This Space for Rent

The Joy of Outsourcing

Microsoft has, apparently, been outsourcing their customer support to India. This may not come as a surprise to people who actually have to deal with Microsoft products for fun and profit, but it came as a surprise to me, when, after sending off a routine abuse complaint to hotmail for yet another Nigerian 419 scam letter, I got a letter back from Microsoft (with headers pointing to an Indian call center. No, I'm not planning on posting those headers) that started:

   Dear Samash,
   Thank you for writing to Hotmail Technical Support.
   I apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail message due to
   high volume of e-mail messages received.
   I understand that you are facing difficulty in accessing your Hotmail

and rattled through a list of stupid Windows-specific solutions to someone else's problem, before helpfully appending my abuse complaint, which started with:

   Sent: Wed Oct 20 23:21:39 PDT 2004
   Subject: 419 scam -- No Loss
   This Nigerian 419 scam letter either originated or was relayed
   through your site. Could you please deal with it?
   -- david parsons, postmaster,
   419 scam letter (with headers) follows:
   |From Wed Oct 20 20:38:08 2004
   |Received: from (
   | (MAIL FROM:)
   | by (TFMTKAYTFO)

Note that, even with the mangling that their stupid Exchange server did, my complaint still contains the not terribly ambiguous phrase « This Nigerian 419 scam letter either originated or was relayed through your site. »

I can imagine the discussions that led to this outsourcing, with the manager who wanted the bonus for making a support process cheaper claiming savings of 50%! No, 60%! No, even better; we'll be able to save 95% on our support costs.! until their supervisor signed off on it and sent it off to Mount Doom on Lake Washington for billg's approval. And when the email from billg came back, this manager all of a sudden had to get the job done.

And rapidly discovered that good techs aren't cheap, even if they're in India, and if you got competent ones you'd only save about 50% over the call centers in the United States. And that would be bye bye to the process improvement bonus. So, time to scramble around looking for the cheapest possible vendor.

And they found one! And because the vendor is already in India, he can't threaten his minions with work harder, worms, or we'll outsource your job to Bangalore! (but, boss, we're already in Bangalore .) We are? (Yes. Look at the address on the piddly little cheques you write us.) And so now Microsoft is having their abuse desk handled by a company that's got about a 45 minute worker retention period, and that, barring using Chinese deathcamp labor, can't be replaced with anything cheaper.

That's the problem with a race to the bottom. When you've won, you're at the bottom, and your customers may not be as enthusiastic about the quality of service coming from people who know that the only reason they have this job is because they're the cheapest possible alternative.

But I'm sure that there were process improvement bonuses and solid gold gazebos for all of the upper management of Mount Doom. And the customers probably won't abandon you for Linux. Maybe.