Empowering Support for Customer Satisfaction

Earlier this evening, I had the first really frustrating contact with Xbox Support that I can remember in the something like seven years that I have been paying for and using their service. While on the phone with the “supervisor” who told me more than once that I could not take my complaint any higher within the chain, I realized that the problem is one of their apparent processes and the fact that they do not appear to have properly empowered their phone support staff to solve customer issues.

Allow me to explain what happened.

The Situation

Yesterday evening, I had signed into Xbox Live in order to grab a few downloads and left it on in the background while I finished up some work. My daughter began to play around with the Kinect Hub because it amuses my children to control the screen with their hands. I have no idea how she navigated to this, but I looked up and she had grabbed a controller to back out of a prompt and hit A (the confirm action) instead of B (the cancel action).

What she had agreed to was changing my Live subscription from a single Live Gold account (with almost two more paid years on it) to a Family Pack (which gives you up to four Live Gold accounts). The Family Pack is priced at $99.99. Imagine my frustration with having just apparently spent $100 for something I don’t need and won’t use.

I call up Xbox Support to ask them what this means and how I can reverse it. We have a pretty pleasant conversation and at the end am told that it needs to be escalated and that someone will call me back in a day or two.

The Problem

Tonight, I receive the call. What had happened when the account change was made was that my Gold expiration was moved to a year from the change, and I was pro-rated the remainder of my pre-existing Gold time automatically. I’m charged $5, but I lose almost a year of my subscription in exchange for a feature I don’t want.

I’m told that this can be reversed, but it involves the following steps:

  • My existing Gold account will be canceled and downgraded to Silver (meaning I can’t use the majority of the service).
  • Only after that is done will my account be escalated again and I have to wait for someone to contact me. I am told this will take at least a few days and maybe up to a week.
  • Once the other department has the account information, they can check and restore my account to the proper account type and expiration date.

I know this is just an online service, but I use it every day and I don’t like this solution. I begin asking about alternate solutions:

  • Can they just leave the account as-is while they escalate it? No, they can’t, because the Microsoft team won’t consider looking at it unless the account has been disabled.
  • Can they just change the account type and push the expiration date? No, they can’t. They might be able to change the account type but them I would probably lose my claim to the pro-rated time.
  • Can’t you just change the account type and generate a one-year Gold code to comp the time (which would be an extra four months or so)? No; only the Microsoft people can generate pre-paid codes.
  • What if I don’t like the idea that I can’t use the service while I’m put on extended hold? I’m told that after they deactivate the account I can purchase a three-month Gold sub and just use it until my time is given back. (This would only further complicate the process for whoever has to sort this out IMO.)

Apparently the problem is that the phone support people (who work on behalf of but not for Microsoft) can cancel accounts and can change some information, but they can’t add time to a Live Gold account or change the recorded expiration date. They have the ability to identify the problem and tag it for assistance, but not to solve the actual problem to the satisfaction of the customer.

Account subscription types and expiration dates are bits in a database somewhere. They can be changed if you have the power and the tools to do so. The problem here is one of process and of empowerment of the customer service reps, who are the front line people talking to your paying customers. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t have required an escalation at all. It should have been solvable on the first phone call. The rep answering my call could see my account and the fact that I made the purchase (and probably the fact that I’ve spent literally thousands of dollars on this service over seven years).

Not giving your front-line customer service people the authority to make changes and solve problems only serves to irritate the customer and decrease efficiency. I am certain that if this had been solved on the first call I would have been writing a post declaring it the best customer service I’ve ever had.

It should also be noted that at no point in this process am I offered any kind of comp or olive branch, even as I am becoming increasingly upset over the phone. I don’t always agree with doing so, but it can be a powerful ally when a customer has a problem. In fact, the supervisor I spoke with tonight went so far as to specifically point out to me that they weren’t the people who had accidentally changed my subscription—not a wise move when your customer is clearly frustrated.

The False Hope

About thirty minutes after hanging up the phone, I tweet this out:

I do this partially because I know that Xbox Support watches Twitter diligently. It’s one of the things I like about their support. But the tweet leads to this conversation:

But I just told you that I was really unhappy with the phone support solution! This doesn’t solve anything; it gives me a glimmer of hope that something can be resolved and then snatches it away by telling me to go back to the people who are the frustrating part of this conversation.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I don’t really think that this is going to change anything. Based on the amount of opposition that I encountered over the phone, I’m pretty sure this is an entrenched process with the support team and those are the hardest to change.

The service that I am complaining about is one that I’m going to keep using anyway, so I’m kind of over a barrel. (This of course just makes me feel worse about it.)

The takeaway is that when you have a support team that is tasked with handling user complaints, as long as those complaints make sense and aren’t unrealistic or fraudulent, you definitely need to be empowering those people to correct the problem and deliver a swiftly satisfied customer. Those are the customers who are going to tell friends and family about their experience and make you look good before you even have a single interaction with a new customer.