Is Bad Customer Service Inevitable? 5 Signs You Might Be Stuck in the Apathy Trap

Financial IQ

Have you given up on getting good service? If so, then you, like hundreds of thousands of other hapless consumers, are stuck in something I like to call the Apathy Trap. What’s that? It’s a collective sense of resignation. It is a feeling that you’re just a pawn in a game companies are playing with multimillion dollar ad spending, product placement and Internet campaigns, and that your purchase is something of a foregone conclusion.

It’s making questionable buying decisions and then behaving as if the outcome – terrible customer service — was inevitable all along. They win. You lose. And you don’t care. This Apathy Trap threatens to ensnare all of us, and it could cost you dearly. No one knows the pricetag of failing to do our due diligence as consumers, of allowing savvy marketers to manipulate us. But it is without question a higher price than any of the frauds or scams perpetrated on any group of consumers by an unscrupulous business.

Are stuck in the trap? Here are a few signs that you might not care anymore.

Do you plan your purchases ahead or just “wing it” when you’re at the store?

Customers who visit a store with a specific purchase in mind, and having done their research, are far less likely to be duped into buying.

Do you shop because you need or because you want?

Buying frivolous items is like a gateway drug. If you can’t tell the difference, you may already be trapped.

Do you like to window-shop or browse?

Spending time in front of the computer perusing merchandise, or in front of a store window, opens you to possible manipulation.

Do you ask sales associates questions, or do you prefer not to bother them?

Kicking the tires is an important part of the purchasing decision. If you’d rather not inconvenience the sales floor staff, did you really do your due diligence?

Do you care if someone else paid less?

If it doesn’t matter that someone paid less than you did for a product or service, then watch out. It’s a slippery slope into apathy.


If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it doesn’t mean bad service is inevitable. The antidote to apathy is fairly easy: It’s starting to care. But rewiring your consumer behavior is easier said than done. Few people really want to do research before a purchase. And shopping, to many, is a pleasure – particularly window-shopping and buying random items.

But I’ve discovered a few tricks. One of my favorites are the barcode-scanning smartphone apps that instantly tell you if you can find an item cheaper elsewhere. That’s been enough to stop me from paying too much for an item.

Window-shopping is easily curbed by taking someone along who can pull you back from a bad decision, or setting a budget. And nothing gets me riled up more than spending a little time on an online forum where someone boasts about how they paid half of what I did for the same product.

These, of course, as just symptoms of overall customer apathy. American businesses benefit from the Apathy Trap because they can take our money and we’ll accept whatever they offer in return, even if it’s a shoddy product. If you cared, it wouldn’t happen to you.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions at On Your Side or by email.

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