Canadian Rental Service

The high price of apathy

Patrick Flannery   

Features Business Intelligence

Someone I know (let’s call him Brian) is rebuilding his deck in his back yard. He ordered new deck boards from a major big box chain. The order arrived with the wrong-sized boards, and the driver got away before he caught the error. So he went back to the vendor’s store and told them about the mistake.

The young lady dealing with him seemed very confused and spent most of her time on the phone asking someone else for help. Filled with a feeling that could not be mistaken for confidence, Brian returned home to await the next delivery. He was at least able to verify that the charge for the incorrect boards had been properly reversed off his credit card.

The next day the correct boards arrived…along with another load of the incorrect boards.

Being more vigilant by this time, Brian immediately noticed the extra load and explained to the subcontracted driver that he was supposed to pick up – not deliver – a load of one-by-six deck boards. The driver’s response: “I can’t take those boards without a pickup order.” He promptly jumped back in his truck and left.

So now Brian has $1,700 worth of free decking in his driveway. His plan is to wait some reasonable amount of time for the store to come and get it, then go ahead and use it for something. If the store comes back later asking for their wood, Brian will pay for what he has used. But if they don’t, he won’t bother them. After all, the store would have the wood in its possession today if its own bureaucratic procedures had not gotten in the way.


It seems to me there’s a lesson here that anyone involved in business-to-consumer deliveries could absorb. It’s a lesson about the personal accountability and engagement with your business that exists (or doesn’t) in the people you send out into the world to represent your business. The driver in Brian’s story could have cleared up the misunderstanding and saved his contract from an expensive mistake with a simple phone call. Instead, his level of engagement was so low that he would not take even this easy step. His nonchalance bordered on outright hostility in its total disregard for the supplier’s bottom line.

You would think that someone who had been given an opportunity to work for gain would be a little better disposed toward his benefactor. We can speculate about irresponsibility and the sense of entitlement that exists in some people when it comes to working relationships. They think they are owed a job and nothing beyond the minimum effort to meet the terms of their contract is due the other way. But such speculation is fruitless, as there’s little we can do except try our best not to hire such people. Is there anything positive a business owner can do to prevent such a culture of disengagement from taking hold?

Maybe the driver felt he was being taken advantage of. Maybe he felt his options were few and had to take work at less than his value, which made him resent the contract and refuse to make any extra effort. Easy lesson there: pay your subcontractors fairly and resist the urge to grind them on price. Especially if these people are going out into the market with your company’s reputation riding on their actions.

Reducing costs is often the prime reason to use subcontractors. But as Brian’s example shows, a myopic focus on one cost line-item can create much higher costs in the big picture. Perhaps we should consider our direct interactions with our customers to be so important to our business that we only trust them to employees who are invested in a long-term relationship with the business. And perhaps we should be sure to treat those employees in a manner that encourages them to feel some urge to take action when the company stands to lose.

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