The exact problem that I called them for doesn't really matter here, other than it is a dial-up networking problem within Windows XP. The problem existed on several of my clients' computers, and the solution had eluded me for months. I finally decided that I better ask Microsoft for help, even though it would cost me money.
I used to have a webpage that gave details about this particular problem, but since it only applied to Windows XP and dial-up networking, it is no longer of any use.
The epic begins
First I go to http://support.microsoft.com/ using IE. I started an "E-mail support request". I filled out the identification form, and then the form asking me for my credit card information for the payment of $45. Then I get a webpage with:
If you can't see the screen shot above, it says, "An unknown application error occurred. Please try again in a few minutes."
OK. I wait 15 minutes, and try again. Same error. I try a total of four times during the day, before I give up on that.
Next, I try the "Chat support request." Go through the same steps as the e-mail support request, and end up getting the same error. I try two more times over the next 2 hours. Always that same error.
Now, I've been trying to avoid phoning them for help, because the problem I'm trying to solve has to do with dial-up networking to the Internet. I only have one telephone line, so obviously I can't talk to them on the phone at the same time as testing the dial-up networking. At this point, I have no choice though.
I call the Microsoft Support toll free number. After punching various buttons on the phone, it eventually puts me on hold to talk to Customer Service. After about 10 seconds on hold, their system hangs up on me.
I call again. I talk to a customer service woman over a staticky connection. I describe the problem trying to get help via e-mail and chat, and that I need to use one those methods of getting help instead of telephone support, because I need the telephone line free to test solutions for the problem I have. She says that she can't help me with the problem with the website, and that I need to talk to Tech Support. She gets all my ID information and credit card information, and charges me the $45 Canadian (CORRECTION: They actually charged me $45 USD). She gives me my Case Number, which I repeat back to her to confirm, then I wait on hold for a Tech Support person.
After awhile, "Sandy" comes on the line. He speaks with a thick Indian accent, and there is a lot of background noise, obviously a tech support call center in India. He asks me my Case Number, which I give, and he says it's an invalid case number. I spend 10 minutes waiting for him to track down my case, which he finds using my telephone number. It turns out that the woman who gave me the Case Number, made a mistake. She gave me an 11 digit number (which she confirmed when I read it back to her), and the actual number is only 10 digits.
First I try to get "Sandy" to help me with the problem of not being able to use the e-mail or chat support. He says he has no idea why it is not working, and he cannot help solve the website problem, as it is not his area. Could he help me with the issue? So I go through the problem with him. It takes him 20 minutes before he seems to understand what the issue is. It turns out I was wrong, he still didn't understand, which became clear later on, and I had to describe the issue/problem to him again . . . several times.
I'm a Canadian who grew up in a small town, and lived in a big city for 16 years. I've dealt with trying to understand accents in other people's speech before, and I admit, I have a problem understanding people with thick accents. "Sandy"'s accent was real thick, and half the time we spent talking to each other, was spent reiterating words, trying to understand each other. He couldn't understand my speech any better than I could understand his.
I told "Sandy" everything I had done to try to solve the problem. Apparently, he paid no attention to that. He proceeded to tell me to try various things that I had just told him I had done already.
My patience with him was wearing thin. He kept telling me do things step-by-step (click the Start Menu, click here, type this, etc.), even though I told him several times that I was a computer tech, and he could skip the step-by-step, and tell me what he wanted to do, so things would go faster. That was when it became clear to me that he did not understand most of the basics of what a computer tech should know, and that he was working from scripts. He didn't know what the Registry Editor was, all he knew was that the script told him to tell me to click the Start Menu, click Run, type 'regedit', and so on. His lack of knowledge of his job was flabbergasting. How in the world could he be a Windows XP support technician, if he didn't know anything about Windows?
During our looooooong conversation, he tried sending me an e-mail to me. I never received it. I told him so, and had him repeat back to me my e-mail address, to make sure it was correct. It was, and he sent another e-mail, which again I didn't get. I checked my spam filters, my e-mail. Nothing.
