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DALE DAUTEN | THE CORPORATE CURMUDGEON

Restrooms reveal a lot about a company

(istockphoto)
Email|Print| Text size + By Dale Dauten
February 3, 2008

A conversation between a hotel owner and his just-arrived guest, from the BBC series "Fawlty Towers," a sitcom set in Torquay, England:

MRS. RICHARDS (standing next to the window): And another thing: I asked for a room with a view.

BASIL FAWLTY (making a show of inspecting the view): This is the view, as far as I can remember . . . Yes . . . Yes, this is it.

MRS. RICHARDS: When I pay for a view, I expect to see something more interesting than that.

FAWLTY: That is Torquay, madam.

MRS. RICHARDS: Well, that's not good enough.

FAWLTY: Well, might I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The hanging gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically . . .

MRS. RICHARDS: Don't be ridiculous. I expect to be able to see the sea.

FAWLTY: You can see the sea. It's over there between the land and the sky.

MRS. RICHARDS: I'd need a telescope to see that.

FAWLTY: Well, might I suggest you move to a hotel closer to the sea. Or preferably in it.

Trivia (or is it?) question: What is the question most often asked of casino employees? I'll give you a minute to think. It's "Where's the restroom?"

I learned that from Gary Loveman, the chief executive of Harrah's casinos. But that fact wasn't trivia to a great businessman like Loveman; no, that fact came to him as part of a campaign to improve customer loyalty - he wanted to better understand the interactions between his employees and his customers, and so he needed to know what those interactions consist of, in order to improve them.

And I want to go further today and offer up this IBP (Important Business Principle): The men's room doesn't lie. I know that sounds like the title for a Senator Larry Craig biography, but in this case it's a principle of customer service. I believe you can tell a lot about an organization from its restrooms.

Nobody makes a profit on the restroom. (Although an amazing restroom can be a marketing tool - there are photos at urinal.net. That's right: urinal.net.) In fact, it's because the restroom is NOT a profit center that it serves as a measure of how much the company cares about its employees and/or customers.

What got me thinking about the company restroom was deciding to start a series I'm calling "Love/Hate." The point is to congratulate those companies that come up with terrific products and services, and ask more of those that produce detestable ones. And the company restroom is a good place to start. Specifically, I'd like to publicly thank all those managers who have installed a Georgia-Pacific enMotion paper towel dispenser.

I'm sure you've encountered these kindly little devices - you wave your wet hands in front of it, and it hands you a paper towel. I don't know about you, but I don't want a human to do the towel-handing. I'm not looking for conversation or companionship in the restroom, and to encounter a men's room attendant is to encounter the deficiencies of capitalism. So, the electric dispenser is lovably right.

Contrast the electric dispenser to those terrible little blower hand driers. I know they claim to be reducing trash and to be sanitary, but they fool no one - they exist because management doesn't want to be bothered with paper towels. It would be different if the blowers actually dried your hands, but of course they can't do it too well: If they got really hot, they might burn someone. So, you put your dripping hands up and you get what feels like the breath of an overeager Chihuahua. It is, in actuality, the breath of management indifference.

And let me add another pair. Don't you hate it when you're in a one-person restroom and the door locks via a push button? The problem is that as the spring ages, the difference between locked and unlocked is all but imperceptible, leaving you to wonder if someone, maybe even a senator, will burst in upon you.

On the other hand, let's give some appreciation to the management of those places that actually try to make the restrooms restful. My favorite is the San Diego airport, where the entrance to the restroom has glass blocks with a bit of sand and a seashell in each one. You know someone cared. Sounds trivial, I know, but the men's room doesn't lie.

If you'd like to join in with your own love/hate, let me know at dale@dauten.com.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at dale@dauten.com.

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