Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let's not forget the mensrooms

To be equitable, here are some shots showcasing some creative and funny mens' rooms.

Artist Clark Sorensen creates amazing, work-of-art urinals.
Image used with permission.

For more on bathrooms as public art, visit C.B. Whittemore.

Thanks to David Polinchock for the link to this story. This is from the Hotel Sofitel in Queenstown, New Zealand. See the video.

From ComicCon

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Where are the well-designed bathrooms?

As the Bathroom Blogfest swirls along, I'm excited to read all the other bloggers who are posting on the topic. Some are covering design, like C.B. Whittemore, while others are reminiscing, like Reshma Anand. Susan Abbott offers a quiz, while Sara Cantor and Maria Palma are in the bathroom confessional. Linda Tischler asks, "Would you let your wife pee here?" And, a tip of the auto-blow-dryer to David Polinchock and Seth Godin for showing that guys care about bathrooms, too.

Unfortunately, in my quest to cover this topic I have not been able to find more than a few examples of truly great design. I'm not talking about cool interiors, which I will cover later. I mean, good design that serves the function. I still have hope that they are out there.

I made a special trip to get this photo. At the Fashion Valley AMC movie theater in San Diego, they have this clever design for the sink/soap combo. The soap drips onto the shelf that is easily cleaned, while the extended bowl catches drips from your hands while reaching for the towels. It’s very smart. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, not even another AMC theater. It seems like this fixture designer solved this problem once and for all. Why hasn’t this been adopted as the solution?

This photo comes from Kathy Johnson, Manager of the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum.
“Parents and children alike are pleased with our kid-height sink in both the men's and women's restroom. Kids feel like it's their space, and parents don't have to lift a child up to reach the higher sinks.

Also, while auto-flush toilets are a convenience, many children are frightened by them. Since children are our primary audience, we chose to go with manual flush. I've actually heard moms coaching reluctant children into the stalls with promises that it will not flush until they are out.”

If any builders, architects, or designers are reading, please, please, please include hooks (every time), locks that lock, and shelves. Choose toilet paper (or seat cover) dispensers with flat, not rounded tops.

Women always have stuff with them: purses, bottled water, cups of coffee, shopping bags, whatever. No, we don’t want to move in. But we do have items that we’d rather not put on the ground. And I hear that men would like a hook as well; they’d like to hang up their jacket or hang their carry-on bag at the airport, rather than putting it on the dirty floor.

At Jungle Roots Children's Dentistry in Chandler, AZ, this unisex bathroom includes a sturdy stool and a diaper pail under the sink for parents. While not a design element per se, it adds a thoughtful touch for their target audience.

Tip of the day: Have women review your bathroom, especially during the design phase, and work with the builders to make sure that those simple, thoughtful items like shelves and hooks get installed. Have maintenance check regularly to make sure that the locks line up, as many times the stall door won’t actually lock, rendering it useless.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Calgon, take me away

The bathroom can be a haven, a tiny retreat, even an elegant, luxurious experience. None of the bathrooms I’ll be showing this week are exorbitantly expensive, so all the ideas can be applied to your site.

Heaven Sent Desserts in San Diego has a very clean, upscale, and more masculine style than one would expect in a dessert shop. The bathroom continues the design elements from the rest of the store. I do feel that they missed an opportunity to add “heavenly” or “dessert” images in this restroom, but give it high marks for the finishes.

The City of Austin, Texas has a vibrant public art program in their airport. This permanent art installation made clever use of the mirror. You see a lot of different types of amenities when traveling. When traveling outside the U.S., the bathroom experiences vary widely. Here are some highs and lows:

Everywhere you go in Bali there are flowers. Arranged daily, as offerings to the upper and lower gods, decorating the temples, the taxis, even the bathrooms. Even in a modest restaurant, someone took the time to decorate the bathroom with a fresh flower arrangement like this every day.

