Lessons learned on a visit to the airport men’s room

By Jeffrey Gitomer

When I say the men’s room in the airport, what thoughts and words come to your mind? Dirty? Smelly? Grungy? Overused? Trash cans full? Empty paper towel machines?

That’s the picture I have just before I enter. And you have to understand, I’ve been using the men’s rooms in the Charlotte Airport for the last 15 years. I know what to expect.

I walked into the men’s restroom in concourse E of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. When I walked in, I saw a small table with a big bottle of mouthwash, little plastic cups, a bowl of chocolate mints, and a business card holder.

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Because one does not enter the men’s room without a mission, I completed mine.

I headed for the sink, and to my surprise, there was a hand dispenser of anti-bacterial soap. As I was washing my hands, the bathroom attendant (yes, they actually had an attendant in the bathroom) put two paper towels down on the left hand side of the sink. I glanced over and he smiled.

In the fog of “in the bathroom on a mission,” I had failed to notice any of the details. Now that I am at the sink, I begin to look around and realize that the bathroom is actually clean. It seems as though the attendant isn’t just serving people — he’s actually cleaning the bathroom at the same time.

On closer inspection, I realized the bathroom is actually spotless. Mind you, this is an airport bathroom – possibly the busiest bathroom on the planet. People streaming in and out.

As I am drying my hands, I see the attendant still smiling. A nice young man whose name badge is filled by his name – Mihreteab Mihsentu.

As I begin to leave, I see a tip plate on the same table as the mouth wash and the mints. The reason I noticed it is that it was full of money. A lot of coins, but mostly bills. My guess is approximately 50 one-dollar bills, and a few five-dollar bills.

I took one of the business cards from the holder as I left. The card was entitled, “How was your service?” The small print said: “Please let us know what you think about our trial restroom service program by calling [gave number] or e-mailing [and it gave an e-mail address].”

I was so excited to tell someone of my experience, I rushed out of the bathroom. WAIT. I forgot to leave a tip. I spun 180 and put a dollar on top of the stack.

I called the number on the business card to give my opinion, and in typical Charlotte airport fashion, had received better service in the men’s room than I did on the phone. A computer voice asked me to “record my comments.” I told them that it was the best thing to happen to the Charlotte airport in the last 10 years.

I live in Charlotte. Our “hub” airport is one of the least friendly, least service-oriented, and least technologically advanced airports in the world, let alone the country.

For years, I have recommended that all of the airport personnel take lessons from the skycaps – the friendly people who work for tips. Most of the people in the Charlotte airport, if they had to work for tips, would not earn a dime. Now I can tell people, if you want a great lesson in customer service, check your bags outside at the skycap or go to the men’s room.

FYI: The men’s room service is not run by the airport — it’s run by an outside company. Maybe that’s the reason that service is so friendly.

I asked Mihreteab, the smiling bathroom attendant, “How’s business?” He smiled at me and said, “Great!”

Now mind you, this is a guy who’s cleaning toilets and passing out paper towels. That’s his job. But because he was doing a great job, people were acknowledging his excellence and his service by tipping him.

Think about how many restrooms you’ve been in that were pigsties — where there was no pride among the people who cleaned them, and no concern by the management that caused them to be cleaned.

During the 15 years that I have been using the men’s room in the Charlotte airport, the cleanliness level has been somewhere between low and unclean. As soon as they created an enterprise, as soon as someone could earn based on their work ethic and their excellence, the bathroom went from dirty to spotless.

The airport wins, the customer wins, and Mihreteab not only wins, but he puts the money in his pocket.

Who’s attending to your bathroom? Just a thought.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of “The Little Red Book of Selling” and “The Little Red Book of Sales Answers.” As president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on sales and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached at (704)333-1112 or by e-mail at salesman@gitomer.com.