Rick Klau of Socialtext writes intelligently about Corporate voices and online communication strategy and points to the need for real humans to provide technical and customer support, rather than the impersonal canned responses of eBay and others
Developing an identity in this way is similar to how businesses can use blogs, by the way. Give your company a voice, give it a face, and above all, make it distinctive. The benefits are real, and customers will appreciate it.
This chimes with our own experience of rolling out and supporting our own social software platform. In fact, a frustrated user who receives friendly and timely support can become a greater advocate or champion than somebody who uses the system without needing too contact us
Of course the economics are harder to justify on a mega-corp scale, but for most businesses the benefits of human support (not outsourced automatons, but people who care) far outweigh the costs and should be a central plank of any customer retention strategy.