"MSN, is anybody out there?"

What is giving me a major headache is the amount of vendors now relying purely on web-based support for all aspects of their product...
Written by Phil Fersht, Contributor on

As an long-time analyst in the IT services business, I have always been focused on analyzing the  performance of vendors' services staff when you need to call them.  Some still use their own inhouse support personnel for all support issues, but most outsource the "day-to-day" stuff to a third-party, and retain specialist staff inhouse to resolve complex or sensitive issues when they are escalated, such as when customers' security has been compromised, or when the customer requires specialist attention the outsourcer cannot provide.

However, what is giving me a major headache is the amount of vendors now relying purely on web-based support for all aspects of their product.  I assumed web-only support was for low-risk, easy-to-resolve activities that can normally be dealt with by the FAQ page. However, this is clearly not the case with many vendors today.

Let's take the biggest one out there - Microsoft - where I recently had personal experience using its support function for a security compromise with my Hotmail account, which i have been using since 1995 - and being charged around $30/year for quite some time now.

For the very first time in the electronic life I fell for a phishing scam a few days' ago - yes, I'm an idiot, but it was one of those very convincing "verify your account to avoid it being closed" ones.  Plus, I picked up the note on my Blackberry, so it was hard to spot that it was a bogus scam.  To cut to the chase, my account was compromised, all my contacts were spammed with the usual "help, I'm stuck in Africa and need $1500 blah blah" story.  All my contacts were deleted, a lot of emails deleted and personal documents deleted.  So while I've been going through the pain of canceling all my credit cards, apologizing to all my contacts (some of whom actually did think I was stranded out in Africa), changing my security questions and passwords several times, the hackers were still somehow in my account deleting stuff.

So I'm calling Microsoft support lines and each time being sent to an automated messaging system informing me that "Hotmail support is web-only - please go there and submit a help ticket and we will respond to you within 24 hours".  I did manage to get some guy on the phone, via a Microsoft support number, who tried to sell me some security software, but noone would help with my compromised security issues and lock the account. I kept getting sent to an automated queue which told me "Hotmail support is web-only".  I wanted my deleted information restored and some assurances that these hackers still couldn't get into the account.

Anyhow, I've since submitted two help tickets urgently pleading for help - I even got the "reply to this message to verify that your email address is valid" message each time, and, eventually three days' later I get an email from "Jon" pasting a load of "FAQs" into an email, which did not address the security compromise.   After several back an forths with "Jon", I finally get the following message:

"Thank you for writing back to Windows Live Technical Support. I appreciate the time and effort that you took in sending us the required information to help you in retrieving your password. I recognize the importance of resolving this matter and I look forward to providing you with the necessary assistance.

"Currently, Windows Live ID only provides e-mail support to help our customers. We believe that to best serve the needs of all our members, our support system should be universally available through e-mail.

"If you are unable to find the specific issue you are having on the site provided, please follow the steps below:"

And I am directed to a Windows Live Community Q&A blog-site where I can post my issue and wait for "someone" to respond.  Now, four days' later since the hacking (touch-wood), someone may decide to post an answer to my problems on this blog-site.  I have no idea what will transpire, and my hotmail account is now pretty much relegated to collected my daily offers from the Baby Gap and Borders...

Now, you would have thought that you could at least talk to someone when you're being hacked and violated... even an online chat function would have been something.  Alas, after using the same old email address for 15 years, maybe it's just time to shut the thing down and use a service where I know I can have some personal assistance for extreme matters such as this.  But are there any?  Is there anyone out there today who'll support software packages for consumers, or is it only the corporate-accounts that warrant actual people on the line today?  I notice with Gmail, you can access a link entitled "My Account Has Been Compromised" in two simple clicks from "Help"... hmm wonder if these guys help me out sooner than four days?

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