This one comes from senior writer John Case. "I'm used to being put on hold. But this time I was steamed. The reason: I'd encountered a glitch in Quicken, a personal-finance software program, and had called Intuit, its publisher, for help. I expected a lightning-quick response. Hadn't I called Intuit 'The Last Word' in customer service (April 1991)? And now the company was telling me to hold for 20 minutes. Ouch!

"Suddenly, a familiar voice came on the line. 'This is Scott Cook, president of Intuit,' went the recorded message. Yes, Cook said, the wait was 'unacceptable.' Then he went on to explain why it was happening (an unexpected jump in sales in an already-busy month) and what the company was doing about it (training new support people as fast as possible, with 80 new ones recently brought on board). If we'd leave a message describing our problem, someone from the company would call back promptly.

"Of course, I would have preferred an on-the-spot solution. But like most consumers, I understand that companies I do business with (or write about) can't anticipate everything. What's more, in this case, a little respect for the customer along with some information about the problem made all the difference between a disgruntled customer and an admiring one."

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