03/20/2014 02:51 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

You're the Customer. Why Do They Think You Work for Them ?

My husband is a television guy, so we have screens everywhere. Everything works fine, except the kitchen TV. "Hello," I say to the cable company. "Me again. Surprise: The kitchen TV feed is out. Again."

Finally, after four visits, success. Repair guy says, "Hey, I figured it out. All you have to do is reset it on the first and the fifteenth each month." "Great," I say, "You mean, like a reboot?" Well, no, it's a little more complicated than that. Pull out the bank of electronics in your closet, put on your mining gear, dive into the wires and dust behind the unit, unplug something on the wall, flip the switch on the back of a box, wait 10 minutes, wade back in, put it all back together, push the bank of equipment back into place, and then reboot. That should do it.

"OK, great, happy we've found a fix for this," I said. "Now where are the forms I have to fill out?" "No forms, Missus," the man said cheerfully, happy to have solved my problem. "But there must be," I protested. "You just told me I have to be on premises twice each month to do a specific job I'm already paying thousands a year to have the cable company do. That's 24 days a year. Question for you: I know it's a part-time job, but it does help the company make money (from me, ironically) so are there benefits?"

"No forms, Missus."

"Hang on," I say. "If I asked you to come and do this for me 24 times a year on top of your regular job, you'd want to get paid, wouldn't you? It's a responsibility. It takes time, some training, special clothes and intrudes on your schedule. Would you do it for free?

"No? Well, then, why should I?"

I was just starting to wonder if I will have to join a union when my new boss explained patiently that if I didn't do this, someone from the company would have to run a new line up the building, over the roof, down the elevator shaft, across the basement and under the intersection to the connection point across the street.

I said I'd be ok with that.

Is it just me? Anybody else find it tedious to work hard so somebody else can make some money?

Spending money takes time and work. For a store to make money from you, you have to find your keys, get dressed, get in a car, drive somewhere, find a parking place, walk through the weather, go in and look at thousands of things you don't want to find a few you do, carry them to a counter, wait in line, go back into the weather to get to your car, and drive away. All that work so someone else can make money. And that's if everything goes perfectly. One little problem and you can double or triple your workload.

No wonder online shopping is popular.

Sure, there are some inevitable tasks that are just part of the jobs of "shopping" and "buying." Unloading the grocery cart at the supermarket. Using an ATM. Emptying the seat pocket in front of you at the end of a flight on a low-cost airline. The expectation is reasonable and part of the deal. We even get the warning about "some assembly required" before we buy so we can decide how much jigsaw we want in our furniture. But let's talk a moment about the times where companies simply forget we are not their employees, and that we may have an entire agenda that does not include working for them unpaid.

My son wanted to open a checking account and get a credit card before he left for college. He took off work to go to the meeting at the bank branch. They made a mistake (annoying enough) and three days later, they said they needed him to go back to correct their mistake. My son pointed out that he had already taken time away from the work that pays him money so he could come to them so the bank could make some money, and he couldn't do that again to correct their mistake, unless they could reimburse him for what he'd lose not being at his paying job. Surprise! That didn't compute.

It's not just for-profit businesses. My husband and I wanted to report a taxi with no seat belts. We dutifully called 311, asked for the Taxi Commission, and reported the derelict taxi by its identifying number. But the City of New York wasn't done with us yet. Simply reporting the problem, to protect strangers riding in that cab in the future, was not enough. For them to do anything, we'd need to fill out the form they were about to mail to us, and then very likely to come downtown and testify.

Make yourself a little wallet card. These lines may come in handy more often than they should:

• Yes, I appreciate your help with this problem. But please remember that the time you are spending on this call is part of your job. For me, it's in addition to my full time job. You are being paid to have this conversation. I am not.

• I can't really work right now on solving this problem your company created. Can you give me your home phone number? I'll call you during dinner.

• Sure, I can do that for you. How do I get on the payroll first?

Tell your customer-workload stories and ask what to say to companies: We'll try to answer your questions here.

Martha Rogers, Ph.D. is the co-author, with Don Peppers, of nine business books, including international best-sellers and a textbook on customer relationships. She is Adjunct Professor at Duke, on the Board of SuiteCX, and Founder Emerita of Peppers & Rogers Group, now part of TeleTech.