Washroom maintenance can be a major burden for the facilities manager. Manually checking each toilet to ensure that supplies of soap and paper have not run out can take up a great deal of the cleaning staff’s time. The issue is particularly troublesome in an environment where the washrooms are spread out over a wide area, such as in a theme park or zoo.
Moving from one washroom to the next, checking each dispenser for run-outs and monitoring cleaning needs can be a monotonous, labour-intensive task. Often the premises will be sufficiently clean and the dispensers well stocked, which means the cleaner’s visit is wasted. At other times, staff will find grubby washrooms and dispensers that have been left empty for hours. This leaves a bad impression on members of the public and may well lead to complaints.
The end result is frustrated visitors, demoralised cleaners, and inefficient use of staff time and cleaning resources.
Large sites catering for high numbers of visitors are particularly problematic because it is hard to organise a realistic cleaning schedule. Venues such as theme parks and zoos can become hugely congested during the summer and in half-term holidays. Sophisticated venues make visitor flow projections to allow them to anticipate which areas of the facility people are likely to head for first. However, it’s much harder to predict when guests will want to visit the washrooms.
Guests will not take kindly to queuing for toilets – especially when they have paid up to £50 for a walk-in ticket to a popular attraction. Where paper or soap supplies have been allowed to run out, queues quickly build up as guests wait for the few cubicles or handwash stations that are still in service.
Nor will they be impressed by poorly maintained facilities. Hundreds of people complain on Tripadvisor every year about dirty, congested or poorly stocked toilets at theme parks and other tourist attractions.
Tork has introduced a system, Tork EasyCube, that ‘connects’ each washroom via sensors, allowing cleaning and facilities staff to check remotely via a smartphone or tablet when a maintenance visit might be required. Sensors are placed inside the dispensers for soap, toilet tissue and hand towels as well as on the washroom doors. These constantly monitor refill levels as well as washroom traffic, and the data is uploaded to the internet.
Cleaning staff can access the data from anywhere, whether they are on site or not. Tork bins can also be fitted with a sensor which will notify cleaners when the bin needs emptying, saving valuable time spent physically checking each bin.
The system has its own integrated messaging function that connects cleaners with each other and the team leader. This allows washroom checks to be logged on to the network, eliminating the need for charts to be placed behind washroom doors. Tork expects the system to evolve in line with customer demand.
The company believes Tork EasyCube has resulted in fewer complaints, increased customer satisfaction levels and more motivated staff. Sweden’s Furuvik zoo, for example, achieved its visitor satisfaction goals 46 per cent more frequently after installing the system. A significant drop in customer complaints has also been recorded at the Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands since the system was installed. In a recent survey at the Gröna Lund theme park in Stockholm, the customer satisfaction index registered an all-time high (above 80 per cent) for its clean, fresh toilets.
Meanwhile, cleaning teams have reported a greater level of control and improved customer feedback since Tork EasyCube was installed. They also claim to have more free time to carry out other important cleaning tasks, since they no longer spend most of their time checking dispensers.
Connected dispensers are the future of washroom management. The fact that maintenance teams can now tell at a glance when dispensers are running low while carrying out other tasks means their working lives are easier and their jobs more rewarding. The result is a better guest experience – so everybody wins.
Paul Thorn, MD of Washware Essentials, welcomes the prospect of smarter washrooms
The term ‘internet of things’ (IoT) refers to the concept of a network not only of computers, but everyday objects of all kinds. It means our lavatories are about to become a whole lot smarter.
Smart technology is already here. IT research firm Gartner recently predicted that a staggering 8.4 billion IoT devices would be in use across the world in 2017 – a 31 per cent increase on the year before.
It already has many applications in the commercial washroom. Soap dispensers and toilet roll holders could alert you when supplies are running low – or even order replacements automatically.
Sensors could be used to monitor footfall and produce a heatmap, either connected to an app or displayed near the washroom, that shows whether the toilets are in use. In a workplace setting, this would help reduce wasted bathroom visits and improve productivity. The data delivered by the sensors could also be used to identify underused facilities or those which attract queues.
However, the IoT is not without its drawbacks. For example, every IoT-connected device would present an opportunity for hackers. And bathroom installation would also become far more complex, involving the participation of the IT department.