The Perils of Over-thinking

Here’s a little over-thinking on the topic of touch-free paper towel dispensers…

To demonstrate how over-thinking can produce results that are the opposite of stated goals, here’s a little over-thinking on the topic of touch-free paper towel dispensers.

There are two main goals associated with touch-free towel dispensers in public restrooms:

  • Dispense a pre-defined quantity of paper towel, minimizing paper use.
  • Allow patrons to get their towels without coming in contact with someone else’s germs.

Simple, right?  Well, not so fast.

How much paper does a patron need to achieve proper hand drying?  If we use inches of dispensed paper as the measure, is three inches of paper enough?  Six?  Twelve?  What’s too much?  If the goal is to minimize waste, one could set the dispenser to only three inches.  Theoretically, this would minimize paper use.  But, if it’s not enough, the patron will stand there and dispense another three inches.  Possibly, another six inches.

To get the additional inches of paper towel necessary to achieve proper drying, the patron must wait for the machine to cycle.  This second-and-a-half cycle time can seem like an eternity.  After all, we’ve all got other things to do with our time.  The patron vigorously swipes their hand under the machine.  After one or two wand-like swipes that yield no additional paper, they often resort to hitting the machine where the sensor should be.  Oops, there goes that goal of not touching someone else’s germs.

Which setting will yield the least overall paper use (our first goal)?  The first-level thinker would say the lowest setting will do the trick.  But, we’ve established that the lowest setting is probably not enough. The patron will merely wait for at least one more cycle to get the paper they need.

The second-level thinker would say that dispensing more from the beginning will yield less overall paper use and waste.  If the proper amount is dispensed from the beginning, the patron will be less likely to wait for another cycle.  Don’t even get me started on battery use differences associated with the two options.

Why does any of this matter?  Why think so deeply about touch-free towel dispensers?

To illustrate how easy it is to get wrapped up in meaningless minutia and forget about providing the patron (our customer) with an excellent experience.  How much minutia are you focusing on while ignoring your customer’s experience?

Author: Bob Dailey

Born and raised in Southern California. Graduated from (and met my future wife at) Cal Poly Pomona, in 1988. Married to Janet for almost 35 years. Father of two: Julianne and Jennifer. Grandfather of 7. Held many positions in small, medium, and large companies. Trail runner, competitive stair climber, backpacker, camper, off-roader, world traveler, sometimes writer.

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