Servicing Customers

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET

You get what you pay for ... if you're lucky. We bought a Prius last week. Great! We needed a spare key. Groan. Private enterprise has externalized so many costs onto customers that I actually gasped when a real, live, friendly person with a real name, greeted my call to Toyota's nation-wide customer service number -- on the second ring!

Toyota spared me the offensive, pervasive faux-voices ("If you want X, press 1" "that is not a valid option, try again") that bloat my days. Yes, I do resent businesses squeezing out every last scintilla of a cent, leaving customers to absorb the costs in time, energy and aggravation.

It's no accident that the company that makes the smartest car on the road also has real Customer Service people, unmediated by ubiquitous and noxious computer-prompts. It's that "values thing," getting what we pay for and not having to absorb costs that are properly the vendor's.

There are so many things about which we all have every reason to object that I take active note, twice over. First, what a relief to have a car - that's spelled P-R-I-U-S - that delivers on its promises while quietly (it's so quiet!) making a Big Statement about what Bill and I value, i.e., life on Earth. Plus, two cheers for a private sector company that does more than generate ad copy when it comes to Customer Service.

Thank You, Toyota, for leading by example. Twice. Now, if you would just make it three and support meaningfully higher CAFE standards ... .

The late Michael Dertouzos directed MIT's Computer Science Lab for more a quarter of a century. He said we should "REVOLT" when human time is put in service to computers. His prime example was the automated phone systems so common in corporate service (sic) centers. Revolt? Indeed we should.

You'll find lots of positive things being said by our leading-edge Guests, hundreds of whom, including Dr. Dertouzos, are available for your listening pleasure on our website