Want a quick indication of a company’s commitment to customer service? It’s a simple gauge that works just as well for restaurants as it does for retail stores, as for gas stations, as for professional service providers.

Just take a look at the bathroom. No, I’m not kidding. The condition, cleanliness, and comfort of a restroom speak volumes about what a company thinks about its customers (and often, its employees).

I can’t take credit for identifying this indicator. That I’ll have to pass along to super car dealer Carl Sewell, who shared his secrets in “Customers for Life.” Sewell built his car dealership into one of the nation’s most successful, with repeat customer rates any business owner would kill for. And he points to the potty as one of the quickest ways to make or break that all-important first impression. As he puts it, “If that’s how they take care of the restrooms, how’ll they take care of me?”

He adds that nobody has ever credited his dealership’s restrooms as the primary factor in their purchase of a new car, but many people pass along positive comments.  A clean, well-cared-for restroom says a lot about a business. It says they don’t neglect the details. It says they want to make sure customers are comfortable. If a car dealer’s restroom is clean, you’ll assume that the service area is clean and well-organized, too. It may not be a conscious thought, but your subconscious thinks that.

My family has made regular journeys along a particular stretch of Interstate 65 for the past 20 years. We’ve visited nearly every restroom along the way at one time or another, and we know what to expect. When we need to stop, we choose the places that make creature comforts a priority — and you know what else? We make purchases at those places, too.

Civilized humans tend to think of bathrooms as something vulgar and embarrassing, but let’s be realistic: we all need to use them. Several times a day, in fact. When a customer is in our company’s restroom, they’re just as much of guest as they would be at a table or in a showroom, and we need to treat them that way.