When I traveled in Sichuan, China, we had a wide variety of restroom experiences, most unpleasant. This incredible view was taken from the window in a loo consisting of a basic concrete slab with a hole in the floor that flushed. Location, location, location!

When we got to Jui Zhai Gou National Park, we were amazed by the Sanitary Toilet Buses. Not only did they smell fabulous, but sitting down (instead of squatting) was a nice treat. Not great from a global environmental perspective (all that plastic), but certainly notable.

Tip of the day: At the very least, your bathrooms should be incredibly clean and well maintained. Nothing leaking, chipped, or dripping. Adding special artistic elements or incorporating a view can upgrade a bathroom, even if you don't fully theme it to your business.

Be sure to read the other bloggers (linked at right) for additional posts on ladies rooms all week.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bathroom Blogfest Begins

When I’ve told people about this on-line event, women nod their heads, laugh, and tell me stories about great or horrible bathroom experiences. Some send in photos.

When I’ve told men, I’ve gotten either silence, blank stares, or “you’re a weirdo” looks. One guy told me, “Men don’t 'get' bathrooms the way that women don’t get the Three Stooges. After all, we pee on a cake of soap every day.” (I assume he's talking about the deodorizing cake found in the bottom of urinals.)

Why should we care about bathrooms? Bathrooms are a universal experience, one which every human being needs several times a day. They can be exceedingly pleasant, or exceedingly icky. Bathrooms tell customers, “We care,” or “We don’t” in big, neon letters.

At their best, bathrooms can extend your brand and your business theme. Adding that extra attention to detail is what sets your experience apart from all the other experiences your customer (or museum visitor) has had. They can be fun, they can be thoughtful, they can even be educational.

At their worst, they can downgrade an experience, leave a poor lasting impression, or prevent a customer from ever setting foot in your establishment again.

This week I’ll be posting about pleasant experiences, good design (all too rare), brand extension, using the opportunity for education, and the Stall of Shame.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Details, details

At a recent hotel stay, I was surprised and delighted to discover these little tea boxes instead of the regular wrapped bags.

On the back, "Great Things in Small Packages. The T-box Revolution is our award-winning single service box with one Infuser Bag tucked inside. Each box is a unique tea gift."

Tip of the day: Upgrading just a single aspect of your offering, like this tea, can make all the difference in how the customer perceives your overall experience.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Planting a seed, with cupcakes

I recently stopped into a new business in San Diego called Heaven Sent Desserts. Unlike a lot of dessert shops (and I've visited my share, like Miette Pastries in San Francisco), it has a clean, masculine look that's unexpected and appealing.

They have lovely displays of treats, as one would expect.

But this caught my eye: "Tea party cupcakes"

Now, doesn't that send you all kinds of images with a simple sign? Little girls, or grown-up girls, or teddy bears, or a special birthday party... just three words.

Tip of the day: If you can create an image for your customers that they can step into, you have already sold the product, because you've turned it into an experience.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Nice alternative to "pardon our dust"

My local chain drugstore was just sold and is undergoing a renovation. Here's the sign they put up.

What a terrific, common sense approach!

This sign is communicating with me, it's engaging me ("Oh, look, they've finished the shelving, what's left?"), and it's creating anticipation during a potentially off-putting construction process.

Tip of the day: Simple communication, especially about things the customers might complain about, can go a long way towards diffusing irritation. Done well, it can also turn a challenging time into a win for you.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Scrubbing up for the Bathroom Blogfest

My co-conspirator Susan Abbott has stolen all the good puns, so I'll refer you to her blog for a laugh as well.

Beginning on October 30, a group of female bloggers will be posting about ladies rooms and their importance in creating great customer experiences. If you have photos you would like to share, feel free to email me. Or, you can upload pictures to flickr using the tag "ladiesrooms."

We have bloggers from around the U.S. as well as Canada and India participating. I am looking forward to reading all their posts and am busily shooting photos around San Diego! I'll have links to the other bloggers available all week.

