters (or to carry a credit card) to insert into the machines every time they make a laundry run. The picturesque Lee campus has 11 buildings with about 75 washers and dryers. 

The university started using the app and a contract service on the machines in the fall 2019 semester through CSC ServiceWorks, a 90-year-old company with millions of customers using its laundry and related services in the U.S., Canada and Europe. The company’s connected machines initiative is fairly new, although CSC sees a fast-growing market for the concept in a variety of multi-dwelling units as well as college campuses, according to Brad Paine, chief digital officer for CSC ServiceWorks.

“We foresee a lift in usage. It’s classic IoT,” Paine said in an interview. The app allows users to get alerts when the equipment has finished a cycle and lets them extend a cycle. The service is designed to work with any brand of laundry machine and comes with electronics to let CSC monitor the health of each machine.

In the Lee example, each of the machines connects via Bluetooth to a router which connects to the internet via cellular, Russell said. 

Students appreciate the service, based on a survey that the university conducts each semester. Prior to the mobile app’s activation, 48% of survey respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with laundry service. After the first semester of its use, that number increased to 71%, Russell added.

The university chose CSC in May 2019 after a bidding process following the expiration of a previous service contract for washers and dryers. The university doesn’t own the machines and basically rents them from CSC.* CSC said its pricing is done on a case by case basis.

If a machine needs a repair, CSC does the work. Repair crews can be notified automatically if a machine doesn’t power up, but if a student thinks a dryer isn’t drying hot enough, he or she can notify CSC via a QR code on each dryer that activates a mobile phone connection, Russell said.

Russell said CSC has offered good service so far through a single point of contact. It also helped that CSC was large “with more techs and resources at a much lower price,” he said.

Other bidders for the university contract said they were working on apps similar to CSC’s app, but didn’t actually have them ready, he added. “We looked at competitors and the amount of money we’d get back was no where close to what CSC offered,” he said.

Lee University paid a small amount more to have the machines equipped with a connection to the app as well as coins and credit card activation just in case a student didn’t have a smartphone, he said.

“I’d be surprised if there was even one student who doesn’t have a smartphone,” Russell said.

* The original version of this story didn't include a CSC statement that pricing was done on a case by case basis.

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