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Would you like to change to the Mali site? Sue Weekes , Scott Beagrie. Covers the key areas of online people strategies, including how Web-based technology can streamline and automate traditional HR tasks, transform HR into a more strategic function and help to build a more effective and motivated workforce. People Express: People Performance and Reward Management: People Teamworking: People E-People: People Global HR: People Younger managers in particular have grown up with technology that encourages self-sufficiency.

These managers should think of assistants as strategic assets and realize that part of their job is managing the relationship to get the highest possible return. Great assistants proactively look for ways to improve their skills.

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When I was the assistant to Pete Peterson, the former U. Today I see executive assistants learning new languages and technologies to improve their performance working for global corporations. In my work, I frequently encounter world-class executive assistants. She manages teams.

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She leads meetings. Roger says that he runs many decisions past Loretta before he weighs in. Another example is Noreen Denihan, whom I placed over 13 years ago as the executive assistant to Donald J. According to Don, Noreen fills an informal leadership role, has an unparalleled ability to read complex settings, and can recognize and respond to challenging people and circumstances. Compared with managers in other countries, those in the United States do a better job of delegating important work to their assistants—and of treating them as a real part of the management team.

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Outside the United States, educational requirements for assistants are less intensive, salaries are lower, and the role is more typically described as personal assistant. Can the executive trust and delegate, or does he micromanage? Do assistants like working for her, or does she have a history of many assistants leaving quickly or being fired?

Hiring the right assistant can be a challenge. Expert assistants understand the unspoken needs and characteristics of the people with whom they work. They have high levels of emotional intelligence: They respond to subtle cues and react with situational appropriateness. A good assistant quickly learns what an executive needs, what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, what might trigger anger or stress, and how to best accommodate his or her personal style.

The most common missteps an assistant makes are misreading the corporate culture, failing to build bridges with other assistants, failing to ask enough questions about tasks, agreeing to take on too much work, and speaking to external parties without authorization. Bosses usually contribute to these deteriorating relationships by not being open in their communications or not being clear about expectations. The rules of engagement change, however, when a customer is speaking to a machine -- yelling might actually help, since some automated systems detect shouting and cursing.

Virtual yelling also seems to get results: After the website ComcastMustDie. When Target launched a line by Missoni last year, frenzied shoppers waited in epic lines.

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Meanwhile, Jessica Alba had her manager put in a call to Target to place her order. When it comes to customer service, VIPs often get special treatment: Firms from Verizon to Bank of America have "executive" customer-relations offices. Verizon says it has teams to handle "frustrated" customers who e-mail non-customer-service employees; Bank of America says its Executive Customer Relations office "is not for any particular group of customers" but responds to "high-level complaints that are escalated.

They're not entry-level," she says. While VIP customers often get the best response, regular joes can sometimes score star treatment. Sites like GetHuman. One problem: Some firms, such as Priceline, have essentially changed the locks, deactivating e-mail addresses and phone numbers for executive offices after they've been publicized. Priceline says it periodically changes the number for its top-level customer-service team when "unreferred calls" get out of hand. Customer-service consultants advise firms to treat customers who reach the CEO the same as if they'd called the main number, because meeting their demands for free swag sets a bad precedent and demoralizes reps on the front lines.

Still on hold? Tweeting about your problem can sometimes get faster results. That's because companies often put their best reps online, and broadcasting a bad experience to the Twitterverse motivates them to appease the customer before the story goes viral. FedEx, for one, says it recruits "exceptional" agents for its social-media team. Josh March, CEO of Conversocial, a start-up that makes social-media customer-service software, recommends that firms resolve problems in less than an hour.

Although Conversocial found that large U. Companies often look first to customer-service departments to make cuts during tough times. In fact, the number of reps fell 9 percent in the U. Fear of layoffs only adds anxiety to a high-pressure job, where performance often is assessed based on rigid metrics like average call time and meeting the requirement to say a customer's name three times. The incentives for service in stores can also be skewed, since employees can suppress complaint rates by 30 percent simply by avoiding eye contact with customers.

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