A prospective client recently told us that its automated customer service systems have to interface to eighty different internal databases and software packages.
Another company we've done work for has three similar products, each with a different customer service number, a different vendor providing the self-service automation, and a different user interface for each IVR or speech system. That's three completely different customer service systems which essentially do exactly the same thing (two of them stank and one was outstanding, but that's a different story).
Closer to home, VocaLabs once had an invoice go unpaid for months because our client had five completely separate and parallel Accounts Payable systems, and somehow our invoice got entered into the wrong one.
With this level of complexity, it's no wonder that providing first-rate customer service can be so hard. Sometimes the wonder is that the phone gets answered at all.
Never mind the reasons why a company has five different payables systems or three functionally equivalent self-service systems. What's important is that customers don't care.
Back in grade school, one of my teachers had a motivational poster that read, "Be Like a Duck: Calm on the Surface, but Paddling Like Mad Underneath."
That's what most people expect when they call customer service: a simple, efficient transaction, no matter how complicated things may be behind the scenes.
It can be easy sometimes to get lost in the complexity of making everything work smoothly to provide good service. The important thing is to take a step back and look at the entire experience from a customer's point of view: is there needless complexity? Do callers get shuffled from agent to agent or system to system and asked the same things over and over?
Because paddling like mad is easy. The hard part is being calm on the surface.