It's happened to all of us: Just when we need something most, it breaks.

Just when we thought all the bills were paid on time, there's a late charge.

Inevitably, our stressful lives become more so when we cross paths with a customer service center.

And oh, can it be frustrating from the get-go. Long menu options, multiple transfers, computer-generated messages telling you how "important" your call is, and how "all agents are busy," and how the next agent will be available in about 23 minutes.

Yuck. But in many cases, that's hardly the worst of it. Once in the comforting hands of a live agent, your problems may be just beginning.

Agents, especially in technical support, often are given standard scripts.

So no matter how hard you try to convey your knowledge of the product and its problem, you'll still be asked to check the power cord and on-off switch.

And with banks and financial services, you'll be asked annoying account-verification questions and may even have to endure a sales pitch before getting started.

Companies have outsourced most call-center work -- a lot of it to India -- in an effort to reduce cost.

On the plus side, however, today's more enlightened companies realize most of us represent revenue and profit, not just cost. Still, getting good service can be challenging.

Click here for the video version of this story from Jennifer Openshaw.

If you liked this article you might like

Penny Stocks Holding Their Heads Higher

Penny Stocks Holding Their Heads Higher

Five Reasons It May Pay to Discover

Five Reasons It May Pay to Discover

Circuit City: Price Check, Please

Circuit City: Price Check, Please

Buying an iPhone: It's a Tough Call

Buying an iPhone: It's a Tough Call

Food Stocks: What to Keep, What to Spit Out

Food Stocks: What to Keep, What to Spit Out