I've been wondering lately how big you actually have to be to stop caring about how you treat your customers.

The inspiration for this article came from taking a business trip and finding myself in an airport news/gift store. Zero help. Zero care. Zero everything.

It's not my style to start blaming the staff for their poor effort in making my visit at the least enjoyable. I am one who firmly believes staff members behave the way management allows them to behave.

Let's put things into perspective. If you happen to be going out of the country, you just might find yourself in a duty-free store. What a difference from shopping in a domestic news/gift store. In duty-free stores, staff members are all over you to buy liquor, cosmetics and designer clothing. Does a product's value cause organizations to go from helping to selling?

I've been noticing more and more, this sea of bodies being hired to do the minimum. How does this happen?

Outstanding service starts with accountability

It all starts with accountability. And oftentimes, either unions or HR departments seem to be part of the equation. Let's begin with accountability and the airport gift shop model. Even if you think there's no selling to be done at the store (which isn't true), simple suggestions to customers can result in a higher average sale.

Basic math states that the more time staff members spend on operational tasks — without trying to increase sales —­ the more payroll cost percentages go up. When business isn't great, cutting payroll is the easiest way to control costs. Bingo. Now you don't have enough people on the floor. Bigger bingo. Now you have less people providing poorer customer service and making no effort at selling.

If we go further in this example, we move to the labor union that might control the people, or an HR department that spends a large portion of its time making sure the company doesn't ask anything, expect anything or hold anyone accountable for anything, for fear that their staff will file claims against the company.

Stress, overwork, injury, discrimination and flat-out "It's not my job." These are a few of their reasons to keep it light and not hold staff members accountable for their job responsibilities.

To be fair, which I'm not inclined to do, rent and margins are tough to manage. The game in this type of store is high volume — period. What amazes me is volume can be enhanced greatly by having a staff that's in the game, invested, engaged and playing hard. So the very things that will solve the problem of higher sales volume are dismissed in favor of cutting costs.

Better customer service equals more sales

It seems that many big companies have no idea how to leverage people to increase sales. They spend their time with operations and merchandise. Every once in a while, you'll see a modest attempt to do the right thing. But trust me, it doesn’t last long.

For example, not so long ago, cashiers in these airport news/gift stores would ask me if I wanted or needed some chewing gum. It might not sound like much, but in fact, a buck for gum increases sales a bunch. Just think of the number of transactions they have in any one 24-hour period.

Who's in charge of customer service or the customer experience? It's unlikely there's a position in these types of companies for it. It seems when some retail businesses get so big and just running the day-to-day business becomes such a chore, customer service just isn't important enough anymore.

It starts at the top

In 30-plus years of training and consulting on customer service, there's one thing that I've noticed. Either the big boss is, or is not, relentless about service. For most, CEO means chief executive officer. For a few, it means customer experience officer. This is the connection.

If it's a vice president or director of stores, you'll find the service might be good, but it’s not a relentless pursuit. Why? Here's the rub: Customer service is damn expensive. It requires increasing your budget for most employees who are held accountable for performance and customer service.

You need people to provide outstanding service and hold them accountable for it. And you have to train and verify they're doing the right thing for the customer. To accomplish this, you might have to sprinkle a supervisor or two into the mix who's motivated to get it right as well.

So all in all, it's just not happening in too many large organizations. Because when you get right down to it, it's about "money now," not customer relationships for the future.

And finally I get the feeling this same philosophy is filtering right down to the smaller, independent retailers. They're easy to spot. They're the ones that need to have a sale to make a sale. In my opinion, not the way to run a successful retail business.

More and more surveys and articles are out there on the importance of providing memorable customer service, yet few retailers are really changing. How much do you have to care about your business to make that change?