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Microsoft Customer Service: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sony

Posted by n8littlefield, 19 April 2012 · 830 views

Everyone who uses the internet probably has that moment every once and awhile when they think "I should start a blog". That moment is generally accompanied by the second thought of "If I started a blog, what would I actually write about?" followed by "Oh well, back to looking at pictures of cats." I was in that boat until recently when after dealing with Microsoft's customer service policies I had something to get off my chest.

I should start this writing with a quick note - I have been working in tech support/customer in various forms for the past 9 years. This probably makes me more sensitive to what I see as bad service and definitely makes me quicker to be angry when a company takes the approach that a customer is their enemy as I feel Microsoft takes.

First, the lesser incident. In the fall, our money was slightly tight. So, the decision was made that we would let our Gold Membership with Microsoft lapse. I'm not a competitive gamer and my utter lack of sense of direction leaves me useless in most first person shooters, so our Gold membership was essentially to let me watch Netflix in our gameroom.

I couldn't figure out where to just remove my old, expired credit card from the system or where to turn off any autorenewals (turns out you have to do that on the website or by calling, the system itself cannot actually manage most things). So, when Microsoft said they couldn't bill my card by email, I assumed I'd just let it be done at that, my account would revert to Silver and life would go on. Turns out, I was wrong.

Instead of saying "We couldn't bill you so we've turned off your Gold access", Microsoft decided "We couldn't bill you so we've suspended your account and are holding it hostage". I called customer service and was told until I paid $60 I couldn't use my profile. I argued that I just wanted to go to Silver and that there was no way on the console to manage this stuff, but was again told that I had a $60 bill with Microsoft and until I paid it, I was in Microsoft Jail (my term, not theirs).

We decided that was fine, I would live in Jail until we had some extra cash. Turns out that being in Microsoft Jail is extrememly inconvenient. The 360 is apparently too stupid to remember that you are in jail, so every single time the system tries to do anything online, it tells you again and again that you are on the Microsoft Naughty list. High score in pinball? You're suspended. Wanna browse the Rock Band store? You're suspended. It's a royal pain.

So - a week later we relented and decided to re-up Gold. I decided I was done having a credit card on file, and wanted to just buy a Gold card on sale online. I called Microsoft to make sure this would be sufficient and was told it was not - that I to pay them directly to get rid of my bill to be able to do a Live card.

I got off the phone and felt this seemed extremely wrong. I decided to callback and ask for a manager because I was willing to sign up for another year, why should they care how I do it? I called back again and a very nice rep cleared off my account, freeing it for Silver and allowing me to re-up at my convenience. I was thrilled with her, but obviously the fact I'm writing about it means it was starting to sour my 360 experience.

Now, if for some reason someone is reading this and gets to this point they would probably be thinking "Ok, so a month long inconvenience, what's the problem?" Well, the major problem came a month ago, when I once again logged into my console to find I was suspended from Live - but this time it wasn't just me it was my entire console that was banned.

I figured the message must be a mistake, so I called Microsoft. Microsoft's customer service cannot tell you why your console was jailed. They cannot request the jailing be lifted. They cannot do ANYTHING when you are deemed to have broken a rule - they only can refer you to post on an online, public forum. I had them promise not to re-new my Gold while I was suspended and after much arguing, agreed to posting on a forum to try to get my access back. I was already considering getting rid of my 360 right then, this is completely inappropriate service for a product.

A quick scan of the other messages in the forum gave me a quick heads up why I was likely in Microsoft Jail again, non-official Microsoft Points. I will confess, awhile back I did a quick search for cheap Microsoft points online hoping to find some discounted points (Live goes on sale all the time, I figured points might). In the process I came across a very large ebay style site that sold "wholesale MS Points". They were guaranteed, said that they were completely safe to the use and were very cheap. I admit, I knew they were sketchy but the alure of a big discount is hard to ignore so I tried it, and it worked. I bought from them a few more times over the next year - each time getting a good deal and although I suspected they were iffy it was such a huge site and each seller had so much good feedback it seemed like it just was some form of loophole they were using.

Apparently, my purchases broken the T&Cs of Live and my console was deemed to be evil. So, I posted to the forum asking to confirm if this was the cause and begged my case for reinstatement. I never heard back. About 2 days later I again posted to the forum and again was automatically told my message would be reviewed for posting and again I never heard back. Other people seemed to be getting answers, but mine was falling on deaf ears. I stated I'm not a hacker, I wasn't using the points to get FIFA advantages (something that I found out later many people were doing), I never play online and curse people out or any of the other stuff that gets the ban hammer. I was just getting cheap Rock Band tracks. I offered to let them wipe my system's drive to remove the offending DLC, but no answer. I declined to write back a third time because by then I was alerted by a friend to a site where "funny or embarrassing ban messages get posted" and decided I was done publicly begging for answers and forgiveness.

At this point with no phone support, no forum support and the risk of forum support publicly ridiculing me, I decided to start calling around about getting rid of my Microsoft products. I was done being treated like my business didn't matter and if they didn't care enough to give me answers, I certainly wasn't going to reward them with more money. I'm 35, this was my family's console - we had Kinect with 8-10 games, 4 controllers, 30+ other games and a room full of plastic instruments - so it wasn't a small decision. I had unfinished games, some of which were 360 exclusives that I'd never finish. I called and found a few places that said as long as it wasn't physically modded they'd give me credit (of course the credit was very small, the games I had were the bigger trade values by far). I left the store that night with no 360, no games, but a brand new PS3 and about 10 games for it.

Two weeks after all of this, I received an email from Microsoft. It wasn't answering my multiple inquires about my ban, instead it was confirming my Gold membership was set to autorenew (despite earlier promises it wouldn't). I called customer service again, they apologized for the lack of answers, said I should have picked a random moderator to private message instead of trying to post - I said I was following the prior rep's instructions,that I sold all their equipment and asked him to pass on to management exactly what I had been through. I never heard back from them again.

I'm happy with my new console, but it stil amazes me the lengths Microsoft will go to avoid actually helping a customer. It amazes me they would expect me to go buy a new console and support them without any answers or support. It amazes me my console would get banned with no warning or email stating why. It's an approach to customer service that is completly foreign to me - the approach that the customer is always wrong, the customer doesn't deserve any answers as to why they're wrong, and if we decide it's funny enough we'll make sure the customer looks stupid about being wrong.

Love my new PS3 though...

I had the same situation happen to me near the end of 2011, regarding my Gold subscription lapsing (and attempting to auto-renew on a defunct credit card when I figured it would go to Silver). I eventually gave in and re-upped my subscription (even though I didn't want to), as Customer Support refused to do anything regarding my suspended account. Like you, I just wanted to be reverted back to Silver status, due to a lack of funds.

As far as the points issue, it amazes me that Microsoft would ban a console for that. Perhaps they should be trying to keep fake or discounted points from appearing on places like eBay, instead of punishing the user who is led to believe they are doing nothing wrong.
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Would love to hear more about the forum/site where funny or embarrassing ban messages are posted. Specifically, where is the site, who posts the messages, etc.
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