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How many times this week have you called customer care somewhere and were presented with a computerized menu you suspected of being extended to stall for time, so that your inevitable wait for the reps might appear to be shorter to you?

And how many times have you gone up to a ticket counter, or any kind of counter, to find yourself dealing with a sales rep whose level of involvement in your needs might be described as drowsy indifference?

Such affronts happen so regularly these days, we often think that establishments that offer substandard care should display a sign that says, “Underserving you as best we can.”

It would at least help get the overworked reps a bit off the hook. It would also frankly admit that these days customer service is usually seen as a bothersome expense, the cost of which must be tightly controlled, so that the primary responsibility of, say the manager of a phone center, is to make sure that every rep is efficiently and somewhat desperately responding to a cue of waiting calls, and the most offensive event would be to see a rep with a moment or two with nothing to do but relax and wait for the next call.

We think this is now usual approach to customer care is just plain unfair. Don’t expect an improvement any time soon, though. If you were running a customer service center, and your boss came in and saw a few reps sitting around with nothing immediate to do, you know what door you’d be shown.

The change can’t even come from the top, because every CEO who doesn’t own a company outright has to answer to a board of directors, and he and they have all been told their mission is to “increase shareholder value.”

Most businessmen take this injunction to indicate that every possible penny that can be squeezed out of a company should be sent to the bottom line. How few have the courage to commit to the costly idea that happy customers buy more products?