Seth Godin had a post recently - Starting over with customer service - and, while I agree with much of his set up I think the solution is different. Why not empower those people collecting good information to give an actual answer? Why not automate as many of the customer treatment decisions as possible so that when they enter the information they can give the customer both the right response and an immediate one? Not only do customers appreciate the speed of response (see this post) but they will also appreciate being able to self-serve when those same automated decisions are available through the website. I have blogged about this before in the context of gethuman.org.
Your front-line staff cannot deliver good customer service unassisted but that does not mean you should give up on providing service immediately.