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Dale Dauten | The Corporate Curmudgeon

Quality of facilities is taken personally

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dale Dauten
March 23, 2008

"To do is to be." – Descartes
"To be is to do." – Voltaire
"Do be do be do." – Sinatra
Men's room graffiti

You might find wisdom on a men's room wall, but it's the ladies' room where you can find money.

That's the conclusion I came to after writing a column arguing that the restrooms tell you what a company really thinks about its employees and customers, a concept I called "The men's room doesn't lie."

Here I was, just trying to kick off a love/hate series on business products and services, and instead I cranked open the faucet of restroom resentments. I pass on a couple of the most entertaining responses, before getting to the larger business issue.

"It is absolutely insane how small they make the stalls for women. This is completely true: I nearly got stuck in a stall when I was eight months' pregnant. It turned out I had to go out backwards, the way I came in, because if I tried to stand next to the toilet, I couldn't open the door wide enough to get out." – Jane Morrisson

"Don't even get me started on the automatic air-freshener thingies. They make me gag just thinking of the ‘wonderful' tutti-frutti or explosion-at-a-cheap-florist scent that comes misting down on my head every 3 minutes." – Faith Senie

OK, here's the bigger issue. Bad restrooms aren't just annoyances; they are a kind of antimarketing, especially among women. (Nine out of 10 responses I received were from women.) Listen to these examples, then we get to the even bigger issue:

"One item that ought to be banned from any company restroom is that annoying toilet-roll stop, which allows you only two precious squares of paper before cutting you off. It does not cause us to stop at two squares. It does cause us to spend additional time in the restroom (time that would otherwise be spent working, shopping or whatever activity brought us into the building), cursing you as we wrestle out a sufficient amount of paper. Let me add that encountering this set-up in a company you work for is like having the CEO flip you the bird on a daily basis." – Tara Davis

"My company is planning a Connecticut River cruise. I am handling arrangements with the cruise company and, as part of my due diligence, I toured the boat, and I did indeed ask to also view the restrooms – for the very reasons you cite in your column. They passed with flying colors." – Mark Zampino

It's no wonder that there's a book called "Skip to the Loo: Bypass Big-Ticket Advertising and Build Business With Better Bathrooms," by Linda Wright. She also keeps a useful website at skiptotheloo.com. Her interest started when she redid the restrooms at the photo lab she owns. Although the remodeling cost just one-third of her monthly bill for a Yellow Pages ad, she discovered that it did something no marketing effort had accomplished – customers thanked her, even hugged her. They tell her they bring friends in to show them the restroom, and plan their shopping around a visit to the store.

And even beyond marketing, get this, from Marie Moran: "When I graduated, I had two major job offers. They were pretty much even with respect to the job, but I made my decision based on the cleanliness of their restrooms. Believe me, that did not go over well with my peers (fellow engineers who are focused on their work and could not care less about creature comforts)!"

She went on to point out that the company with the lesser restrooms folded within a year. She added, "I firmly believe that the quality of their facilities – restrooms, plant floor, offices, etc. – says quite a lot about how well they value their staff and care about their perception to the general public."

And that brings us neatly to the bigger issue here: When it comes to customers or employees, there are no small issues.

When customers and employees see your restroom, website, phone system, waiting room, or product-return counter, they are seeing a picture of what you think of them.

People will notice and will take it personally. The one conclusion we must reach is that conclusions will be reached.

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

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