Attitude and Empathy = Good Customer Service


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I stopped at a car wash this week to vacuum my car. The car wash is attached to an oil-change company. I guess the concept is that I can get several car services in the same location. I pulled up to the machine and noticed that the nozzle was broken. I backed-up and pulled over to the other vacuum. I put my $1 in the slot and begin to vacuum the car. Almost immediately I noticed that the pressure was not very good. I decided I would go inside and see if I could get my money back.

Both oil-change bays were empty and there were three workers sitting in the office/lobby. I explained my problem and one of the guys said, “That vacuum never works right, you need to use the other one.” I told him the other one was broken as well. He said, “Well it worked yesterday.” I told him the nozzle was broken and asked if I could get a refund. He said, “We don’t do that.”

There was no, “I’m sorry.” There was no,”Let me help you.” Just three guys sitting in a room with no focus on me as a customer. As I walked back to my car it occurred to me that the owner had a problem. He had invested well over a million dollars in property, building and equipment and then hired uninspired people to run his business.

Now ask yourself this question – as you think about how this applies to your business and the interactions that occur every day with your customers. Do your employees care? Do they take an interest in the business? When you are away or not listening, do they present the customer service attitude that you expect.

There are several places that the car wash owner may have gone wrong. He probably does not have a good hiring process. He may be hiring friends of workers – without really confirming that they have the right attitude for the customer service job that is required. I assume he would never hire someone that could not tell the difference between the water pump and the oil pump but he obviously did not check to see if they knew how to talk to customers.

Another possibility is that he has inadequate training. He probably has an orientation that includes where to find the tools and what to charge for the services, but he probably does not have an effective training program that shares the nuances of dealing with customers.

Above all, he did not hire for attitude. Small businesses (and large ones) fail every day. And research shows that employee apathy is one of the top reason that customers leave. I am sure I will take my $1 revenue somewhere else the next time I need a car wash. But, ask yourself this question, “How much money is walking out your door when one of your frontline employees doesn’t meet their needs?”

When you hire an employee do you hire for attitude? Do you train new employees on the simple soft-skills required to satisfy your customers? How much revenue is walking out your doors because of apathy?


  1. Bod – nice thoughts these.

    I’m sure many of us have been subject to similar situations before. I was in one just a couple of days ago in a supermarket. Over weekends crowds in any Bangalore malls swell like mad. Needless to say the attendant at the billing counter had a challenge on his hands. When her printer ran out of paper, she had to run around for 5 minutes to find replacement spools. Even the ones she found, were salvaged out of counters that were not being used. And there was none to help her out – everyone was busy with their own tasks. She came back to a fuming line of customers.

    This is when I began to think that “customer focus or service” might be the last thing on her mind. Not only do you need to train your employees to be customer focused, but you also need to faciliate them to maintain that focus.


  2. When I read your notes, it occured to me there the problem probably occured up the line. The key elements that came to mind are:

    Hiring – Has the criteria been defined? Does the person doing the hiring really understand the job?

    Training – Does the training focus on customer service or products and services only?

    Coaching – When something goes wrong does the manager provide feedback that includes listening to the employee and then providing immediate and specific ways to improve?

    As you probably do, I tend to get mad at the person giving the bad service and then as I walk away, I think to my self, wow that company is not doing a very good job managing these three areas.

  3. The most important, to me at least, was when Bob wrote, “Now ask yourself this question – as you think about how this applies to your business and the interactions that occur every day with your customers?” Maybe getting less good service than expected/wanted may be good service in another way. As Bob wrote, he is turning this negative into a positive for his business. So, not all news is bad news.

    However, let’s look at this from the employee’s side of the picture. Was the negative attitude of the employees due to, not just the local manager’s lack of empathy for the employee, but also to upper management’s lack of empathy towards both the local manager and the employee?

    All to often, and this happens more often as business size increases, customer service really is only lip service offered by those at the top. Certainly, they would not say they give poor service. But, in offering lip-service, what are they doing to make this more than just a lie?

    First and foremost, when it comes to customer service is should relate to the business’s “internal customers” – management’s customers are each other and their employees. If this attitude is not part of the culture of the business, it’s downhill from there on. In the business’s “internal customers” are not offered good service within the business , it is only understandable that these “internal customers” will not give good service to both the business and the business’s customers.

    Empathy means standing in the other person’s shoes to see if it pinches. Some don’t want to stand is someone else’s shoes because they know the shoe will not fit. From the employee’s standpoint, he is not thinking about the size of shoes as his fit just fine.


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador Of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected] http://www.sellingselling .com

  4. The comments indicate that “management attitude affects the employee’s attitudes” and I could not agree more. We talk about this often in my front-line employee seminars.

    I beleive that attitudes can often bleed two to three layers in the organization. In my story, the point was made that there has to be something missing in the management of the service team for the employee apathy to be so strong.

    I sometimes hear how this generation is different and does not care as much as the last one – but I also beleive that this generation of service employees are often under-trained. Just over 30 years ago, I spent the better part of five days in training before I was allowed to flip a single burger or take an order at the counter.

    I don’t think the same level of committment is given today in many service industry organizations. In fact, I often hear executives say that they cannot afford to invest the money in a workforce that turns over so often. Perhaps that is why they turn over so often. But that is just my humble opinion 🙂


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