Why Starbucks Had No Restroom Soap

Why Starbucks Had No Restroom Soap

First, I apologize for using a restroom case study as a segue to a leadership discussion.

You are at a restaurant, you enter the restroom to wash your hands before the meal, but find the soap dispenser is empty. For me, as most would feel, I am left irritated and think this restaurant does not have its act together. When this very incident happened to me recently at Starbucks—one of the most successful companies around the world—I had to stop and ask why.

While as a customer, not having soap in the restroom is unacceptable, as a leader, I can identify with the problem. We are too busy running our business to pay attention to the little things that may annoy our customers. But I also know that enough “little annoyances” will turn people away to a competitor. As these thoughts crowded my mind at Starbucks, my scornful thoughts quickly turned to personal examination as a business owner. I wondered where the gaps are in the organizations I lead.

Here are six mistakes that lead to these kinds of problems and how we can correct them:

  • We assume that nothing is irritating our customers. The manager of the Starbucks likely reviews sales reports at the end of the month, looks at the turnover rates of their staff, and considers other reports from headquarters. If they look good, he or she is likely to assume that the customers are happy and that processes do not need revisiting. After all, this is Starbucks. They have it down pat. We must not become complacent. Instead, we should always ask, “What can we do to better serve our customers?”
  • We never ask or investigate. Even when we know there must be something we can improve, we don’t have a system in place, a person in place, or the right culture in place to try to find out what can be improved. Why? We are too busy running the business or growing the business, and we forget one core element: the customer.
  • We shift the responsibility onto the customer. I am always amused when I see a sign in a public restroom that reads, “Call this number if the restroom needs attention.” Really? So you are asking me, as a consumer, to help you with your process improvement? No. That’s not a good idea. As leaders, we must think of ways to improve our processes before the consumer experiences poor quality. The idea in proper management is to solve or prevent problems, not to wait until it happens, then expect our customers to notify us.
  • We don’t attempt to fix problems. Many times, as leaders, we know there is a problem, but we are simply incapable of addressing it. We fail to muster enough resources to fix the issue. We have no interest, we have little time, or we lack the emotional capacity.
  • We have tried several times and don’t think we can resolve it.  As with any problem in life that we have tried several times to solve unsuccessfully, sometimes as leaders we just give up.
  • When we fix things, we don’t brainstorm. The solution I have seen for maintaining public restrooms, though not ideal, is to keep a log sheet of when a staff member was there to clean. In most restrooms where this method is in place, the log is not updated, and the restroom is dirty or missing supplies. Who came up with that solution? I imagine it was a quick meeting, without intentional brainstorming about how this problem could be solved. Gathering a group of creatives to solve problems must be part of our culture.

As I write this, I cringe a little, but admittedly feel a bit amused that I am about to publish a solution to keep all public restrooms of the world from ever running out of soap. Each soap dispenser could be connected to a large soap container, which is discreetly hung in a cabinet above the sink. When the soap container reaches a 1/4 of the way to empty, the manager is automatically alerted on their phone every 30 minutes until it is filled. By doing this, we eliminate the need for staff to remember to the check the bathroom and the result of customers having to notify the staff.

I share this idea not because I am a quality improvement expert, much less a restroom excellence expert. I share it to illustrate how, as leaders, we all (myself included) go about our day-to-day routines and ignore customer needs, even when they can be relatively easily addressed.

From now on, every time you are at a restroom where there is no soap, remember to stop and examine the processes in your own organization.

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

 

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