How to lose customers

Our picks for the best new business books, with advice on pleasing customers and unleashing your inner celebrity.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives
By Emily Yellin
Free Press, $26

When 76-year-old Mona Shaw finally snapped, she became a national celebrity. Furious at the brute indifference of her cable company, Shaw ran amok with a hammer at a Comcast (CMCSA, Fortune 500) office in Virginia and, after a brush with law enforcement, found herself on Good Morning America and Nightline. She didn't hit anybody at Comcast, but she did strike a chord with cable consumers.

Americans make 43 billion customer service calls each year. The many sorrows of these supplicants - as well as the travails of the unfortunate customer service reps - are the subject of Emily Yellin's Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us, an in-depth look at the increasingly international customer service industry.

For small business owners, Yellin's prodigiously researched book is a useful cautionary tale. Companies that farm out customer service, she makes clear, divorce themselves from their customers. The rationale for outsourcing is financial. On average, according to Yellin, each customer service call fielded in the U.S. costs a business $7.50; the same call can be handled overseas for just $2.35. (And an automated system can do the job for 32 cents.)

But these cost-saving decisions by big businesses offer a giant advantage to smaller firms. In a world of anonymous call centers halfway around the globe, entrepreneurs have an edge to exploit.

Where's My Fifteen Minutes?
By Howard Bragman with Michael Levin
Portfolio, $25.95

These days hardly anyone in business can afford to ignore the media. For entrepreneurs who want to get their message out - or manage a message the world has somehow already extracted - Where's My Fifteen Minutes? might be just the thing.

In clear, entertaining prose laced with celebrity anecdotes, Hollywood PR veteran Howard Bragman and writer Michael Levin explain how to get press for yourself or your venture, how to give great interview, and what to do if you've got a secret. (Bragman, who is gay, has made a specialty of helping entertainers manage their emergence from the closet.) You might not shove Brangelina out of the limelight, but you'll come away a lot more savvy.

The 100 Best Business Books Of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter And How They Can Help You
By Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten
Portfolio, $25.95

Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten have performed a service by selecting and discussing The 100 Best Business Books of All Time in a thoughtful and superbly designed package. The section on entrepreneurship covers such titles as The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, Growing a Business by Paul Hawken and The Partnership Charter by David Gage.

One could quibble with some of the choices, but any volume that includes Charles Darwin, Theodore Dreiser and Philip Roth right along with Warren Bennis and Dale Carnegie is worth the price of admission.

Daniel Akst is writing a book about self-control for Penguin Press.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Americans making 43 million customer service calls each year. The correct number is 43 billion. Fortune Small Business regrets the error.  To top of page

To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

QMy dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering to acquire a set of skills first. Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice? More
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- Spate, Orange, Calif.

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