  • Susan Abbott Customer Experience Crossroads
  • Reshma Anand What I Do For A Living
  • Sara Cantor Curious Shopper
  • Jackie Huba Church of the Customer
  • Maria Palma Customers Are Always
  • Linda Tischler on Fast Company's blog FC Now
  • C.B. Whittemore Flooring The Consumer

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  • Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    The Florida Aquarium: Inviting guests in

    The Invitation is the 1st step in my 8-step process for creating great customer experiences. I posted about the Tampa Museum of Art's Invitation, which was less than fabulous.

    Let's contrast that with the Florida Aquarium's Invitation, also in Tampa.

    When you arrrive at the aquarium the first thing you see is this beautiful, large sculpture, which also serves as the perfect photo opportunity. Photo ops like these are important because they create a sense of authenticity for people's photos, increasing the sense of connection to your location. If there is only one place in the world this photo can be taken, right here, in front of the Florida Aquarium, it makes that picture more valuable because it's authentic.

    The bright colors and welcoming images warm up these otherwise imposing pillars, setting the stage for a great experience inside.

    Arrows invite me in, making it clear where I'm supposed to go.

    Tip of the day: Creating a unique photo opportunity can set your business apart. Anything that creates a connection between customers and your location strengthens your brand. (This is called "brand attachment" and "place attachment," in consumer psychology lingo.)
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    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Want to know what your customers are doing? Follow them!

    In today's San Diego Union-Tribune, there is an article featuring my friend and colleague Nancy Owens Renner conducting visitor studies in the new "Fossil Mysteries" exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum. While there are many ways to find out what your audience is doing, tracking and timing is one of the most detailed.

    Tip of the day: Retailers hire consultants like Paco Underhill of Envirosell to conduct the same kind of research: to learn where customers stop, what catches their attention, and why they do, or don't, purchase items. Underhill's highly entertaining book Why We Buy is definitely worth a read.
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    Friday, October 13, 2006

    What's wrong with bathrooms?

    Later this month some other female bloggers and I will be writing about the importance of the bathroom in the customer experience. If you have stories, and especially photos, of examples of great bathrooms and poor ones, please email me. I'd love to include your ideas! Just click on the email link to the right.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    More on Step 1: The Invitation

    The first step in my 8-step process for creating great customer experiences is called the Invitation. The Invitation begins before your customer (or visitor, client, guest, or patient) leaves their house. It includes your Web site, and any advertising or marketing you do.

    It also includes directional signs to help them drive to your parking area.

    Street banners are an inexpensive way to invite people to your site, like this one for the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, CA.

    If you have a dedicated parking lot, theme your signs to match the rest of your business communication, like they do at Central Market in Austin, TX.

    Tip of the day: Every piece of your business communication should be coordinated. Think of your customers as guests you are inviting to a party, and plan an Invitation that will get them to your door.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Do we train our customers to expect the worst?

    That's what blogger Susan Abbott thinks in her brilliant post. Don't miss it.

    How are you inviting people into your business?

    I've spent the last two years developing a process that business owners can use to analyze their customer experience in 8 steps. The process walks you through a customer's visit from start to finish. The first step is called the Invitation.

    Let's walk towards the Tampa Museum of Art.

    From across the street.

    At the crosswalk.

    Underfoot at the front plaza.

    This maze of fencing is confusing.

    Finally at the first title sign, but still nowhere near the entrance. See that dark rectangle? That's the door.

    This enormous, cracked, and peeling front plaza sits atop the parking garage. When it was designed it was probably hailed as minimalist modern architecture. But I was exhausted before I even got to the front door!

    (This museum, which opened in 1979, is looking for a new home.)

    Tip of the day: While it's tempting to follow the lead of a designer who wants to make a statement, make sure that you keep your customer in mind and design what's best for them. There are plenty of designers trained in "user-centered design" who can create an Invitation to your business that welcomes people in.
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    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Home Depot adding staffers, part 2

    I got this response to my post from Home Depot itself:

    I just wanted to get back to you regarding the training we have in place for our associates.