It wasn't until the 2 hour mark that he finally suggested trying something that I hadn't already tried. He said with supreme confidence that it would solve the problem. Since I was on the phone with him, of course I couldn't test the dial-up networking on my client's computer to see if the problem really was solved. When I explained this again to "Sandy", he couldn't understand the situation! He kept telling me to try the dial-up networking, and I kept saying that I had only one phone line, so could not test the dial-up networking and talk to him on the phone at the same time. He couldn't fathom the idea that I had only one phone line. After 15 minutes of this inane argument, he finally got it through his thick skull.
"Sandy" said he would arrange a call-back to me from Microsoft Technical Support the next day between 1-3 pm my time (MST - Mountain Standard Time), so if (by the remotest chance), the problem was not solved, they would continue to find a solution to the problem.
I hung up with him. The total time of the call was 2 hours and 20 minutes.
I immediately tested the dial-up networking on the client's computer . . . the problem was not solved. Disappointment.
A new day
1 pm comes around. I have everything ready for the call back from Microsoft Technical Support, I'm prepared.
2 pm: Still no call.
3 pm: Still no call.
Since I have no way to contact "Sandy" or his call center directly, all I can do is phone Microsoft Support again. I talk to another woman on a staticky connection, tell her that Tech Support was supposed to call me back today, but never did. She's sorry, she has no information about a call-back, and all she can do is transfer me to another Tech Support person.
Today's tech support person is "Sanphosh". Another guy in an East Indian call centre, but at least he can speak English more clearly. "Sanphosh" says that there is no record of a scheduled call-back, but can he help me?
I describe the issue/problem to "Sanphosh". It takes him a bit to fully understand what the problem is, but once he does, he gets right down to the heart of the matter. Unlike "Sandy" from yesterday, "Sanphosh" actually knows what he is doing, clearly showing that he has the knowledge that you would normally expect from a "Microsoft Technical Support" person.
I tell him the steps I've already taken to solve the problem. He understands. He goes through his information, and confirms that I have tried the things that he would normally suggest. He then asks me if he can put me on hold for about 20 minutes, so he can do some more research on the problem, and ask others in the call centre about the problem. I'm so happy to be talking to someone who actually knows what they are doing, that I agree readily.
Eventually, "Sanphosh" comes back on the line. He says that I've done everything possible already to solve the problem, and that he is going to bump up my case to the "Microsoft Research Team". They will want to use Remote Assistance to connect to my client's computer, to figure out the problem. He says that he is scheduling the "Research Team" to call me tomorrow between 1 and 3 pm MST. He says that he has sent me an e-mail about this call-back from the Research Team. I tell him that I haven't received the e-mail yet.
I thanked "Sanphosh" profusely for his expert and competent help. I told him of my disappointing experience with "Sandy" yesterday. "Sanphosh" says that "Sandy" did not make very good notes on my case in the file, and also did not put his "V-Dash" identification in the file either. I asked "Sanphosh" if it was common practice for each Tech Support person to put their ID in their client's file, and he said yes. I asked why "Sandy" didn't do so, and of course, he didn't know why.
I think that "Sandy" deliberately did not add his ID to my case file in an effort to keep his job, since he is incompetent, and knows it.
Before we hang up, I mention that I still haven't received his e-mail, so he checks his system, and it confirms to him that the e-mail was indeed sent. I triple-checked my e-mail and my spam filters, and it's still not there. I tell "Sanphosh" that the same problem occurred yesterday with "Sandy". "Sanphosh" doesn't know why I haven't received these e-mails, but assures me that the "Research Team" will indeed call me tomorrow, not to worry.
This call lasted 1 hour and 30 minutes.
At 1:10 pm MST, I receive a call from "Sam". I am unable to understand his East Indian accent enough to understand anything more than that he is with Microsoft.
He has me describe the problem to him again. He has some trouble understanding the problem, but eventually he does, and says that he needs time to research the problem. He says he will call me again tomorrow between 1 and 3 pm, MST.
This call lasted about 9 minutes.
At 1:48 pm MST, I received a call. I kept saying, "Hello? Hello?" over and over, but all I heard was the background sounds of a call centre. Then they hung up on me.
I waited almost an hour for them to try again, but they did not.
