Entries in Operations (2)


The Terrible Truth About Toilets Part 2

 The Terrible Truth About Toilets Part 2

If you didn't catch Part 1, you can bring yourself up to speed by clicking here

In a recent article appearing in the Harvard Business Review, Vinod K. Aggarwal, asked a “high-ranking Singapore official” how that city-state planned to remain competitive against formidable competition from China (inexpensive labor) and the United States (innovation).

The official responded with a simple question,

“Have you seen our toilets at Changi Airport?” Aggarwal replied that he had indeed and “that they were spotless.”

“That’s our competitive advantage.”

Aggarwal continues the story:

“What did he mean? How is winning about clean toilets?

The point is that getting service processes right is difficult, and not many do it well. What is the differentiating factor that makes your goods and services more desirable than your competitors?”

In a world where your competitors may be larger, stronger, smarter, and have access to more capital than you – how will you compete?

Perhaps, as Aggarwal suggests, a hard look at managing your processes may be in order. After all, the Singapore airport is the 14th largest in the world, but China, India, and Thailand all have larger and more modern facilities.

Singapore simply does everything better.

Here’s the deal: We all seem to be searching for the silver bullet that will move us ahead of the pack. And once we get ahead, we have to work hard to stay there or risk becoming irrelevant.

We all want (and think we need) the latest and greatest gadgets, ideas, and products to do the heavy lifting, but the fact is that a sustainable competitive advantage may already lie within our reach.

We just have to learn to pay attention.

Details matter.

You know this to be true; it’s just common sense.

It’s not sexy. It’s not cutting-edge. It’s not rocket science. 

But that’s not to say it’s easy.

Your problem is that so many companies have already caught on.

You know who they are: Disney, Marriott, and Apple to name only three.

Disney is famous for the cleanliness of it’s parks.

Not only are they being cleaned and maintained constantly, Disney took steps long ago to make it easier for their parks to remain so.

Rather than budget for cleaning chewing gum from walkways, carpets, amusement rides, and bathrooms – they simply made the decision not to sell gum in the park.

Did that cost them some revenue? You bet.

Did it eliminate even more headaches? Absolutely. 

Bill Marriott was known to be a hands-on manager. A guy who “walked his talk”.

Many years ago, my father wrote to the Marriott hotel where he had recently been a guest. I don’t know what the circumstances were to prompt my Dad to actually complain – and complain in writing - but it must have been pretty bad.

He was expecting to get a cursory reply from the staff at the hotel (this is long before email) at best and to be ignored at worst.

To his surprise, the response came in the form of a personal hand written note from Bill Marriott.

Marriott apologized for the problems and took responsibility for them. A few days later, he called my Dad at work. He had tracked him down – there was certainly no work number in that complaint – to apologize again.

From that point on, my Dad was a Marriott fan for life.

Both of those companies are in control of their processes.

Disney is always thinking ahead to craft better experiences for guests and for staff. Marriott , by monitoring the complaint letterbox, did more or less the same thing. He also used those complaint letters as an early warning system of sorts.

That’s kind of the idea here.

You may not like the fact that your business, office, or facility is being judged on the cleanliness of its bathrooms, but it’s the truth.

Heck, today you can find entire video posts of public bathrooms.

Surprisingly, a lot of those videos are of restrooms that are well-maintained, sparkling clean, and state-of-the-art. I guess the bar is so low when it comes to public bathrooms that folks feel the need to share (and show off) the very best ones.

So I’ll put it to you again: Details matter.

You say you’re going to reorganize the company, but you can’t even organize your own garage?

You’re implementing the newest training methodologies at work and yet have trouble deciding what to do with all your old clothes in the overly full closet at home? You know, those outfits you haven’t worn in ….?

And how can you stand up and say that your company, facility, or organization is going to take the lead in customer experience, satisfaction scores, and market share when you can’t keep a simple toilet clean?

Trust me, you’re not fooling anyone.

Not your guests, not your customers, and not your employees.

Everyone knows where your priorities really are.

All they have to do is read a financial statement, an annual report, or better yet – take a trip to the bathroom.

And before you get all high and mighty with me, who are you anyway that you’re too important to clean a bathroom?

Are you more important than Bill Crawford?

More demanding than Joel’s Sargent-Major?

Can you afford to be less competitive than Singapore’s Changi airport?

Would it surprise you to learn that McDonald’s reversed a long-standing trend downward in profits by turning a keen eye back on details – like cleaning the bathrooms? And that those improvements led to a 45 month string of increasing net profits?

While you’re out searching for your silver bullet that will make (or keep) you competitive, other companies are realizing that operational excellence may just be the best path to sustainable profits now and in the future.

You’d better get with it.

Or the next sound you hear may be your reputation and your brand going down the toilet.