Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Laziness and Apathy are Customer Service Killers

Two Customer Service Experiences to Learn From

I had two bad customer service experiences back to back that completely surprised me. Sometimes the people you do (or want to do) business with just don’t get it. They don’t have flexibility or they don’t take an extra step for one reason or another. They are lazy. Laziness is a customer service killer!

I was in Las Vegas for a speech and decided to eat a quick dinner at the coffee shop. They had an $11.95 “Prime Rib Special.” Low priced, it looked good. You received a salad, a nice piece of beef and a potato. Trying to be healthy, I asked if they would give me a vegetable instead of the potato. The hostess seating me said it cannot be done. That’s the special. A little disappointed, I accepted her answer.

The server came over to take my order. I ordered the special and told him to hold the potato. I was surprised when he asked, “Would you like a vegetable or a different side dish?” I told him what the hostess told me and he said, “She doesn’t know. This is only her second day.”

Then, just the very next day I was flying home. I had a connecting flight along the way. It looked like we were going to get in early enough to the connecting city for me to catch an earlier flight. So, I made my way to the counter to ask the agent about the flight. First I asked if the flight had seats, and it had plenty of seats. Second, I asked if I could standby for the earlier flight. (By the way, as a frequent flier, there is no charge to standby on same-day flights.) The gate agent said that I had too tight of a connection. From past experience that didn’t seem right, but I accepted it.

A few minutes later the gentleman who I had just interacted with left and a new agent came on duty. She was all smiles, so I decided to ask her about flying standby on the earlier flight. She looked at it and without hesitating put me on the list.

In both examples I asked two different people the same question, literally just minutes apart, and got the exact opposite answers. Here is why I believe this happened.

In the restaurant example, it was just easier for the hostess to follow her self-imposed rules. The dinner special was a salad, beef and potato. In her mind, right or wrong, there was no changing. Here’s the important point. She didn’t even think to ask someone else, like a server or a manager. Why? She didn’t want to take the extra step.

In the airline example, the first guy just didn’t want to take an extra moment to take care of a passenger. I blame it on either laziness or apathy. He had no idea if I was a “rookie” flier or a seasoned professional with millions of miles. He just didn’t want to take the time to check. The woman that replaced him had the exact opposite attitude. And, upon landing in the connecting city, I had already cleared the waiting list and my ticket was waiting for me. I told that gate agent the story of the agent I had encountered earlier that day, and
she just shook her head and said she was sorry.

Most of the time people are reasonable, they try hard and they want to take care of their customers. It is a shame how one bad incident can potentially spoil an entire experience and create a negative perception of business. All because someone isn’t willing to take an extra moment or step to take care of a customer.

You can call it laziness or apathy – or just call it bad customer service.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times           bestselling business author. For information contact (314) 692-2200 or For information on The  Customer  Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright ©MMXII, Shep Hyken)


  1. Great article Shep! It seems like the bulk of angry customers I speak with make it to me because an agent, with their self imposed rules said no to the customer because it was easier than saying “I’m here for you and will find solutions for you.” I think I’ve been blaming this on poor training and while training is important, agents need to be trained that the “No” is not an acceptable answer in these cases.

    • Jeremy, you are “spot on.” I’ve recently written an article (to be published in the future) about how some companies embrace the philosophy of “One to say YES and two to say NO.” This means front liners are encouraged to figure out how to say yes to the customer. If they can’t figure out a way, then they must seek out approval from the manager. Amazing how they get creative once they are empowered to come up with great solutions. Thanks for your comment!

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