Here's a great post on Frozen North that discusses the contributions of customer service to building a strong brand. Here's a snip:
In too many companies I've observed, advertising and marketing is viewed as a cost of growing and acquiring new customers; while customer service is viewed strictly as overhead. As a result, the is little or no cross-communication between the marketing side of the business and the customer service side of the business, and certainly no common budgetary authority. So, for example, nobody (short of the CEO) has the authority to say, "This million dollars would be more effectively spent improving customer service than on an ad campaign."
The result is that marketing and service often work at cross-purposes. The mandate of marketing is to polish the brand image, to induce customers to make a purchase. Then, the call center (often organizationally lumped in with the data network and phone systems) says, "Those pesky customers just keep calling and costing us money!"
The problem is one of priorities. Every customer phone call presents an opportunity to strengthen your brand image. Most large consumer-oriented companies get millions of these opportunities a year, and waste most of them. Or worse, they ship them off to a third party outsourcer, who has no stake in the company's brand image, and only has incentives to provide the lowest-cost service.
Pardon the bad analogy, but hiring a third party to handle your customer's phone calls is like asking a friend to go on a date for you. It might be cheaper or easier in the short run, but it completely misses the point of the relationship.
Amen, Peter! It's been interesting to watch my own changing points of view on this topic. Early in my career when I worked at an ad agency, we all thought that we (at the agency) were the brand builders, that we could change people's perceptions of the brand by simply rolling out a new campaign. Moving into customer research and marketing director roles gave me the insights that Peter mentions above. And I don't hesitate to tell a CEO or CFO that his money is better spent on improving the customer experience before a dime is spent on advertising. I call it "curing the marketing black-hole syndrome" since marketing, customer service, product development, etc. must all work together to attract customers, keep them, and transform them into a free sales force. Companies that depend on one department at the exclusion of the others cannot be successful in the long term.