Are Your Restrooms Ready?

From mystery shoppers to checklists, creating benchmarks for employees and evaluating their success can curb customer complaints.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

A Harris Interactive survey compiled in 2011 revealed that 94% of U.S. adults would avoid a business in the future if they encountered dirty restrooms.  And with foodservice infiltrating convenience stores at a rapid pace, you can bet the number of customers judging your entire operation based on their impression of your facilities is going to grow.

Down And Dirty
Think you’re clean? Think again. Cintas Corp. noted there’s a common misconception that cleaning and disinfecting are the same. Cleaning removes visible dirt, stains and other debris by, for example, wiping the sinks and washing surfaces with a multi-purpose cleaner. Disinfection, however, actually destroys viruses, bacteria, germs and other harmful microorganisms, using a chemical designed to kill bacteria. If both steps are not completed properly, surfaces might look clean, but germs could be lingering. To take your facilities to the next level, it’s important to keep surfaces not just clean, but also disinfected—especially if you have food at your stores.

Cintas recommends identifying all restroom touch points, meaning the objects customers touch on a regular basis, such as door handles, dispensers, etc.  At a minimum, these surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis to prevent the spread of germs. Meanwhile, areas in restrooms that users do not regularly come into direct contact with, such as the windows, might need more sporadic attention.

Such diligence is usually a task for store managers to organize, but corporate should create incentives and check points to ensure the requirements are being met and customers are happy.

Evaluating Success
Leo Vercollone, owner of VERC Enterprises with 26 c-stores in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, pulls out all the stops from customer surveys, mystery shops and district manager checks to evaluate and improve its restroom presentation.

“We’re not perfect at it, and we can do better, but it’s important to the consumer, so it’s something we work on continuously,” Vercollone said.

The company puts the onus on store managers to ensure restrooms are in top shape. As part of their opening duties, managers are expected to check the restrooms before they get bogged down in the other duties of the day.

“The first thing our managers do is to check the forecourt and then they go into the store and check the restrooms before they check gas prices, check their paperwork or before they do anything else,” Vercollone said.

But exactly how the managers keep restrooms on target is their choice from there.

“Managers manage in different ways. They know their personnel and methods that work with their team,” Vercollone said. “One-third of our stores have checklists in the restrooms where employees check off the time they monitored or cleaned the restroom. Other managers do different things, but at the end of the day it’s the store
managers’ responsibility, and they’re responsible for managing a number of different things, including the restroom.”

To ensure store managers are staying on target, district managers visit the stores an average of two times a week and also use a checklist to evaluate various aspects of a given store, including the restrooms. Twice a month, the company sends in mystery shoppers who are hired from outside the company to evaluate different aspects of the store, including the restrooms. “They look at things like supplies, overall image, cleanliness, whether or not there is debris on the floor, and they assign the store a grade,” Vercollone said.  

If mystery shoppers return with less than stellar results, VERC Enterprises will let managers know where improvement is needed and sometimes team them up with a store that is doing a superior job, for support.  

Improving With Upgrades
Like many chains that have extensive industry experience, VERC has a range of different stores. Some are 25-years-old and still have outdoor restrooms that get more abuse and have to be more durable, while others are newer with newly designed indoor facilities that require less care. Stores in Boston are usually tougher to keep clean given the large traffic volume, compared to locations in suburban southern New Hampshire, which are easier to maintain, all of which is taken into account when results come back.  

Just two months ago, VERC upgraded an older store that had its restrooms located outside. “Anytime we redo a store, we bring the restrooms inside. We have a store right now that is 30-years-old, and we’re hopeful we’ll get a final permit in the next month to redo that store, and so we’ll bring that restroom inside too,” Vercollone said. “As we redo them we’ll make sure they look new, clean and inviting.  We’ll tile a third of the way up the wall, if not the whole wall, and upgrade sinks and toilets and add more water efficiencies.”  

Customer Feedback
One of the most useful feedback tools Vercollone has found is using customer surveys. The chain just finished its sixth survey in two years, which can help it evaluate how the entire chain, as well as individual stores, are tracking over time.  

The chain hands out about 200 surveys per store. The most recent survey had more than 2,500 respondents. The survey asks a range of questions, from the survey takers’ age, gender and how often they visit the store, to the speed of service, gas pricing, and restrooms cleanliness, among other questions.  Shoppers grade the restrooms between 1-7, one being very poor and seven being excellent.  

“Typically, they grade our restrooms six of seven, which is excellent, and that’s probably about 80% of our customers. The next 15-18% grade us as average, and only 1-2% grade us as poor. So if we see a store that doesn’t do well, we’ll focus on it more, and if we have stores that do better we have a good thing going,” Vercollone said.

The Nitty Gritty
To assist your staff in getting high marks in customer satisfaction, Cintas recommended a regime of establishing and documenting cleaning procedures.
An effective cleaning strategy should incorporate a combination of spot cleaning, daily cleaning and deep cleaning methods. Cintas advised stores to schedule cleanings between peak business times to ensure restrooms are maintained throughout the day.

A regular cleaning checklist and properly training employees on procedures can drastically improve your chances of high marks from customers on cleanliness.
A small investment in products that will keep restrooms looking and smelling clean, such as air fresheners, auto flushes and urinal screens can also sway customer
perception of your facilities for the better.

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