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July/August 2003

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Death by Apathy 
by Carl Tompkins

You can’t read a newspaper or listen to the radio these days without hearing about a business in trouble due to poor revenue and profit. Most of these problem-plagued businesses are willing to do little beyond cutting costs, and consequently, they are facing slow (but certain) deaths.

At the root of these problems lies an overwhelming degree of apathy that permeates the entire organization. Apathy is defined as “showing a lack of interest” or “the act of indifference,” and many businesses beset by poor revenue and profit act “indifferently” toward their customers. The result is a downward spiral that only ends after the business closes or new leadership is installed to implement a new strategy. 

Airline Apathy
A few weeks ago, I entered the Salt Lake City Airport to board a Delta Airlines flight. As a member of the airline’s Medallion Awards program, I went to the appropriate line, composed of approximately 12 people. The gentleman in front of me groused that the line 
hadn’t moved in 15 minutes and that only one Delta agent was working behind the counter. 
Quickly scanning the area, I found two other Delta employees standing on the main floor, evidently deep in thought.

“Are you two Delta employees aware of the problem that exists within your long line of first-class and Medallion Member customers?” I asked. 

Both employees surveyed the situation and claimed ignorance of the problem. Within two minutes they had joined the young man behind the counter.

When I finally arrived at the front of the line, the agent apologized for the inconvenience. 
“It’s fine,” I replied, “but I find it funny that I hear so much about the woes of the airline industry, and all the while companies like this one ignore their customers. This is so infuriating that eventually we, the consumers, will demand lower prices and will find new carriers to replace you.” 

The agent failed to respond, but those standing behind me applauded.

What We Can Do
While complaining usually seems like a bad idea, it is a good start to curbing the apathy of businesses in America. Bad customers just get mad and go away without saying anything, but good customers express their dissatisfaction in an attempt to end the apathy.
Be part of the solution, not the problem, but do so in a kind way. Good customers start by first telling suppliers what they appreciate and then moving on to the areas needing improvement. 

Now, to rid your own business of apathy, start by setting a good example. Work hard at taking positive action to build positive results. Many different courses of action can be taken, and the result can be a great working atmosphere.

Management needs to be attentive to the actions its company takes in business with others. Management should focus on the welfare of its employees. If your employees feel good about themselves and their work, it will create a more productive work environment overall. 

Management must also treat employees in the same manner in which it expects employees to treat customers. 

Details Matter
Now you’re probably wondering, “What management errors occur that can create apathy within the ranks of its workforce?” Think about workloads, hours, work environment, type of work required, benefits, training and elements of recognition on an average day.

Likewise, when businesses run into tough times, management must provide full and fair communication to those who will be affected. When team spirit is maintained like this, almost all employees will rally to pitch in and help solve the problem; the highest degrees of apathy occur when communication fails.

Apathy is rampant in our country today and is creating additional burdens for business owners to bear. Be sure to take the time and action to educate your staff on the value of going the extra mile for customers, and, while you’re at it, be sure to set a good example with your own actions. 

Carl Tompkins is western states area manager for the Sika Corp. of Madison Heights, Mich.


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