Restroom Alert Blog - Customers Being Used to Discover Dirty Restrooms

Is Your Customer a Canary, or a Goose?

September 1, 2012 • Restroom Management

CanaryShould your customers be used as the first line of defense against dirty restrooms?

Coal mines of the last century often lacked adequate ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary into the mine with them. Canaries are especially sensitive to dangerous gases, and as long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary was the signal for an immediate evacuation.

In researching restroom inspection policies at chain stores and fast food franchises, I routinely asked clerks, waitresses, and hosts how often they were expected to check their public restrooms. Most would acknowledge that management had a “restroom check” policy in place that required the restroom to be routinely checked, whether it was every hour, two hours, twice per shift, etc.

What was amazing to me was that most of these employees would pause before ending their answer with the sheepish confession, “We really don’t check them… our customers usually will tell us if our restrooms need attention.”

Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds and the man who coined the phrase “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean”, would turn over in his grave in if he heard that unbelievable answer. After all, this is 2012 and the concept of companies “caring about their customers” and treating them with respect should be well understood by now.

What these naïve young workers are saying, without even realizing it, is that they are willing to subject a paying customer to a bad restroom experience as part of their “automated inspection process”. In essence, once they talk with a proverbial dead canary, it must be time to take action and service the restroom.

What they don’t stop to consider is just how many customers are having a bad experience. It may take ten unhappy customers before one bothers to interrupt a busy a clerk or chase down an on-site manager.

What’s worse, is that the clerk the customer is complaining to is probably the same person responsible for keeping the restroom clean and well-stocked in the first place. Many of these customer complaints may not even be reported to managers, much less franchise owners or corporate headquarters.

The challenge for these businesses is in teaching employees just how important it is for them to protect each and every customer relationship by being proactive in maintaining clean, well-stocked and fully functional restrooms. Perhaps customers should be valued like the fabled “Golden Goose” and not treated as an expendable canary in a coal mine.

What are your thoughts? Can the restroom monitoring process be managed with the right metrics, incentives, and training?


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