Stung by a torrent of criticism and defections by members, eBay said today that it would roll back one of its recently announced fee increases. In a contrite message on the service’s announcements board, the new president of eBay North America Bill Cobb acknowledged that the fee increases have been “been difficult for some of our sellers.” Cobb said eBay would roll back “minimum insertion fees for auction-style listings and fixed price items.” The increase for eBay Stores sellers will remain, though.

Cobb also addressed what has been a longstanding complaint by eBay sellers — the inability to make contact with live customer service reps. Said Cobb:

Meg (Whitman) and I agree we haven’t invested enough in giving our CS reps the flexibility and tools they need to really take care of you. So, to start, within the next 90 days, we’ll shut down most of our automated email responses. Our users will get a “real” e-mail response to their questions – you’ll hear from a human being who will try to help you with your problem or question right off the bat. We will only use auto responses to acknowledge receipt of spam or policy violation reports.

We also think the time has come to expand phone support. Currently phone support is available only to Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium PowerSellers. Starting April 1, all eBay Stores owners also will have access to phone support. We’ll provide details on the benefits of phone support to Stores owners soon.

Reaction among eBayers has been mixed. Ina Steiner, editor of AuctionBytes, noted that the fee rollback only affects sellers who list items for 99 cents or less. “The fee for items starting at $1 – $9.9 remains 35 cents. The reduction in this particular fee encourages low-priced, no-reserve listings, furthering eBay’s perception as a “Walmart” of ecommerce,” she told us in an e-mail.

But Steiner lauded the promises to improve customer service.

“The shift in how eBay will deliver customer service is radical if it plays out as eBay promises,” she said. “I’ve heard stories from users who receive automated emails that have nothing to do with the questions they asked, with situations sometimes bordering on the ludicrous. If knowledgeable customer service representatives can give appropriate help to buyers and sellers, this will be a major relief to users.”

It’ll be interesting to see how eBay investors react. Its customer service changes will presumably cost money. And analysts and investors were already grumbling about slowing growth and increased costs.