I have had this sort of conversation several times recently. Let's say I'm talking to SuperCo, a large, international manufacturer of Widgets. Let's also assume that I'm several steps into a phone maze and have waited a few minutes while listening to a poorly-synthesized rendition of Greensleeves, and am already slightly irritated. I get put through to the product specialist for the UltraWidget, and begin the same conversation the same way, for the third or fourth time.
"Hello, I read on your website here that you're the manufacturer of the UltraWidget."
"Yes, that's right."
"OK. I need the phlebotinum count of the UltraWidget - it isn't on the datasheet. Could you let me know?"
"Do you have a part number?"
This is a surprising question, as I've given a verbal description of the product that's sufficient to uniquely identify it. Keen to be cooperative, however, I scrabble among my desktop notes, and click around to see if the tab is still open, but I can't find it.
"...not to hand. It's the UltraWidget. That's the only thing you sell by that name."
"Uhh, I'm not very familiar with that product."
What was your job title again?
"Is there anyone there who'd be more familiar with it?"
"Uhh, not really..."
"Well, why don't you just go and get one off the shelf and look at it?"
I begin to suspect the truth.
"Have you ever actually handled one? Is there actually an UltraWidget in the building you're currently sitting in?"
"No, they're manufactured in Kuala Lumpur, and we order them on request."
Oh, screw this.
"Fine, order me one. I'll risk it."
"Wellllllllll, the system says the last time we ordered one was May 12 2012 at 10.37am."
Of course. You can ISO-9001 your way around the world and back, but you have no idea what the damn thing actually is, it effectively went EOL three years ago, and yet you're still shouting about it in printed, trade-show product literature. Surprisingly, things then look up, although the person on the phone sounds suspiciously enlightened and excited, as if this is the first time they suspected of the UltraWidget's existence.
"But I found it!"
"Oh, good. How many phlebotinums does it use?"
I listen for a few seconds to the sound of mouseclicks, but my patience is worn to paper-thin transparency.
"You're scrolling through the PDF of the datasheet, aren't you."
Then I'm distracted by a buzz in my pocket which announces the arrival of an email from Zhang-Min "Rachel" Wang from Super Golden Widget Company (Shenzhen) Limited, complete with a close-up photograph of a competing Super Golden Widget on her desk, which she's clearly just taken a photo of on her cellphone. The language barrier is high, and it'll take ten days to get here, but the question is answered and the thing is half the price. The job goes to China.
Just this sort of thing has happened three times in the last week. It's one thing for a big corporation to hire put interns on the phone. It's quite another for them to be comprehensively outdone in the most basic fundamentals of customer service by someone who speaks English as a second language, and not well. There's no use complaining that the Chinese keep ripping off western designs then behaving like this. If the western world is on a one-way trip to mediocrity, this sort of incompetent, idiotic complacency is a big part of why.