Impeccability Lesson from … The Public Restroom?

The Power of Anticipating Your Customers’ and Clients’ Needs

Restroom Sign

Have I crossed the line? Stay with me on this – Sometimes I just wind up finding customer service innovations in the most unexpected places.

I turned 40 a few months ago. I’m guessing most of my readers are of an age that you, too, recall the condition of public restrooms just a few decades back. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? It wasn’t so long ago that we had to turn faucet knobs ourselves and flush our own commodes. Paper dispensers often ran empty with no built-in method of restocking. We even had to walk away from the counter to find a wastebasket rather than just tossing our used paper towels into a large hole cut into the countertop solely for that purpose. And while that last example isn’t high-tech, it still goes a long way toward creating a more pleasant environment.

Making life easier for the customer

Dyson AirBladeA few years ago, I joined some friends for a comedy show at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Later, as we were walking through the indoor mall, a friend requested we wait for him while he visited the public restroom. A few minutes later, he came out excitedly saying, “Come in here! You have to see this!” Of course, I said, “No way,” having grown up with cousins and a brother that were – let’s just say – practical jokers. He insisted it wasn’t anything bad or disgusting; that I should trust him. He was excited to show me … are you ready … the Dyson Airblade. Have you seen this ingenious, touch-free hand dryer that uses forced air (like an “air-squeegee”) to do the work?

I must admit, it was pretty cool, and it got me thinking about how far public restrooms have come in making things easier and cleaner for us. Technology has helped to create an impeccable experience in a surprising place. Now even a lowly restroom can become so innovative that it garners attention.

Today we have the luxury of motion-sensor lights, faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, air fresheners and, of course, toilets. Many restrooms are fitted with baby changing stations, televisions, and some even have a complimentary supply of mouthwash, chewing gum, mints and an array of colognes.

Pay attention to the ever-evolving customer

So how do advances in restroom technology translate into better business practices? You must follow the example of these forward-thinking folks who outfitted their facilities with our comfort in mind. Indeed, one of the most powerful things you can do when engineering the customer experience, is to anticipate your customers’ needs. The days of merely offering satisfactory service or meeting basic client needs are long gone. Exceeding those needs must become your best practice. And even then, there is still more you can do.

Today, the habit that will set you apart and create remarkable client experiences is becoming an expert at anticipating the needs of your clients.

Have you noticed that many public restrooms now keep a waste bin near the exit? Many of us are using a paper towel to avoid directly touching the door handle upon exiting. Now a strategically placed trashcan is often there to collect our makeshift “door handle protectors.” (You’ve probably noticed that without that trashcan near the door, you’re likely to see a pile of used paper towels on the floor.) On a recent vacation, though, I noticed that one cruise line had taken this idea a step further with a simple solution. Mounted on the wall at eye level, just next to the exit door, was a tissue dispenser. Smart.

“Satisfied” is Passé

A satisfied client is not guaranteed to be a loyal client – there’s too much competition out there and your customers are armed with the tools (namely their keyboards) to tell the world how you’re doing for them. If you’re not proactively seeking solutions and anticipating clients’ needs, one of your competitors is bound to come along and figure out a way to wow them. Follow the cruise line’s example above, and take your customer service to the next level – give them what they want before they know they want it.

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I don’t want to be your “customer”

Acknowledging the Power of Your Words

In my early twenties, I managed a popular chain restaurant – a very successful company with hundreds of locations worldwide. I’ll always remember what our CEO said at that time…

“People are customers until they’ve chosen to enter [our restaurant], at which point they become guests.”

A simple word substitution can help to create a culture shift inside of an organization. Consumers (people) can be thought of differently – more favorably – simply by being thoughtful of the word(s) we use to identify them. Additionally, this can cause a chain reaction. When a patron hears her merchant referring to her as their “guest,” it feels different – much warmer than “customer.” Think for a moment of what each word implies — A “customer” can feel distant (cold) while a “guest” feels connected (warm).

When working with my clients, I advise them to eliminate the word “customer” from their company’s vernacular, if it feels appropriate for their industry to do so. Some recommended replacements are client, guest, patient, fan, or member. If none of these seem to fit, or you cannot seem to find an acceptable and appropriate alternate for your industry, consider using customer, but only as a last resort.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain


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