Time was when service to the customer was the mantra of successful businesses everywhere. The idea has been popularized by such best-sellers as In Search of Excellence, and Good to Great, which foster the notion that fixating on the needs of customers is a key to business success.

How things have changed. Type “bad customer service” into Google and you get links to about 400,000 pages. And those pages are chock-full of customers who get waited on by lackadaisical fast-food servers, wander through superstores without laying eyes on a store employee, and look in vain for paper towels in public rest rooms. All this might lead some to the conclusion that customer service got derailed somewhere, at least when it comes to consumer goods.

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