A recent story in USA Today discussed the difficulty of getting assistance when experiencing service troubles. The writer gave examples of some national companies at which it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a live person to help you.This inspired me to make a list of the important products and services I use at work and home. These include my local telephone service, long-distance (AT&T), wireless provider, PC hardware and software support, broadband Internet service, banking and utilities. I then expanded the list to include my doctor, local hospital, hair salon (are there any barbers left?), attorney, CPA and dentist. Next, I called the customer service number or main number for each to see how long it took to get "real-person" assistance.The only companies at which live operators answered were my dentist and attorney, neither of whom I particularly enjoy talking to. AT&T and the hair salon never even allowed me to talk to the auto attendant (busy signals). My long-distance provider's loop of options included one for speaking with a customer service representative. When I opted for that, the loop began all over again. I waited 30 minutes to speak to a live rep from my cable company. And I concluded that there is no such company as Microsoft.This exercise left me with these conclusions:I will buy a new PC before I call for hardware assistance. Messrs. Hewlett and Packard have obviously left the building.\u2022 Buy stock now in AT&T. They have a deal for $4.95 and then 7 cents a minute for long-distance. That deal in itself is not so good, but the reason it makes sense as an investor is that once a customer is on it, he can't leave! I've tried for months to call the number on my phone bill to change my plan, but every time I call, I wait on hold about 30 minutes, figure it's cheaper to pay the $4.95 and hang up.\u2022 Many of the employees at my hair salon seem to do nothing but look at themselves in the mirror all day. Why can't they put a mirror by the main phone so some of these folks can answer calls while they primp instead of having the customer listen to a recording to set an appointment?\u2022 My local hospital's recording told me to call another number if this were an emergency. Thanks. (In the phone directory, they also list the number for their barbershop before their main telephone number...I might try them out.)\u2022 If anyone can find a Microsoft number, please let me know.By the way, try to connect to the sales department for any of these firms and notice how quickly you'll get through.I am closing with a plea for corporate managers to call your own customer service departments and listen to what your customers are hearing. For most of you, this will take some time - be patient.Horrell is a telecom speaker, author and consultant in Memphis. He can be reached at www.edhorrell.com.