Clean Toilets Equals a Massive Competitive Advantage

The other day while visiting a washroom in Kenya (you know, nature called) I saw a laminated newspaper article attached to the wall about how important clean washrooms are to a country…

Maybe you are thinking along these lines – how can clean washrooms, while important for hygiene, be an indicator of business success?

Here’s the answer – the man writing the article asked a high-level Singapore official how Singapore’s companies would be able to compete in a world of countries whose companies have greater access to low-cost labour (as in China) and cutting-edge innovation (as in the USA). His response was to ask: “have you seen our toilets at Changi Airport?” The writer said he had, and that they were spotless. He nodded: “that’s our competitive advantage”.

I would say that it boils down to – how you do one thing is how you do everything.

Everyone always looks for the big bang – the BIG project that will elevate their business or their country. This person has rightly pointed out that if you cannot maintain clean washrooms, how do you expect to maintain larger infra-structures?

Said another way, in business, if you cannot get the little things right, how are you going to get the big, important things right?

Looking at it from yet another angle, it goes like this, the human brain makes linkages in evaluating things at lightning speed (for right or wrong). When you observe a business getting all the little things right, you make a lightning speed evaluation that they MUST be doing the things you don’t see in a good way too.

Here is a list of little things for all businesses…

How the Phone is Answered

How many rings on average when a customer calls does it take to answer the phone? Three? Four? Sorry to tell you but that person is already ready to hang up and go somewhere else. Answering – always – on the second ring is key.

Do you screen calls? If so, why? Do you like it when YOUR calls are screened calling a business? Oh, and the best part is when they come back and say, “so and so is busy and cannot take your call right now after they screened you”! Makes you feel special, doesn’t it?

What words are used when the phone is answered? Do you have consistency (i.e. a system) or does everyone answer it in their “own” way?

How do you end your calls? Do you wait for the customer to hang up first in case they have a last minute request? If not, why not?

How are Customers Greeted When They Enter Your Office or Store?

Is eye contact made, smiles given freely, a kind word or two spoken, as in “welcome, feel free to look around, thank you for coming…” or something like that?

Do you have anything to offer them if you run a professional office (or a service shop like car repairs)? And, here I don’t mean coffee in a Styrofoam cup. I mean nice mugs with real spoons and served with flair. I mean coffee and tea that is even better than a $6 latte at a high-end café.


How clean are your premises? Cobwebs visible anywhere? Messy desks? Oh, and of course how are the washrooms?

I know of a dentist in Australia, Dr. Paddy Lund, who had colognes (for men), perfumes for women and other toiletries in his washrooms!

Are your signs clean and readable? How are the floors?

How Do You Write Emails in Your Company?

Anyone who follows my Blog knows how impassioned I am about the atrocious, impolite, blunt (rude?) emails that people write in the USA/Canada.

No one would talk to people the way they write emails and that is a good rule of thumb – write your emails the way you would talk to a person face-to-face that you really respect.

In our company, if you took a random selection of emails and removed the signature at the bottom you would have a very, very hard time figuring out who actually wrote them.

Are they robotic? Nooooo, they are all polite, kind, connective, upbeat, and professional.

Competitive Advantage

I will assert as I have said many time before that when you get these little things right – and consistently, like a habit or ritual, then you will really be a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t believe me? All else being equal (for instance, you are not in a dying industry, or trying to sell air conditioners to the Inuit people at the North Pole) implementing a system of consistent “little things” will propel you to the top.

Be uncompromising about it. Let your people be themselves in all other ways, however, do not compromise on how emails are written, the phone is answered, customers are greeted, the washrooms maintained, and so on.

These things are usually a small cost too, so tiny compared to the advantage they give you. Yet so many times entrepreneurs are looking for financing or mega-projects or the ONE BIG IDEA for their business. And, they forget to be ruthless, absolutely ruthless, and uncompromising in the little things.

When we implemented a special coffee (lattes, expressos, etc.) along with organic muffins and snacks in our former Victoria office when we were not virtual, we made sure that we served the coffee in nice mugs and with panache. We were told we had the best coffee in town – better than any expensive coffee company in the entire city!

And, here’s the key take-away – what did it cost us to make one large, special latte? Very little in fact – less than $1, and yet the lifetime value of the client far exceeded that!

So my challenge in this blog is for you to walk through your company as a customer, asking yourself, “would I be wowed by this experience? By the way the phone is answered, or the coffee served, or the overall cleanliness?” Ok, maybe your office is clean, but does it wow people if they went to the washroom?

Here is the article I read in that Kenyan bathroom in its entirety:

Thanks for reading…