Any country that claims to be shifting to a service economy should be asking itself why service is so bad in the United States.

To hear my neighbors tell it, their world is populated by rude salesmen, arrogant clerks, lazy waiters, devious bureaucrats and computerized answering systems that destroy a caller's brain cells.Now comes a book ("It's Not My Department!") that tells customers how to get the service they want, exactly the way they want it. The author is Peter Glen, a New York business consultant who demands good service wherever he goes.

If you want something, here's how Glen would get it:

"I say, get up and walk past the executive secretaries, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents and right into the office of the president, demanding better service. Don't write, don't wait, don't request an appointment. Stride in, make the `C' sign, the sign of the customer, and tell the president what you want, and how you want it, and stay there until you get it."

(The "C" sign, in case you're wondering, is made by forming the thumb and forefinger into the letter "C" and flashing it at the first available functionary. It's a bit like flashing a cross at a vampire, but Glen says you'll get better service that way.)

Glen mentions a handful of companies that offer good service. Two of them, Lands' End, the Wisconsin mail-order house, and Nordstrom, the fashion store, are particular favorites of mine.

A few months ago I drove to a Nordstrom store in suburban Washington to pick up a skirt being hemmed for my wife. It wasn't ready. A solicitous saleswoman delivered the skirt to my home (across the Potomac River) the next day.

Such beyond-the-call-of-duty service isn't popular with everyone - a labor union in Seattle is suing Nordstrom for allegedly coercing employees to perform some work without pay.

But it's a refreshing change from the counter clerk at a dismal doughnut shop in Connecticut who informed Glen that he hated his job.

"Sixty to 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs," says Glen. "That's the best, single reason jobs are performed poorly."

Doctors who make patients wait are especially irritating to Glen. What you tell a doctor before becoming a patient is this: "I'm glad you graduated from Yale Medical School. But what I really want to know is, how punctual are you?"

Glen has other ideas, one of which is to put salesmen on commission so they take more pride in their jobs. What he fails to point out, however, is that civility is a two-way street.

Contrary to what you may have heard, customers aren't always right. Sometimes they're nasty, overbearing and obnoxious.

My suggestion is to treat service workers the way you'd like to be treated in return. You'll be surprised at how much more expeditious and courteous the service can be.