Greetings.  On a recent call to our bank's customer service department I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with their automated representative.  She began by saying a very business-like "Welcome" and then proceeded to ask me a set of questions designed to get at the heart of my problem.  She had a calm and reassuring voice and sounded very focused as she worked her way through each scripted phrase.  To her credit, she kept trying to make clear her desire to stay on task–continually rebuffing any errant response.  And once I finally got with the program, I dutifully responded with clearer and more concise answers.  Answers intended to help her and the bank zoom in on the problem they had created for me. And I quickly realized that confusing this poor electronic soul would only frustrate both of us, thus delaying my ability to speak with a real human being who might actually solve my problem.  So I hung in there for about five minutes, as this slick piece of software posing as customer service agent tried to train me.  Eventually I pushed enough of the right buttons and offered enough of the correct responses to be transferred to a real person who was less clear than her robotic co-worker but slightly more empowered to resolve my concern.

Then, having weathered the initial hurdle, I received a wonderful surprise.  None of the information I provided had found its way to the agent.  Not the nature of my call.  Not my specific problem or a single digit of my 16-digit account number.  Not my secret answers to their not-so-security questions.  Not even the slightest sense of my hopes and dreams for resolving the issue.  Nada.  Zippo.  Ingenting (which is Swedish for nothing).  So when she began to ask the very same questions in the very same order, I started feeling very sad and more than a bit frustrated.  It seems that in their efforts to reduce costs, my bank and too many other businesses have decided to use systems that waste the customer's time and often abuse us.  Keeping us on hold or talking to robots so they can manage their queue or get us to give up. 

Whose time do you think is more valuable–yours or the customer's?  If your customer isn't absolutely at the center of your service and support equation, then it's time to rethink why you deserve to be in business.