Smart Money has a "Ten Things" list today about customer service. The article is a sad recitation of many problems industry insiders have known about for a long time: getting a problem or complaint resolved is hard, companies often care more about saving money than helping customers, and so forth.
I think the most insightful quote in the article is right on the first page where Emily Yellen says that customer service is designed as a firewall against the customer. This attitude is almost never spoken aloud, but comes across loud and clear in the decisions companies make: design systems to "contain" and "deflect" customers (industry terminology, not mine), provide incentives to handle lots of calls quickly rather than well, etc.
This attitude is almost exactly backwards. I believe, as management uber-Guru Peter Drucker once said, that the purpose of a company is to create and keep a customer. In customer service you are bombarded with customers, all of whom have some need to be filled. In the Marketing department they would kill for that.
Unfortunately, because much customer service happens post-sale, the attitude is that it's nothing but added cost. This would be true if most businesses were run like a street bazaar, but they aren't. In nearly every business, nearly every customer represents an ongoing relationship, or at least the potential for one. Every customer service opportunity is also the opportunity to strengthen that relationship.
Businesses prosper when their customers prosper and find value in what the business offers. Business is not a zero-sum game where you win by grabbing every last penny off the table. Companies win when their customers win.
So stop thinking about customer service as a firewall to protect the company from customers. Start embracing customer service as an opportunity to solve the customer's problems and bring added value to the relationship.