Indifference is The Silent Business Killer

The Face of Indifference

Indifference is The Silent Business Killer – Al Getler

“You need to make customers who aren’t your customers, wish they were.” – Gary Vaynerchuk – The Thank You Economy

The following points are generalizations, but are probably true about many businesses:

Most businesses worry about Revenue, Expense and Profit
• Most businesses will spend considerable sums of money marketing their company to bring people in the door, on the phone or to their website
• Most businesses assume Customer Service is just fine because, “I don’t hear any complaints.”
• Most businesses would be wrong about their customer service
• Most businesses spend time teaching their employees processes and spend little time teaching their employees how to work with other human beings
• Most businesses spend little to nothing on customer service training

Indifference is the silent business killer. It is not obvious to customers. It is often missed by frontline managers. Indifference silently kills businesses as executives look at profit and loss statements proclaiming their brilliance as company leaders.

Here is what INDIFFERENCE looks like:

A teenaged worker that doesn’t acknowledge the customer exists, even during the payment or check out process (their too busy talking to their co-workers)
• The middle-aged worker that feels their work is below them, so they take it out on the customer
• The man who groans answers to customers’ questions
• The woman who says, “Uh huh.” in response to a customer that thanks them first
• The employee that doesn’t connect with the customer
• The employee that doesn’t make eye contact with the customer
• The employee that doesn’t even smile
• The employee that gives off the attitude that customers are an interruption to their day

These are my observations:

• INDIFFERENCE runs throughout our economy
• INDIFFERENCE is the result of an entitled society
• INDIFFERENCE is the result of people forgetting how to hustle for the customer
• INDIFFERENCE will make me walk out of your business EVERY TIME
• INDIFFERENCE is so deeply entrenched in our business transactions that we don’t even see it anymore
• INDIFFERENCE will kill every nickel of capital you put into your business
• INDIFFERENCE will kill your business

How can I be so sure INDIFFERENCE is an important thing to stamp out?

Today I tweeted this headline and link from Inside Starbucks’s $35 Million Mission To Make Brand Evangelists Of Its Front-Line Workers. Starbucks is hell-bent on killing indifference.

Give it a read and see how Starbucks is investing in the frontline experience that makes them who they are in the retail world. Starbucks knows that the customer interface cannot contain indifference. That is why they invested in a training experience they call the Leadership Lab.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote in his book, Onward, “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers,”

Does it pay off? The Fast Company article states, “One exhibit displays the shoes of typical Starbucks customers along with snippets of feedback designed to inspire empathy (Red madras flats: “My toddler accidentally kicked my cup of coffee off the table. They were immediately there helping me clean up and bringing me a new cup….they made me feel special, not embarrassed.”)”

That feedback is exactly the opposite of indifference. The indifferent worker would probably throw the kid a death-ray look as they slopped the mop around cleaning up the mess. The indifferent worker would walk away without offering a replacement coffee, but instead with resentment for the whole scene.

All Is Not Lost

I was ready for a giant load of indifference from the moment we left LAX on a recent trip to California. Instead, as we were leaving the Enterprise Car Rental location, we were greeted by a car rental gate check person that turned her green light to red. She did it so that she could give us explicit instructions on how to get to the famous Hollywood sign our daughter had to see first. We even threw a detour into the mix in order to get to the nearest In-N-Out Burger. We decided we needed to try this local delicacy and we were hungry. The Enterprise employee patiently directed us without one ounce of indifference.

When we arrived at the In-N-Out Burger, the line was so long for the drive-thru that I am pretty sure we were in Mexico for a few minutes. The line did moved quickly and we soon understood why.

We were greeted by a smiling, handsome, young man in a sparkling clean In and Out Burger uniform who efficiently took our order on his handheld device. Sensing we were new to the In-N-Out Burger experience, he asked us if we were new to town. When we responded that we were, he gave a broad smile and said, “Well, welcome to Los Angeles folks!” Awesome. And the order for five people was 100% correct as well!

Can You Battle Indifference?

Give your business a hard look. Don’t assume that you or your front-line workers are not giving off an air of indifference. Ask your customers how they view your service. Really seek out the answers.

Ask a third party to be a customer. It doesn’t matter if it is over the phone, in person or in the field (example: an estimate at their home). After they go through the experience, ask for feedback without them holding back.

Make the necessary changes to eliminate indifference. That could even mean eliminating a few employees or at least putting a few in backroom jobs that do not require customer interface.

Let’s Change Course

There is no telling how it started, but it is time for indifference to end beginning today. Your business cannot withstand the energy that indifference drains from your business and neither can mine.

What if you are reading this and you don’t run the business or you are not even a supervisor? That is the best part. You can kill indifference beginning right now.

Do these three things:

  1. Look the next customer in the eye or speak with an upbeat tone in your voice if you are on the phone and as if you are looking them in the eye
  2. Smile (it doesn’t matter if you are in front of the person or on the phone)
  3. Ask this simple question, truly wanting to know the answer, “How are you today?”

Then listen carefully throughout the conversation.

You hear that hissing sound? It is just like when Dorothy hit the Wicked Witch with the bucket of water.

If you listen hard, you can hear INDIFFERENCE, “I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a person like you could destroy my beautiful indifference?”

If you liked this post comment below then sign up for my free newsletter.

Al Getler is a newspaper, website, book and magazine publisher. He is also a comedian/ventriloquist and a speaker on leadership, customer service and personal branding.

Image courtesy of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.