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The Secrets and Lies behind Microsoft's Customer Service Program

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Anyone who has had a console fail on them knows that it’s a traumatic experience with both anger and heartbreak. It’s like a long-term good friend has simultaneously gotten sick and called your mother fat. Due to a massive failure rate in recent history, Microsoft extended the one-year warranty for the Red Ring of Death, and E74 errors, to three years from the console date. But what happens to gamers who have a failed unit that is 3 years and 1 month old? Would the company offer some sort of 1-month grace period to garner goodwill from a long-term customer? In my case, the answer was both yes, then no, and after a long battle that extended to the darkest depths of the company’s customer service policies, and eventual yes again.

A few weeks back Microsoft released the fall update for the Xbox 360. The changes it has made to the Dashboard were supposed to be not only innovative, but offer a much cleaner experience making the console “less of a toy and more of a tool.” I can’t say if these changes occurred however. When I installed the mandatory firmware update, I was not greeted with a brand-new Xbox Experience but with those three flashing lights that represent the culling song for the beloved console.

I immediately called the Xbox Live tech support and was informed that the extended RRoD warranty for my console had expired 20 days prior. The customer service representative told me that I could either pay $120 to have my console repaired out of warranty, or pay $25 to extend the warranty for a year and immediately submit it for a repair. This seemed like an amazing deal for me, but one that would certainly undercut Microsoft’s profits, so to make sure I understood what she was saying I asked her to confirm it two more times. She did.

I had decided that instead of parting with any money, I would see if there were other routes that I might be able to use. I asked if I could call back and purchase the warranty should those routes fail. The CSR told me that I could even purchase this deal online, and I was given a service number. The call ended with me still upset, but optimistic that in the worst-case scenario I’d give MS $25 and I could start the month long process of getting my Xbox repaired. What happened next would prove that I’m not very good at guessing worst-case scenarios.

The next day, with all other channels exhausted, I decided to call back Microsoft. After explaining the situation to a new Customer Service Rep, I was informed that the woman I spoke with not even 24 hours prior should not have offered me anything, and they were not willing to honor the offer. I asked to speak to a supervisor so that I might still get the deal I was offered. In response to my complaint, the supervisor told me that "[the call center has] a lot of noobies running around here, we can't go cleaning up all of their mistakes otherwise we’d never get any work done." I was completely taken aback. Not only was he unwilling to help me, but he basically insulted the original CSR who was trying to help me.

I asked to speak to his supervisor and was transferred to John, who identified himself as the Manager of the Call Center. John listened to my issue, apologized for his employee’s gaff and explained that the call center is not at liberty to do anything outside what the computer system allows them to do. My only hope was with “Client Services”, which John escalated me to. Supposedly they’d get back to me after the weekend; supposedly I was a priority.

Six days passed and not only had I not received a call from “Client Services,” but I was starting to grow impatient with the company as a whole. Once again I called the Support Line, and a new CSR informed me that there was in fact "no client services department at Microsoft,” regardless of what I’d been told by “someone in the Philippines”. I was given two options: "Pay to get [my] console repaired, or go out a buy a new one." At this point I’d spoken to five different employees at Microsoft’s customer service, and the only one of them who was even cordial to me was now being accused of lying to me. I asked to speak with a supervisor, refusing to believe that a Manager would flat out lie just to get me off the phone. After almost 90 minutes on hold I began to suspect they were just hoping I'd just hang up.

After lodging a complaint with Microsoft officially, I was contacted by a member of the Global Affairs team, who offered an incite into the customer service repair system. According to this team member, each call center has the option to log what they call a “floating service request,” where all of your information is kept internally and not put into a company-wide log. This can give service reps the ability to follow your repair to its completion, but will make it incredibly difficult to get service if you end up being connected to a different Call Center.

I was also informed of a secret “Advanced Exchange Program” that Call Center Supervisors are allowed to offer unhappy customers. Under this program, Microsoft will send you a refurbished Xbox 360 before you send yours, and once it’s received you can use the same packing material to ship your console. This is very similar to EA’s warranty replacement for faulty Rock Band instruments. This exchange is “not typically offered due to a low stock of available units at any given time,” but in special situations – for example “a console failure close to a week of a highly anticipated game release” – the offer would be extended. While I wasn’t shocked that I’d never heard of this program via the Internet or message boards, I was a little dumbfounded that I wasn’t offered this program during the first two weeks of my issues with Microsoft’s Call Centers. After a bit of thought I’ve decided that if this option would have been offered to me on day one, I would have just paid the $120 and opted for the speedy resolution to this issue.

I reached out to Microsoft for comment on the horrible experience I had during my deep dive into their Customer Support. A company spokesperson responded that they“strive to provide excellent customer service, and continue to make efforts to improve the experience for Xbox 360 owners. We encourage all Xbox 360 owners to contact our customer support at www.xbox.com/support or 1-800-4MY-XBOX, with questions or concerns regarding their Xbox 360 system.”

It seems that all of my problems could be summed up in a bad policy of individualism from the call center. One representative trying to help out a gamer with a broken console clashing with a supervisor who didn’t seem interested in anything related to customer support led to an infuriated customer. To make matters worse, the “Floating Service Request” caused my troubles with this particular supervisor to go unreported until I escalated the issue myself. While I am thankful for Microsoft for making good on their offer to repair my console, I still remain confused as to why it was a two and a half week long process and why I had to speak with a dozen different employees with titles ranging from “noobie” CSR to a Global Escalations Manager to get a multinational billion dollar company to honor an agreement they made with me.

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