Customer service is difficult, expensive and unpredictable. But it's a mistake to assume that any particular example is automatically either good or bad. A company might spend almost nothing on customer service but still succeed in reaching its goals.
Customer service succeeds when it accomplishes what the organization sets out to accomplish. Google doesn't have a phone number, doesn't want to engage with most users. McDonald's doesn't give you a linen napkin. Fedex used to answer the phone on one ring, now it takes 81 seconds for them to answer a call. None of these things are necessarily bad, they're merely examples of alignment (or non-alignment).
Organizations don't accidentally run ads, don't mistakenly double (or halve) the amount of cereal they put in the box. They shouldn't deliver customer service that doesn't match their goals either.
Seth details several uses of customer service in his post, but I'd like to focus on our success of mixing two strategies:
To raise expectations and delight customers by giving them way more than they hoped for, which was a lot.
I believe, especially as a startup and an enterprise SaaS provider, our customers are our existance. When a customer contacts us with a request, we provide on-demand webinars, onsite training, and whatever's necessary not only for OUR company to be successful, but for THEIR company to be successful as well. Our goal isn't to just run a web service, but to build partnerships with each of our customers.
That strategy isn't right for everyone--and doesn't scale to the millions of customers, but it matches our business model right now.
To dance with customers in an act of co-creation.
We LOVE our power users and, thankfully, our community of power users love us. How much? They're our last line of testers (and some even before that) that works hand-in-hand with us to debug, diagnose, and help determine the roadmap and direction of our products. It's easy for a software company to miss trends that are part of the user's everyday life and keeping our customers directly in the feature roadmap loop has helped us grow our products to meet the demands of our customers--without having them leave to know we were missing something.