So I call Microsoft Support again. I describe what happened to the woman on the line. She says that she's sorry, but I will have to talk to Tech Support. I reiterate that the problem is beyond Tech Support, and is now in the hands of the "Microsoft Research Team". Again, she says she is sorry, but all she can do is transfer me to Technical Support.
I admit, I didn't pay attention to what the Tech Support guy said his name was. He was also an East Indian in a call centre. I told him about the hang-up call. He said that in my case file, it is recorded that a call was made to me and there were problems with the call. He said that it is recorded in my case file that the Research Team has scheduled to call me back again . . . tomorrow, between 1 and 3 pm, MST. I thanked him, hung up, and swore a blue streak for awhile.
More anger, then maybe hope
1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm goes by. No call.
Again, I call Microsoft Support. For the first time, the line is not staticky while I'm talking to the woman. I put it all out there again; the problems with the website, bad Tech Support guy, good Tech Support guy, East Indians who I could not understand, Microsoft Research Team, the hang up call, and today, no call at all. And oh, by the way, this is the 5th day that this has been going on. She is actually sympathetic! She agrees with me that this whole thing has gone bad (which for a customer service person to say, of course, could lead to her losing her job. Hey Microsoft! She's a keeper!). I said that I was trying to stay positive, but it was becoming difficult. She said that she was entering all this information into my case file (which no one else had done), and said that she was now in the loop for my case. That's nice to hear. She was very nice.
Unfortunately, all she can now do is transfer me to Technical Support. I'm thinking, "Oh great, here we go again."
Tech Support gets onto the line eventually, and guess what? His name is "Robert", he speaks English, and is in a call centre in the USA! Hey customer service woman! If that was your doing, then thank you! I'm sorry I didn't get your name.
"Robert" is unable to access my case file, because the "system is updating". It's been "updating" for over an hour, and during all that time, no one in the call centre can access case files. "Robert" apologizes for this, but can he help with the issue/problem?
I tell him that unfortunately, he cannot help me with the issue/problem. I fill him in on everything that has gone on, and the fact that the case is supposed to be in the hands of the "Research Team". After going through the issue with him (since he has no access to my case file), he says that he will get one of the two people on the Research Team that is in his call centre to call me back . . . Tuesday. I will not have to deal with a Research Team member overseas who I cannot understand.
I tell him about the e-mail problems, that previous Tech Support guys' e-mails never got to me. He sends me an e-mail with regard to the call-back he has scheduled, and I receive it within 10 seconds!
I thank "Robert" profusely, and congratulate him on being the first Microsoft Tech Support guy I've talked to who can speak English clearly.
This call lasted 41 minutes.
Well, my client can have his computer back for the first time in a week, at least for a few days. He will have to bring it back to me by Tuesday, though.
A new hope?
12:56 pm MST: I received a call from "Brian". I had the call forwarded to a cell phone I borrowed, so my phone line would be free to test the dial-up networking.
"Brian" is not happy with the lack of information in my case file about the problem (after how many Microsoft people I've talked to about this?), so I have him visit my webpage about the problem (since deleted), and this webpage.
He doesn't talk much, but seems to know what he's doing. We tried a few things (stuff I've tried before), then he had me change an option I hadn't changed before. After that change, the dial-up networking worked correctly the first time, but would not work properly again.
Then he e-mailed me a program to run that would collect information about the computer, and had me e-mail the results back to him.
Then he scheduled a call-back in three days (Friday, February 2, 2007). "Brian" is very busy, so if I want to keep him on the case (and not someone else), that is the soonest he can get back to me.
Total length of the call: 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Success! . . . I hope
11:01 am MST: "Brian" called . . . one hour earlier than scheduled. There was a scheduling mix-up, and he had two call backs for the same time, so got to me an hour early. I wasn't ready. I had him call me back in five minutes on a cell phone I borrowed, to give me time to hook up one of the computers that had the problem.
He called me back on the cell phone, and he had the solution! At least, I hope it is the solution. The two client's computers I had on hand with the problem don't seem to be exibiting the problem anymore. It turns out that the problem is with the new version of TCP/IP that Microsoft has introduced - it causes problems.
I'm hopeful that the problem/issue has been resolved, but I will reserve judgement until the clients have used their computers for a week without the problem coming back.
Total length of the call: 19 minutes.
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