Crisp & clean to push profit -  7 tips on achieving customer loyalty through cleanliness

Most Saturdays my family and I enjoy going out for brunch. With young kids we like to eat at relaxed places, where noise levels are relatively high and we don’t feel too ashamed if the orange juice is spilled at the table. Luckily, such a café is close to our home. The servers are welcoming and friendly, yet every now and then I find myself promising never to return. The café simply doesn’t seem to be clean. 

The upholstery has holes in it, with crumbs stuck in all folds. The wobbly tables are chipped, the walls are stained and to reach the bathroom, you need to walk through the service alley in the kitchen. More often than not, the bathroom door stands wide open, mixing the smells of overly scented bathroom soaps and freshly brewed coffee. The bathroom itself needs a serious overhaul, as signs like this warm customers from potential injury or general malfunction:   

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Cleanliness is one of THE most important pillars of a customer service culture. From a customer’s perspective, if a business is not clean and well maintained, how can it be trusted to perform well in other areas that the consumer is not equipped to notice, such as food preparation? When any business is well maintained and clean, we feel at ease and comfortable. When we notice dust - we mistrust. 

The effect of cleanliness on customers returning to a business has been a much studied field. Cintas’ white paper “Becoming America’s Best Restrooms” explains that 95% of guests would avoid an establishment because the bathrooms were not clean. I assure you that this not only true for bathrooms, but restaurant tables, bar counters, ceiling fans and many more dirt catching items. 

Surveys show that in many businesses, from healthcare offices to restaurants and hotels, customers often equate their overall service satisfaction with their satisfaction for cleanliness (TWEET IT!). This means that if the environment your business offers is not clean and tidy, you will not be able to achieve top customer service scores! Rick Blizzard wrote a wonderful article about cleanliness in the healthcare field and shares some tips on how to improve customer satisfaction with cleanliness. I added his tips and some of Cintas’ findings to my recommendations here below:

1. Hire cleaning talent and reward quality. 

Housekeeping staff should not be viewed as a less important, entry-level position. Their performance is key to your business. Observe which housekeeper achieves best results and study what they do differently. Share this insight with the housekeeping team and incentivize staff that follows suit. 

2. Make cleanliness part of everyone’s job description.

Have you ever seen a Hotel Manager pick up dust or a dropped tissue off the hotel lobby carpet? The best hotel employees don’t turn a blind eye to stains or garbage and whenever possible, will take action right away. This leaves a positive impression on hotel guests and staff alike. Mention this expectation to all employees right from the get go. 

Should you run a smaller café or business where your service staff pitches in in bathroom spot checks, cleaning up floors when needed and other cleaning duties, provide them with their own rubber gloves (I love the fleeced ones!). Also, make sure you have sufficient new microfibre cloths available and the right chemicals!

3. Look at your business through the eyes of your customer. 

At a dentist or hair dresser, we spend a lot of time looking at the ceiling and are prone to notice spider webs, burnt out light bulbs and dusty fans. Restaurant guests may touch beneath tables and chairs and you don’t want them to feel anything sticky!

4. Cleanliness starts outside your business.

Especially this winter, with lots of ice and snowfall, I noticed every single business that shovelled snow and kept their door mats and shop floors as clean and dry as possible. My dentist (where I am new customer after switching from an old neighbourhood dentist due to lack of cleanliness) made the effort to produce white hotel slippers branded with his logo to encourage customers to exchange their wet winter boots for clean slippers. Regularly inspect your storefront windows for dead flies or dust and provide a proper umbrella storage option for rainy days. 

5. Understand the importance of cleanliness perception.

This point VERY IMPORTANT! The perception of cleanliness is as important as the actual cleanliness. No guest will measure your bacteria level. Perform acts of cleanliness in front of your guests, such as using windex on your front door to remove finger prints, wipe down table surfaces in your café or have the bartender polish glasses during low volume periods. Also, make sure that your restrooms smell pleasantly clean. 

The Cintas study mentioned above also showed that customers’ top four priorities related to bathroom cleanliness have little to do with them actually being squeaky clean: The availability of bathroom tissue, paper towels and soap, dryness around the sink and floors, floors being free from garbage and the actual functioning of all equipment are guests top four priorities when judging a bathroom’s cleanliness.  

6. Help your guests feel clean, too. 

I remember a stunning bathroom in a Hong Kong restaurant that was not only beautifully designed, but provided guests with high-end hand towels, luxury soap, hand lotion, hair brushes, hair spray and even cotton pads to fix your make-up.  

Keeping your business well stocked with cleanliness related supplies for your guests is key for for your business to be perceived as clean. Think about what supplies would help your customer feel clean in your space. Is your business much frequented by mothers with children? Having wet wipes available, empty plastic bags and hand sanitizer would be a great idea. Is it flu season? Consider handing out little Kleenex slim packs to guests with runny noses - your customer will be so appreciative. 

7. Create standards and a cleaning check-list. 

Once you have reviewed Points 1 through 6 and decided for yourself how each point applies to your business, write standards of cleanliness for each area of your business. Articulate in detail what action to take if something is malfunctioning, what supplies should stand where or how regularly each part of your cafe or restaurant should be spot checked. 

Provide your team with a cleaning check-list to ensure consistency and to communicate your expectations. 


I hope you found this useful! If you would like some assistance to revamp the cleanliness of your business or raise your bar on customer service levels, get in touch with me here