A bit over a week ago my otherwise nifty Motorola MPX220 phone decided to stop charging… the battery seemed fine, but when I plugged in any of several charging devices, no power flowed into the device.

After struggling through what I thought was a long hold time, I got someone who had a hard time understanding how to spell simple words, even when I spelled them out multiple times. A scheduled pickup never materialized, and I called back late the next day, and they told me my address was not on file. I gave my information all over again, and the scheduled AM pickup also never happened.

I called a third time yesterday, waited on hold about 20 minutes after several abortive attempts at navigating irrelevant voice prompts, and they scheduled a same-day pickup at my office. Someone from FedEx did show up, this time with a completely blank waybill, and I had no idea what the address should have been. So she said she could come back the next day, but I figured I could drop the package off somewhere just as easily on my own.

When I called Motorola again, I waited on hold for 25 minutes once more, only to get transferred a recording with a barely audible pronunciation of the destination address. I tried to drop the filled-out waybill today at Kinko’s, but they refused to accept the package because there was no recipient account number on the waybill.

On the rare occasions when I’ve had to return something electronic for repairs or exchanges, the vendor almost always just sent their driver with a door tag, or gave me a link to a web page where I could print my own label. This odd exception has wasted more hours than I would have thought possible. I found the whole thing very frustrating.

I was about to unleash a fury on the unfortunate person who would answer my call today, but the wait time was only 2 minutes, this time and she was oddly disarming and suitably apologetic. She managed to confirm the pickup by telephone instead of the usual electronic method, and even gave me an account number to list on the waybill in case something went wrong.

I could have been more explosive… I was rehearsing empty threats of lawsuits in my mind before I called. Thank goodness an occasional customer sevice lackey has decent people skills. We might be reading about violent cases of Customer Service Rage.

All of the daytime customer service staff seemed to be located in India, and are apparently unaccustomed to US accents pronouncing things like letters and common street names. However, after 4 pm or so, it seems that the support staff are in some Latin American country, and although the staff speak with an accent the ones I’ve encountered so far seemed less confused by American English conventions.

I’m not philosophically opposed to outsourcing; it stretched our resource-constrained team far further than previously possible when I was at Microsoft. Telephone customer service is hard to do well even inside a company. But I wish companies would evaluate the cost in a more sophisticated fashion: What’s the cost of customer frustration with a company? What’s the cost of a bad experience? What are your corrective measures when your outsourced customer service ruins your customer relationships?

In my import business, my goal is to find things that are imported for a good reason: I want something if the product is made better where it’s from than anywhere else, or an has a distinctive style that can’t be readily duplicated, or it otherwise has a really compelling origin story. I think that outsourcing of technical services will ultimately have this approach, as well as the low-end brutal cost consciousness that’s the dominant reason for going to India, China and Russia right now. There are some really well-educated folks in Asia and Russia and some of them are bound to develop technologies or maybe even service methodologies that will be in demand on their own merits, rather than simply because they cost less. Burnout jobs in call centers that spend most of the time trying not to be helpful to customers in to avoid expensive bench time or better software design… is this really the best outsourcing model?