Employee Indifference Makes a Difference

By Jeremiah Wilson

We’ve worked with them, for them and above them. We’ve been frustrated, exasperated and, probably, angry. I’m talking about employees who just don’t care. I’m talking about people who go to work merely to go to work, people who are not invested in your company’s success (or in their own personal success).

These are people who are indifferent. And the number of them in the average American workplace has increased during the recession.

These are people who just don’t give a (fill in the blank).

What Damage Can the Indifferent Employee Cause?

One survey found that 40 percent of Americans are indifferent about their jobs. That’s a startling number: 40 percent of American workers just don’t care.

Another famous survey found that 68 percent of customers quit doing business with a company because of just one employee’s perceived indifference toward them. It may not have even been real indifference, just “perceived” indifference.

So let me ask you this: do you have even one employee that could be “perceived” as indifferent?

Your customers remember how they were treated. They tell their friends how they were treated. And, nowadays, they tell all of their Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a frontline employee that treated them poorly, a salesman or the manager. If a customer was treated poorly that customer will not forget it. Period.

Bottom line: one indifferent employee (and it’s a fair bet you have one or two, if 40 percent of all American workers are indifferent) can permanently damage your image and your business.

Diagnose the Problem

So, maybe you recognize that you have an indifferent employee. Now, you need to figure out why that employee doesn’t care. Is it an individual employee problem, or a business-wide culture problem?

Individual Employee Problem

If only five to 10 percent of your employees are rude to customers, sound annoyed or busy when they pick up the phone, or just aren’t getting the job done; chances are … you have an individual employee problem.

So, how do you fix it?

  1. Feedback. Feedback isn’t a summary of who the person is and how the person is wrong. Nor is it positive or negative. Rather, feedback is facts. That’s it. What are the facts? How do employees sound on the phone? Are they rude to customers? What is the tone of their voice exuding when they speak to customers? (Interestingly, many bosses fire someone if they are repeatedly late to work; fewer bosses will fire someone if they repeatedly answer the phone with a poor tone or even utter rudeness.)
  2. Implement a Strategy of Follow-up and Training. I run a sales optimitics company, where we provide sales and customer service training that optimizes performance. We also offer live phone call recording and scoring. Training (ours or anyone else’s) is only minimally effective if it’s not accompanied by phone recording, phone scoring, and ongoing coaching. This demands accountability. The same is true of your indifferent employee.
  3. Make them “Available” to the Industry. If, after formal and informal reviews, follow-ups, training and feedback, the employee is still indifferent, provide that employee with an opportunity to care more about another job. In other words: Fire that employee!

Company Culture Problem

This situation is more troublesome. It means there is a systemic problem in your organization. Maybe you aren’t very good at hiring people. Maybe your culture doesn’t foster learning and growth. Maybe your company doesn’t have a focus or a vision. Can your employees recite your company’s mission and vision statement? Do you even have one? Do you even have goals?

When we work with companies struggling with employee indifference, we see one thing in common: These companies usually don’t have any sort of continuing education or training program. There is no opportunity for employee growth or learning. And what do you get when you have employees who aren’t learning and growing? Yep, you guessed it: indifference.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, said, “An organization’s ability to learn is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

In other words: learn and prosper.

Businesses that train — whether it’s customer service training, sales training, phone sales skills training or even technical training — win. If your business has a culture of training, a culture of education and a culture of learning, you will see indifference disappear.

Training is the key to overcoming indifference.

Jeremiah Wilson founded ContactPoint in 2001 with a patented device that records customer phone calls, allowing companies to hear what their customers hear. Prior to that, he specialized in logistics, customer service and sales training, and was assistant to the counselor of economics at the U.S. Embassy to the Czech Republic; he currently serves on the board of directors for various global companies.
Originally published: Oct 24, 2011

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