Story of the Month: Close Encounters with the Microsoft Helpline


We’ve been talking a lot about things that make geeks mad.  Bad movies.  Bad fans.  Bad practices.  So I thought I’d tell a story that happened to me, something that usually makes nerds mad, but has a pretty happy ending.

When XBOX 360 and PS3 came out I opted for the PS3.  I’d had both PS2 and Xbox and wasn’t as into the Xbox so I stuck with PS.

My brother in law received an Xbox basic model from his brother as a gift and had the system suffer catastrophic hardware failure, aka the “Red Ring of Death.” (I think he has had 3-4 console vines snap for similar reasons while swinging from the Xbox tree).  He upgraded to an “elite” or “pro” or something and generously offered the DOA machine to me if I wanted to call and deal with Microsoft to get it repaired.  I gratefully accepted, it’s not every day someone gives you a current gen console for basically free after all and it was awfully nice of him.

The dreaded red ring…

Honestly it took me a couple weeks to get it sorted out.  I was playing Oblivion at the time and couldn’t be bothered.  But after a while I decided to give it a go.  So I set it up, plugged it in, and sure enough…Red Ring!  I went through the motions a couple times, checking connections, etc. but still…Red Ring!

So, saying a small prayer to the helpline gods, I called the number provided and connected…to Microsoft helpline.

Now I’ll say I usually don’t mind the helpline, or even automated responses…but I loathe the automated responses that make you talk to them.  Let me hit numbers, but talking to Hal 9000 always has done nothing but infuriate me.  I’d rather have called Skynet than deal with what Microsoft provided…

It rang only once and what answered was a thing of putrid, rage-inducing evil.  It was a voice halfway between cartoon character and sleazy Bill and/or Ted.  It was clearly a corporate-created personality designed to “relate” to the adolescent video game audience:

Voice of corporate-designed evil: Hi! I’m Maaaax. Let me know how I can help you todaaaay.

In response I made this expression:


Appalled Me: You have got to be f*ckin kidding me…

So Max began to walk me through auto repair:

Max: Try unplugging it…and plugging it back in.  Did that help?  Say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…

Me: No…

Max: Nooooow try unhooking the connection from the baaaack of your Xbox and reeee-connecting it.  Did that help?  Say ‘yes’ or ‘no”… (as though the idiot needed to repeat these advanced commands at this point)

To my horror, I found that the power was connected in the back of the Xbox with these wire attachments that are a pain to get off with two hands, let alone one hand and the world’s most annoying computer assistant growling his dude-voice in your ear.

While fiddling with the stupid thing I happened to, as anyone might, utter a profanity…

Annoyed Me:  Sh*t…

Max: I’m soooorry.  I didn’t get thaaat.  Can you say it agaaaain?

Exceedingly Annoyed Me: I said SH*T!

After going through the motions with Max a few more times, the smarmy bastard finally relented…

Max: Sorry I couldn’t heeeelp you.  I’ll connect you with a customer service rep now.

I still hate Max.

While on hold, I heard voices in a Central Asian language speaking as though it was a radio news report.  I don’t speak any Central Asian languages, but I kept hearing the name “Bhutto,” which I was familiar with from the news and ascertained I must have been connected to Pakistan, where Benazir Bhutto had sadly just been assassinated.  When the customer service rep picked up I was relieved to hear a human voice. He had a heavy Pakistani accented but easy enough to understand:

Rep: Hello, sir, how can I help you?

Me: Yes, hello, I have an Xbox 360 that has had the hardware failure and I wanted to get it repaired.

Rep: Yes, sir, very good sir.  Have you tried testing connections, checking power supply, sir?

Me: Oh yes, I went through all of that with the automated service.

After briefly running through some of the troubleshooting the rep got me to the repairs section.

Rep: OK, sir, I will send request to have your machine repaired.  You will receive box.  Inside box will be label.  Simply put machine in box with label and it will be sent in for repair.

Me: Thanks.  About how long will it take to get the box, and how long do repairs usually take?

Rep: Yes, sir, box will arrive in couple days.  Repairs usually take a week or two.

Me (after receiving reference numbers, etc): Well thank you, I’ll look for the box and have it sent off.

What he said next really made me think…

Rep:  Yes sir, thank you sir.  Oh and sir?  I would like to thank you for being courteous with me on the phone.  And not curse at me.”

Me: No problem.  It’s not your fault the thing’s broken.

Rep: Yes, sir, thank you again sir.

After I hung up I started to think… I wonder how many calls he gets from angry teenagers whose game machines cost more than he makes in a week trying to earn a living?  Even though I’m not a supporter of outsourcing, it’s not his fault for finding a job.  It’s Microsoft (or their contractor) who chose to send the calls abroad.  Despite all the abuse the poor guy must usually endure, he was still helpful on the phone.  And just by being decent someone who I never met it might have helped him have a bit of a better day.

It once again shows the value of one of the greatest modern axioms:

Wheaton’s Law

Coda: The fate of the repaired Xbox.

I ended up trading in the Xbox after a couple months.  I tried Mass Effect and Dead Rising and couldn’t get into them (didn’t like them on PS3 either btw…)  So if nothing else, the helpful customer service rep who finally helped me get the Xbox repaired, helped get me some good trade-in credit too.  Whoever ended up with it should be grateful they didn’t have to call Max…plus they might have been a bit more aggressive with the customer service rep!

One thought on “Story of the Month: Close Encounters with the Microsoft Helpline

  1. Pingback: How to be a Good Fan: You Like this, I Like That…Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off… « Revenant Publications

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