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How Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May Saved Microsoft

February 2, 2010

Before I really dig into tonight’s rant, I must admit a few points. First, that I work for Microsoft. I’ve worked for the company for a number of years now and I honestly think it’s one of the best companies to work for: we produce some great products, have some of the best and brightest folks in the industry, and make positive impacts all over the world every day.

That said (and in part because of this context), I’m embarrassed to share the following story of the horrendous customer service I’ve experienced of late from Microsoft regarding my Xbox 360. This is especially disappointing to me because I’ve had to deal with Xbox customer support several times over the years. Truth be told, I’ve had to send just about every Xbox I’ve ever owned in for service because of failures (which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 or 7 times). This is sad in that it demonstrates all the hardware issues the Xbox products have had over the years, but the way I feel is that I’m much happier to have the failures occur to me and not to a customer. These experiences have also given me a look at how we’re doing in terms of customer service, and until recently my experiences were always quite good.

360_ring_deathc Recently, one of my Xbox 360s had an E74 failure – basically something in the hardware died and now the box won’t do anything more than flash a red error indicator light and display a failure screen. I have another 360 at home, so the failure didn’t bother me too much – I can swap out the hard drive and still play Mass Effect 2, etc. 🙂 After attempting some troubleshooting (removing the hard drive and all memory cards, connecting the box to a different video device, etc.), I went to to check the status of my warranty and file a repair order.

Since I always register my 360’s online, the serial was already on the site and it was a simple click-and-fill-in-the-form exercise to file the repair order, but BUMMER – the site threw an error and couldn’t file my claim. Oh well, I’ll just file it later…

Next day, I attempt to file the repair order again. Same failure. OK fine – I’ll just try to dig up someone in Xbox when I’m back at work and report the site failure and in the meantime just call support.

I called 1-800-4MY-XBOX, went through the automated voice prompts until I got to a human, and then talked to the support person about the issue. He was polite and responsive, and (surprise surprise) was able to find that service request (or several?) that I had originally attempted to file through the web site and (I assumed) finished filing it. He provided the new service request number, informed me that MS no longer mails shipping materials to customers, and told me to instead expect a mailing label in email within 4 hours. Great! That was pretty painless – and demonstrates what has been my typical experience in the past.

4 hours… no email with a shipping label.

Unfortunately, this is where it went off the tracks…

1 day goes by – still no email. Damn that’s a slow email server!

Another day – still no email. So – I file another generic request via the web site, referencing my original request number and asking for an update.

Next day, and I get a polite response telling to instead call the support line and reference service number X (X being the newer SR number). Fine. I called 1-800-4MY-XBOX again, and got the same guess-what-I’m-saying voice prompt system:

Welcome to Xbox customer support. We are currently experiencing high call volumes. However, there is no need to wait to speak with a customer support representative. You can use to find support information or file a support request…

Wait – isn’t this what I did 4 days ago? It didn’t work then, and the site currently doesn’t show any SR for me (even though I theoretically have 2 at this point). Instead, I need to wait through 30 seconds of phone support telling me to do what I can’t do before I even get a chance to play the “guess-wrong-about-what-I-said” game with the voice-prompt menu system.

So unfortunately, the system apparently doesn’t have any way to simply enter an SR and get help with an existing claim or (heaven forbid) simply hit 0, *, # or anything else to just talk to a human. I instead have to listen through its forced prompts and speak the correct magic words like I’m freakin’ Harry Potter or something. Even worse, it apparently doesn’t understand English today because any response I give results in something to the effect of:

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you said. Are you interested in Galoshes or Parrots? Please say “Galoshes” or “Parrots”

There’s supposedly an item “Repairs” in the menu, but of course it can’t understand my saying that. After all, I am a white American male with absolutely no accent whatsoever. Somehow, I end up in some dark alley of the menu system bearing no relation to hardware or my service requests. Fine – I give up and call back again. Oh goody! I get to listen again to the initial spiel all over again, unable to cut to the chase and simply enter my SR or talk to a freakin’ human.

Rinse. Repeat.

By the forth time I’ve had to call back, the menu system still can’t understand me, the SR # I keep trying to type in when I finally do get to something resembling the correct prompt, and I’m steaming. I suppose this isn’t really surprising because by this point I’m understandably livid at having to deal with the thing and screaming “Repairs!” at it louder and louder and with more and more expletives thrown in for good measure.

After 12 minutes on the phone and a thorough (though undesired) tour through the voice system, I finally get connected to a human. The end should be in sight…

I explain to the latest support person that I have already filed a request (2 actually) and I dutifully supply the SR # as the previous response email had requested. A little bit of tippity-tapping on the keyboard on her end, and she informs me that the SR # I gave essentially just states that I had another request (duh!), is basically useless, and yet another one needs to be filed in order to get me the previously-promised email with previously-promised shipping label.

