You'll have to forgive me; I would rather be playing Gears of War 2 on my Xbox 360 instead of writing this.
Unfortunately, Microsoft's customer support has made that an impossibility.
Now, I'm well aware that the internet has become a haven for Xbox customer support horror stories and with good cause. In fact, I think that these types of stories are quickly catching up to porn as the most popular use of the internet.
I kid of course, and I would think my experiences with these people would be good for a laugh or two if I didn't have a fresh copy of Gears 2 staring me in the face.
Before I begin with my multiple tales of woe, let me tell you a bit about how our operation works here at GamingExcellence.
GE is made up of a staff of about two dozen very enthusiastic folks that contribute to the site through sheer love of all things gaming related. We're not doing this for the big bucks, we're not doing this for the fame, we're doing this because gaming is our passion, and we want to share that passion with our readers. Being the smaller Canadian based operation that we are, we have to rely on retail machines to get our work done. Unlike the juggernaut-like outlets that need not be named, we have extremely limited access to debug and test units. We don't have hardware manufacturers sending us hardware and providing us with new units if something should go wrong.
No, like all of you, dear readers, I've gone to a brick and mortar store, put down my hard earned cash for every piece of video game hardware I own. Therefore, when something goes wrong, I have to go through the same customer service channels as everyone else. The longer that my hardware is away, the more it impedes my ability to work and play.
You can certainly guess what comes next.
Back in November of 2005, I was one happy camper. I pawned off 100 DVDs at 5$ a pop to finance my purchase of a launch Xbox 360. I rushed home to hook up my new toy and play some Call of Duty 2 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Things were great until Christmas Eve.
I was playing some Perfect Dark Zero, and the system crashed. At first I made a crack to my roommate about how the Xbox was simply refusing to play the game on the grounds that it was an atrocious excuse for a shooter. It was without any apprehension that I dialled that 1-800-4-MY-XBOX number.
I called up customer service and the person on the line was actually quite helpful. We went through the troubleshooting motions, and came to the conclusion that my launch 360 was indeed pooched. I was promptly sent an empty box to ship it in. The customer service agent told me to pack everything up, including the power adapter, hard drive, and video cables.
This struck me as odd. Why would they need the cables or the hard drive? Anyway, I didn't question the wisdom of the fine folks at Microsoft, and I followed their instructions to the letter.
I received a new console with cables and all about a week and a half later. But something was missing. My hard drive containing all my saved games was not to be found. I called up the customer support line again, and asked about the whereabouts of my hard drive. They told me that they never require anyone to send it in, and there was no reason for the customer service rep to ask me for it.
Anger began percolating at this point. I was assured that they would locate my hard drive, and get it back to me with due haste.
Anyone who has dealt with Microsoft's customer service probably has a chill run down their spine at the phrase "due haste."
In this case, due haste meant a month wait. I was at home, my Xbox 360 hooked up, ready and working, only to have to be unable to save any sort of progress.
Two more calls later, I finally got my hard drive back, a month later. Through some form of serendipity, it was actually my hard drive, complete with my original saved games and soundtracks.
I thought that this experience would be the end of it. Every console undergoes significant launch headaches, and I dismissed it as the price for being an early adopter. I had full confidence that I would years of worry free gaming with my 360 from here on in, just like I did with my original Xbox.
A year to the day later, I got that lovely red ring of death again. Yup, two Christmas Eves in a row, my Xbox committed hara-kiri. This year was compounded by the fact that the very next morning, I found out that my friends all chipped in together to get me an HD DVD drive for the system. Alas, there I was, with broken Xbox in hand, desiring to get my hi-def movie on.
When I called up customer support, I was promised a box in a few business days. Being Christmastime, I figured I would be patient, considering the holiday season is no time to be picky.
I waited until the second week of January, and still no coffin. It would be no less than five more calls before I got my box in the mail. By mid February, I finally received a box. I demanded some sort of compensation for the Xbox Live time that I paid for and was unable to use because they kept losing my repair order. Of course, I was refused, as the customer service agent who barely spoke English kept repeating the canned response "Microsoft does not compensate Xbox Live time due to hardware failure."
It makes sense. Microsoft didn't become the richest, most powerful corporation in the world by compensating customers who have been wronged.
It was around this time that I heard about the vaunted "towel trick." Believe it or not, the trick worked for a little while. I got about two weeks of use out of the system before it red ringed again for good, which was still before I got my empty box.
Eventually, midway through February, I got a refurbished Xbox 360. I knew that it was refurbished because it was branded with a metal plate that said refurbished. The model I received in return was louder than any I had yet encountered, which would eventually lead to my next problem...
Experience # 3:
This time, my console actually survived the holiday season, and instead decided to conk out on me in January. You'd think with all the heat that these things generate, that they would have no problem surviving Canadian winters. Even my '98 Tercel keeps running through -40 temperatures, but expecting a game console to survive is apparently an unreasonable proposition.
