Software Engineer Problem Solver

Leo Reading

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Leo Reading

Software Engineer and Problem Solver From the USA

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My Blog A collection of technical and non-technical mishaps, achievements and stories.


Customer Service Should Never be an Infinite Loop

I am starting to feel like I'm living in a world where real customer service is a thing of the past.  Everyone is jumping on the automation bandwagon, and why shouldn't they?  Hell, it's my job to enable that movement!  There are certain things that should not be automated though.  One of those things, is customer service.


Don't get me wrong, ticket systems, phone systems, FAQs, auto-escalations, these are all great and helpful tools to customer service agents, but they should not replace the need to hire high quality customer service representatives who care about not only your company, but more importantly, your customers.


Anyone who follows me on Tiwtter probably already knows that I'm having an issue with Microsoft.  Long story short, I've been battling with one of their automated systems since January, and it's caused me to be locked out of my Xbox account multiple times.  Really, it's an annoyance, as I'm able to get back in eventually, however, I pay for this account.  I expect it to be available so long as my account is in good standing, and if I'm having an issue with my account, I expect Microsoft to offer support.


To make a long story shorter, I contacted Xbox support through Twitter and got ignored, despite their boasting of being the "Most Responsive Brand on Twitter" (from what, 2010? it's almost 2015, and your average response time is 6+ hours, not 2 minutes.)  I chatted with someone from Xbox support who ultimately gave me a link to another Microsoft support group.  While waiting in line for chat support for the second time, the Xbox page gave me an error and asked me to call immediately!  Yes! A phone number, the potential of having a real person on the other end... I was elated! 


I called, and the automated phone system suggested I use chat instead.  It then told me that they were experiencing "higher than usual call volume", and that I would need to contact chat support and then hung up on me.  Yes, it legitimately hung up on me.  Now, let's go over the order of events:


  1. Talk with chat support
  2. Chat support says they cannot help and gives me another link
  3. Xbox website says to call immediately
  4. Phone number that they gave me hung up on me after telling me to contact chat support


Now I may not always be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'm a little confused.  Chat says they can't help, the page says to call, the call says to chat, chat can't help,.. etc.  In programming, we call this an infinite loop.  


My blood pressure is rising, but I'm trying to keep it cool as I'm still waiting 45 minutes later for another "chat" person to help from that different department.  I know that customer service takes a lot of unnecessary abuse, and the current issue is not directly their fault.  Finally, I get someone on the other end, and explain the entire situation.  The person on the other end says there's nothing they can do, and I am doomed to wait another 30 days until the system locks me out of my account again.

Ok, now I'm not being as level headed as I was a few minutes ago.  I polite explain that I've waited the 30 day reset period at least 5 times, and that each time their automated system returns a 500 error (which is an internal server error, meaning something in the code broke).  Microsoft, in my past experiences with them, liked to blame this on maintenance, and would tell me to try again later.  That would continue for another month until the code they issued me expired, in which case they'd tell me to start the process over.  30 day wait, code granted, 500 error, scheduled maintenance excuses, code expiration, start again.


Despite this history, the customer support agent assured me that it wouldn't break this time.  I assured her that I was not accepting that as an answer, and that another person working for Microsoft directed me to her.  After going back and forth for a while, the chat program told me I was being moved to another room, where I was told I was speaking with a supervisor.  I explain the situation all over again, and yet again am told "Well, there's nothing we can do.  Nobody can do anything, there's no override, etc etc."  

Wait, I'm impressed!  There's no override for this system?  There's no source code available to anyone who works for Microsoft?  There's no database access to the databases controlling this, surely hosted on Azure (which has proven to be oh-sooo reliable).  Furthermore, this code requires no maintenance, testing, deployment, updating, and can update itself?  Wow... Either they are full of shit, or they are truly taking over the world soon.


After calling out the supervisor for this and asking him to stop lying to me, he said "well, maybe support 2 can help."  I said great, but I'm not waiting around.  Get them on the phone and give me a call.  

