They say the eyes are windows to the soul. But for businesses, it’s the bathroom.

This is especially true when it comes to customer-driven establishments such as restaurants, retail stores and hotels. According to a recent Harris poll survey 66 percent of U.S. adults would not return to a retail store with dirty bathrooms. That number jumps to 75 percent for restaurants.

It’s not surprising that cleanliness is a factor in choosing where to eat. But a clean bathroom can make a significant impression in any business environment. After all, how would you feel walking into a filthy restroom at your accountant’s or doctor’s offices or during a meeting with a potential business associate?

Competence

First and foremost, a clean, pleasant bathroom conveys order and shows that a company is competent, in control and sweating the minor details. If you’re unable to stay on top of something as simple as bathroom maintenance, how can you manage more complex tasks? As a business manager, what does it say about your leadership abilities or organizational skills?

Quality

It seems obvious that a dirty bathroom can negatively influence a diner’s opinion of a restaurant’s food. But it can also wreak havoc on a consumer’s opinion of non-food products.

Depending on its level of cleanliness and attractiveness, a bathroom can either elevate the most modest establishment, or relegate the loftiest.

Dan Roberts, a creative director in Los Angeles, says that the design, layout and tidiness of a restroom plays a significant role in communicating a company’s core values and identity.

“Going to a public bathroom is such a visceral experience (especially if it’s disgusting) that people unconsciously attribute the qualities they find there to the business as a whole,” said Roberts.

And it’s not just dirty surfaces, overflowing trashcans or bad odors that are a turn-off. Broken stalls or toilet seats, bad lighting, graffiti, dirty fixtures, soiled toilet seats and sticky floors all contribute to a poor impression.

Comfort

The effects of an unpleasant restroom aren’t limited to consumers. Having to contend with sub-par facilities – whether in the break room, the copy room or the bathroom – can really depress worker morale. And as evidence shows, an unhappy worker is an unproductive worker.

The good news is that even small changes can yield big payoffs with relatively little investment. This is true in both the working and consumer environments. For example, something as simple as self-flushing toilets can transform a scary bathroom into an approachable one.

Even something as simple as modern dispensers can help put patrons at ease. “I’m a staunch germophobe,” says Lisa Wong, an Internet retailer in Santa Monica, California.  “I touch nothing — so I appreciate automatic faucets and soap dispensers. My favorite restrooms have motion activated towel dispensers and a trash receptacle by the door so I don’t need to open the door with my bare hand.”

Problem Areas

So what were the top bathroom gripes listed in the Harris Poll survey? Respondents identified the following:

Paper towels or toilet paper on the floor – 80%
Lack of toilet paper – 67%
Empty soap dispensers – 55%
Water around the sink area – 42%
Old or outdated soap dispensers – 29%

Since restrooms can make or break a customer’s impression of a business, implementing an effective restroom maintenance program should be a top priority for any business manager. The results will speak for themselves, both in happier employees and happier customers.