By now I just don’t care. You could tell me what is supposed to be on the label, I would Sharpie it on the side of the Xbox, slap some stamps on it, and ship it out as is because that seems more likely to succeed in getting the machine there.

OK Alan – take a breath – just need to file the new SR and the pain should be over. Oh wait! Now the service rep tells me that apparently they’re doing maintenance on their systems and she can’t actually file the request now. I’ll need to call back in an hour or two to have the request actually filed at that time! Yay <fist pump>! That means I get to go through that $#%^*$ voice-prompt system yet again. And here I didn’t think I’d get another chance…

So here I am – 5 days later, 3 (theoretically) filed service requests just to get a bloody shipping label, and still NOTHING to show for it.

the_team_home By this point, the Bloody Smurf is truly ready to go for blood, but I have to wait at least an hour to stew and nurture my impending wrath before I can even attempt to make any further headway, right?! So, I make some dinner and settle down to watch Top Gear off the TiVo while I eat.

As usual, the guys are on and I’m soon rolling with laughter as Jeremy and Richard torture James, as they all flounder in their most recent challenges (how hard could it be?!), and show off the cars the 17-year-old me wanted and the 38-year-old me knows I’ll never afford, and much of my anger with all things bad-Microsoft-customer-service-related has subsided. (Much, I say, not all). I won’t need to go on a rage-fueled rampage – yet.


It’s now late and I’m not going to call that bloody 1-800 number again tonight – I can’t stand to go to bed angry and not sleep because of this bullshit.

C’mon Microsoft! We’ve gotta get this system fixed. This is ridiculous and embarrassing. As they ask on Top GearHow hard could it be?!

Update, 2/3/2010:

After a long day today I call (yet) again this evening to try to sort this BS out. I dial the 1-800 number, am prompted by the @#$% voice-ignore system which of course still can’t understand me, and after multiple attempts trying to get it to understand me, it finally gives up entirely and admits that there isn’t actually anyone able to answer my call right now because it’s not during normal business hours anyway.

Are you fucking kidding me!?!? If there’s no-one to take my call, why make me spend another 5 minutes dealing with the damn voice-prompt system in the first place? Is this in hopes that the customer will get so fed up that they’ll just go away? I swear it’s beginning to feel like I’m in a psychology experiment to see just how much annoyance a customer can take before they just give up on the company and products altogether…

Apathy This whole experience reminded me of the image above, from Taking a quick peek at the site they actually appear to have lots of fitting representations:

Embarrassing Microsoft, just absolutely embarrassing.

I’d never been interested in buying a PS3 before, but if Sony knows how to support a customer it’s looking better and better…

Update, 2/4/2010:

Called this evening to continue to great “give me a f’ing shipping label please” saga, and had a new and almost humorous failure (if it weren’t so tragically bad at the point) occur:

I call the 1-800 #, do the special dance to get through the voice recognition system to the point when I can get it to simply give up and connect me to a human, and when it finally does what happens? It attempts to transfer me and I instead get the three-tones (bong-Bong-BONG) and standard Ma Bell failure recording:

We’re sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer in service. Please hang up and try your call again or dial 0 for an operator.

Christ. That’s a new one.

I give up – I don’t need this aggravation tonight, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and the box will still be broken tomorrow. The saga continues.

Update, 2/10/2010:

Went a few days without further effort on this front – was frankly just sick and tired of the BS and after having my house robbed on Friday last, I spent much of my time over the weekend replacing some of the stuff which was taken…

Tonight I finally called again (all this just to get a bloody shipping label!), and blundered my way through the stupid voice prompt system:

Good news: I’m learning where I can simply press buttons or ignore it to trick the system into getting me an actual HUMAN on the other end of the line within about 2 minutes (still 2 minutes too long IMHO, but at least it’s less than previous experiences)

Bad news: I’m having to call so many times that I’m having to learn the stupid voice menu system.

Finally spoke with a nice young man who sounded of a Ukrainian persuasion named David. David dutifully listened as I explained that I already had three SRs open, that I simply needed a shipping label, and that “Yes, this is because of an E-74 failure.” After exchanging the necessary PII to identify myself as correctly connected to the box/account in question, serial number, email addy, etc. yet another SR was filed and David assured me that this time I would get an email with the critical shipping label.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

This is particularly sad, because when I get to talk to a human, I get the kind of customer service I’ve experienced in the past, and that which I expect: really good service. The sad part is that it’s been a maddening and terrible experience cracking through the technology wrapping the human being, and still appears to be failing when it comes to getting me one bloody email, and this is the part Microsoft should be able to get right. Really right, and as a great example to others, and from my recent experience it just isn’t. Sad.

There is one ray of hope now though: Out of 4 filed SRs, the latest one actually shows up on the web site, which means I can finally actually print the associated label. Yay!

I’ve printed it, will ship the box off tomorrow, and expect that the promised estimate of 2-3 weeks for repair turn-around is probably accurate so long as there’s no voice recognition or email involved in that process…

From → Gaming, Microsoft, Xbox

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