"Support Level 2 does not have a phone system" - Noe (Microsoft Account Customer Support)

Microsoft, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate does not have a phone system for their customer support teams? Hmmmm, anyone else detect a little more lying?  Fine, let's give him the benefit of the doubt.  I simply asked he emailed them and have them give me a call.  If you guessed that this "supervisor" was going to tell me that they don't have an email address either, you nailed it!  He said the only way of contacting them was through this online form, where I'd need to fill out information, and they would email my microsoft account when they responded in up to 48 hours.  

My Microsoft Account... The one I'm locked out of regularly.  The email address I no longer have access to (which started all of this to begin with), and hold no, NO EMAIL ADDRESS?  Come on.  It's possible he thought I was asking for the email address, which I was not, so I tried to clarify that fact. He insisted that they don't have any email address for him to contact.  There's some more details inbetween here, but I'll spare you.  It ended with him telling me that if I fill out the form, he would send an email to them to make sure it was a priority... ? Hmmmmmm


The ticket system they use is archaic at best, and doesn't work correctly on any browser.  It works on occasion in IE, but it's no[t guaranteed to work.  Furthermore, they aren't emailing me at the email address I asked to be contacted at, they're probably still emailing the address I don't have access to... Either way, here's what's happened so far


  • They don't read my requests or responses
  • They send a canned response
  • They asked me to explain what a 500 error was (yes, level 2 support)
  • They asked me for screenshots of the error
  • They ignored the fact that I said the tokens are expired
  • I asked for a phone call and they won't call
  • They insist there's nothing they can do
  • I asked to speak to a manager and was refused
  • They keep asking for information about it when they keep saying they will not help


So far, I've asked for a phone call 3 times, and have asked for the ticket to be escalated, and also for a manager and not a supervisor to contact me.  Their response?

"I know you wanted to speak to one of our managers, however we at Microsoft Account support only escalate the issue to our higher level of support once every instruction has been exhausted."


"This is a system default by which no tool can bypass." - Raleigh (Microsoft Account Support Level 2)



So every option hasn't been exhausted, but there's nothing they can do to unlock my account?  If their level of support doesn't have access to such a tool, then guess  what? IT IS TIME TO ESCALATE IT.


I'm planning to start billing them hourly at a consultation rate of $250/hour since clearly it's my responsibility to explain simple concepts, such as what a 500 error is, what the word escalation means, and what to do when a customer demands to speak to your manager.


At this point, it's not even about the account: it's about the deplorable customer support, incompetence, and utter disregard for me as a customer.  I spend a lot of money on Microsoft products every year, both directly and indirectly.  I don't know if I'm going to continue doing this anymore, as it's pretty clear how much they care about me as a customer.  


If nothing else, I will take a few things away from this:

  • Customer service NEEDS to actively listen to customers, and not just try to fix things and pass them off.
  • Canned responses can be insulting, and you should only send them if they are a part of instructions.
  • If you cannot do something that a customer needs, direct them to someone who can.
  • Do not "pass off" a customer to another area, unless it is the correct department/people to solve the problem.
  • It is your job as a customer service rep. to find the correct resources for the customer.
  • Automation isn't perfect.  It servers its purpose, but if you want your customers to know you care, show them that by being able and willing to use the phone and have someone tell them that and address their concerns.



Now, not all customer service is bad!  I'm using BraintreePayments as a payment processing solution for one of my many projects, and ran into an issue when trying to handle webhooks.  The issue was with my SSL certificate, which was installed with SNI.  At the time of this writing, their system does not support SNI.  I emailed them simply asking if there was a config error on my end because I wasn't getting any sandbox Webhooks, and their customer support took it upon themselves to dig into it further, determine the exact error, the exact cause and propose a solution.  That is customer service.  Well done, Braintree Payments.



Leo Reading

Leo Reading is a US based software engineer and problem solver. Known as a jack of all trades and master of few, Leo is constantly learning new technology and expanding his understanding of all things 'nerd'

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