Looking Like You Don’t Care: Perceived Indifference and the Damage Done

You enter a store for the first time and survey the products available. You know what you want, but not where it’s located. Feeling a shade out of place, you crane your neck, hoping to make eye contact with the clerk, but he seems preoccupied and doesn’t notice you need help. Annoyed and confused, you leave, taking your business elsewhere.

This scenario is an example of perceived indifference—the feeling that potential customers get when a business seems not to care about their attempts to purchase a product or service.

The Single Biggest Reason

Perceived indifference spans all client-facing industries and is an issue almost all businesses face in some form. It is the single biggest reason potential customers or clients choose one business over another.

Business owners and clientele alike often think of price as the most important factor people consider when choosing one company over its competitors. However, John Gattorna conducted a now famous study while he was a visiting professor at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in 2008 and found the following distribution for why businesses lose customers:

  • 4% Natural attrition (e.g. moved away, passed on, etc)
  • 5% Referred to a competitor by their friend
  • 9% Competitive reasons (e.g. price)
  • 14% Product/service dissatisfaction
  • 68% Perceived indifference

Price, at nine percent, is not a truly significant reason businesses lose customers. Perceived indifference, on the other hand, accounts for more than two thirds of all lost business.

Human Nature at the Root of Perceived Indifference

At the root of perceived indifference is human nature. Human beings are thinking, feeling, breathing, moving organisms. They have highs and lows, good days and bad, periods of focus and periods of distraction. In and of themselves, these ebbs and flows are not a problem, but add a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) person into the mix and things can quickly go off the rails.

People tend to process information differently depending of the role they take in a given situation.

For a busy employee, letting a phone ring more than twice or waiting longer than a few minutes to greet a customer may seem to be nothing more than a reflection of how busy the business is at that moment. Such an employee might expect these details to be obvious to anyone observing the scene. But customers and clients have expectations too, and they might be contrary to those of your staff. For customers, being put on hold without being asked, receiving slow service, or not being thanked for their business may all come across as indifference and have them looking towards your competitors.

What Perceived Indifference Can Look Like

Overcoming these obstacles is a big challenge, especially since these are only a few examples of perceived indifference. Other notable examples include:

  • not meeting deadlines (of any kind)
  • not being upfront about potential problems or misalignment of products or services
  • inability to remember a regular customer’s name
  • failure to inform clientele of upcoming sales or other promotions
  • forgetting to demonstrate customer appreciation

As you can see, perceived indifference takes many forms and can be communicated in subtle ways. But simply bringing awareness to the common human behaviours that can inadvertently demonstrate indifference can go a long way to help you and your staff minimize the risk of being perceived as indifferent.

Nurture Your Customer

Ultimately, the seller-customer dynamic is a relationship like any other: it needs to be nurtured in order to survive and grow. This doesn’t mean that you need to treat every person who walks through the door like a relative, but thinking of them as an acquaintance you want to interact with and whose well-being you care about is a good guideline to keep in mind.

Do you know if your business is suffering from perceived indifference? Is your business growing as you think it should? Are you realizing your business goals and dreams? If not, or you don't know, then contact us today!


About our guest author: Logan M. Rohde, PhD
Logan finished his doctorate at University of Western Ontario in English in 2018 and has since moved into freelance writing for business leaders.