This time around, I didn't get the red ring, but rather, my Xbox started making awful grinding noises and giving me disc read errors on most of my games. It still worked fine as an HD DVD player, but it was grinding my games into oblivion. One ruined copy of Guitar Hero II later, I decided it was time to navigate the 1-800-4-MY-XBOX minefield yet again.
First, I was told it was out of warranty, because the three year guarantee only covers RROD, and not a failing DVD drive. This is despite the fact that I was told my refurbished unit had a one year warranty and I was at the eleven month mark.
Once we got that little snafu out of the way, they told me that my Xbox 360 was not repairable because I had been flagged as using a modded system. This is around the time when I completely lost it. Why would I mod a system when I get review copies of games? I have never modded anything on my Xbox beyond the faceplate, and I even checked to make sure the Microsoft sticker on the front was intact, which it certainly was.
After insisting to speak to a supervisor, they instead referred me to the "elite" squad. The elite squad was by far the best service experience I had with Microsoft. They got me a new box within two days, and I dealt with the same person throughout. No outsourcing to a foreign country, no asking me to go through the same troubleshooting steps. This same person gave me a call every other day to update me on the status of my system too. They even sent me an Xbox Live card and an extra controller.
"You know what?" I thought to myself, "Maybe Microsoft is finally getting the hang of this customer service thing."
If that was true, I wouldn't be writing this article, now would I?
Experience # 4:
So I'm currently on my fourth Xbox 360 console, and it's actually still working fine. The fan is a little loud, and it's still a refurbished model from 2006, which means that another RROD is in my future, but that is not the experience I am currently having.
No, this experience actually started a few months ago while I was reviewing GRID. The game froze on me and I got a single flashing red light. Not a red ring of death, but rather a single red light with error code E68.
A quick Google search showed me that E68 means hard drive failure. I jiggled the connecting jack on the hard drive and reinserted it to some success. For a month or two, I used the jiggling technique whenever I experienced the problem, but it got more and more severe as time went on. Still, I was hoping to avoid another call to the fine folks at Microsoft customer service.
Eventually, I could barely get the hard drive to work at all, so I borrowed a memory card from a friend, saved what files I could, and called up the support line.
The first person I talked to told me that they would be shipping me a box to send them the hard drive, and it will be replaced for me. Wary though I was, I thanked the service agent and awaited my empty box.
Two weeks went by, no box.
I called back again, and this time they told me two very different things. One, they told me that there was no record of my repair order, and when it's something small like a hard drive, shipping is my responsibility. They told me to ship it to Don Mills in Ontario, and I would be getting a new hard drive.
I paid Purolator out of my own pocket, and shipped the hard drive to the address provided. That was a month and a half ago. Three weeks then went by, no replacement drive. I called back again, and they told me that they received it, but they were experiencing a delay in replacing it, that I could expect it soon.
Now, I called them up yesterday as to inquire about the status of the shipment. The agent told me that they never received my shipment, and that I need to provide them with a tracking number from Purolator. I didn't bother keeping the tracking number, because I had a reference number. But that reference number didn't include any shipping information.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call in the customer service industry as "the run around."
So then I call up Purolator, and get all my shipping information. I got the exact date, the tracking number, the address I sent it to, and even the name of the person who signed off the package as received.
Armed with this new information, I call the Xbox support line again. I give them the tracking number that they asked me for, and tell them that I'm expecting my hard drive very soon. I told them that I need it for work, and that this level of customer service is affecting my ability to do so.
The agent then puts me on hold for fifteen minutes, and then comes back on the line to tell me that they need to refer me to another department. But I'm not to be connected directly. They told me that I can expect a call in the next 24-72 hours.
I'm not exactly getting my hopes up that they're going to call me back.
I made a promise the customer service agent and his supervisor that I would be writing an article telling my readers what has been happening to me. I'm a man of my word.
Microsoft is one of the richest companies in the world, and they certainly have the resources to run a good customer service operation. The biggest problem here is that the right hand never knows what the left is doing, and there's no cohesion between repair and call centres.
I don't resent Microsoft for putting out an unfinished 360 product to market before it was ready. I don't even resent the mistakes Microsoft has made on the system post-launch. What I do resent is nickel and diming customers and fixing their problems for the cheapest possible way, instead of doing things right by the customers.
When I dropped my out-of-warranty PSP and shattered half the screen, I paid Sony 80 dollars and got one exchanged in less than a week, including shipping time. When the top screen on my out-of-warranty Nintendo DS stopped working, Nintendo replaced it for me in four days! If these companies can do right by their customers in such a way, why does Microsoft have to constantly do these things the hard way?
I'm not asking readers to boycott Microsoft or their products. The truth is, the 360 is a fantastic system capable of delivering some of the greatest experiences possible from a couch. I love my 360 and all the games I own.
But making shoddy hardware and coupling it with lacklustre customer support is not how to grow a successful business, and you'd think Microsoft of all companies would know better. Sales numbers for the 360's successor will prove my point. Customers don't like to be bitten more than once, although the success of Windows Vista might counteract that point.
Shame on you, Microsoft customer support.