I rang my bank this morning, at their request.  The opening greeting, in full, was:

All our operators are busy.

Please hold.

Do not hang up.

The words do not do justice to the terseness of the tone.  Mack the Knife playing in the background was a curious counterpoint.  Hearing those words eight times before a human being came on the line didn't help.

The human being, when she arrived, was charming.  Then I got to listen to Somethin' Stupid and Do Nothing 'til You Hear From Me (there may be a message in there somewhere) while she delved into the problem of of why my bank card in London was apparently taking cash out of machines in Canada.  Then she was charming all over again.

I was talking to one of our contact centre people recently.  He said that the agents' lives were busier and more stressful than they needed to be, because the first part of so many calls needed time to be spent calming the customer down enough to be able to have a conversation.  Sometimes the customer's stress was a result of their circumstances, but all too often it was about all the things the Government (with a distinctly capital but very amorphous G) had done to them before they even made the call.  Waiting in a call centre queue doesn't come near the top of the list of anybody's favourite experiences, but it doesn't need to be designed to maximise the chances of customers taking out their frustration on the agents.

Two small thoughts come from that.  The first is that getting the small things right can make a big difference.  The second is another reminder that it is not just public services which struggle to maintain customer focus and effective service design.

Update:  The expert sceptics at Light Blue Touchpaper list thirteen things you can do to reduce the risk of card fraud.