While I was on the road recently, a packet was delivered to my home that needed extra payment, and had to be signed for. I didn't know what it was but, through a host of intermediaries, I finally managed to secure what promised to be a precious item. It turned out to be marketing material from a company whose products I've bought frequently.

When I emailed the company to complain, I received a reply which promised, if I forwarded the paperwork, to reimburse my costs. I'd started out angry; now I was enraged. I didn't mind the expense, I explained. Who would give me back the time I'd wasted?

Anyone with a job these days is time-poor. Whether you're dealing with a shift worker holding down two jobs or an executive on call 24/7, time is at a premium. This isn't just because we're all working so hard; it's also because time is the one thing that money can't buy or replace. When it's gone, it's gone, and no refund can replace it.

What that means for anyone involved with customer service is that your number one goal must be not to waste your customer's time. If your service reps use scripts, cut them. If you play on hold music, keep it short. If you hope your customers will fill out a survey, do not let it run on screen after screen after screen and always show how much more is yet to come. And any time that you ask a customer to invest precious time with you, thank her--effusively.

One year, I decided I would fill in every customer survey that came my way. The vast majority of these were in hotel rooms, but a fair few came after sales of some kind. What I was testing was simple: how many companies, having asked for and received my time, would value it? Out of the 173 surveys I filled out that year, only two thanked me with more than an automatic email. Of these, one sent me a 'thank you' voucher.

If you want your customers to love you, you have to honor them, and the things that matter to them. Top of this list is time. In the end, the company that had so annoyed me sent me a 10%-off voucher. I was somewhat mollified; I just don't have the time to use it.