    The Home Depot is committed to training in a number of ways. Every associate has a prescriptive position-based curricula for their first year in position. This curricula begins with Orientation that focuses on our history, culture, and values. The curricula continues with ‘Before the Apron’ courses that teach the importance of excellent customer service and the product and procedural knowledge specific to their department. Associates continue to receive product and project knowledge training as well as advanced sales and service courses throughout their first year in position. Delivery methods include instructor led courses; web based training, and self-paced on the job training. Beyond the associates first year in position they continue to receive training on new products and applications as well as refreshers on seasonal products and projects.

    Hope this helps in answering your questions. Thank you.

    Ron DeFeo
    External Affairs
    The Home Depot

    Well, readers, I'm curious. What do you think of this corporate response? The two links are a blog by someone who works for Home Depot, and a real estate article that mentions the training in-house designers get at places like HD.

    Just today, John Moore of Brand Autopsy posted about training at the Container Store.
    "New Container Store employees are given more than 240 hours of training in their first year compared with the industry standard of 7 hours of training per new employee."
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    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    An authentic restaurant in Tampa

    On the recommendation of my Hooters' Trolley driver, I had lunch at Spain Restaurant in Tampa. What a great example of authenticity and attention to detail!

    Colorful banners, set perpendicular to the building, entice walkers and drivers.

    Euro lettering sets the tone.

    Designed by architect Ken Garcia, the only colors are those of the flag of Spain.

    Light fixtures and chairs finish the look, which sets off the fantastic, affordable food.

    My lunch. Que bueno!

    Tip of the day: You don't have to spend a fortune to create authenticity. But you do have to think through every detail.
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    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Be careful what you wish for

    More and more companies, musicians, and other artists are tapping into what's called social networking. If you're not familiar with this phenomenon, examples are flickr, where people can share their photographs with the world, YouTube, where people share their videos, and del.icio.us, where you can share all your bookmarks.

    As I mentioned in a previous post about Comcast, these new tools also expose companies faster to the world than ever before, so we need to make sure we are being authentic in our business practices. What happens when a company who isn't aligned decides to run a contest for people to make their own ad? Take a look at the "unauthorized" submissions for the Chevy Tahoe ad contest.

    Thanks to the Design Observer for this link.

    Tip of the day: It's great to get your audience involved in your company and products, but think this through carefully. Any skeletons in your closet will be found and brought out to dance.
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    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    Who "belongs" on an airplane?

    This isn't a post about passenger profiling, in the usual sense. On my recent trip to Tampa, I noticed a man sitting in the row opposite wasn't wearing shoes. I didn't see him get on the plane. Was he wearing shoes when he walked on? I wouldn't normally have noticed this; many people take off their shoes to relax. But, had I seen him on the street, I would have assumed he was homeless, as he was very thin, his clothes were shabby, and he was dirty. His feet looked like he went without shoes as a regular thing. And I realized how unusual that was on an airplane.

    It got me to thinking about Southwest, and their business model of making travel affordable for everyone. They have taken the notion of "Flying for peanuts" and "You are now free to move about the country" and changed the face of flying. This man in past years would have been on the bus, or hitchhiking.

    Here he is after arriving in Tampa, Shoeless Joe.

    It's not just about being able to afford to fly. It's the whole idea of being comfortable flying. Southwest has shifted the comfort level of people and airports, made it classless. While I am honest enough to admit he made me a little uncomfortable, "How had he gotten through the airport?", "How did he afford the ticket?", I also realized how exciting it is that air travel truly is available to nearly everyone in the U.S., thanks to carriers like Southwest.

    In the museum field we talk about opening up our business to many audiences, and creating places that are comfortable for all types of people we want to serve. But Southwest has gone and done it. Just ask Shoeless Joe.

    Tip of the day: Take an honest look at your business. Have you created an atmosphere that is comfortable for everyone you want to serve?

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