10-year, tech-support 'hold' amuses the blogosphere

Tale of delayed callback has Microsoft's attention, whatever its veracity

Did Microsoft's technical support call back a customer -- 10 years later? Or is it a simple hoax injected with a sense of blog-based verite?

Nobody knows, though lack of confirmation hasn't stopped the account, posted by "Bic," from zooming around the blogosphere.

According to the story, Bic's parents got a call late on January 8, which they ignored. The next morning, they checked their voice mail and discovered a call purportedly from Microsoft Technical Support asking if Bic's problem had been solved.

At first, they thought it was an attempt to phish for identity information. But after checking the callback number and finding it to be legit, Bic recalled that he had called Microsoft about technical problems three times. The most recent time was within the past year, and Microsoft did call back. But then he remembered the first time he called was probably a decade ago. He looked at the top of his keyboard, and has a sudden flash of insight: Could a tech support person working on Jan. 7, 1998, have typed a note to call back Bic the next day ... but instead of typing 1/8/98, typed 1/8/08 instead? One character and 10 years off?

Bic doesn't give any clue to his identity in his profile, nor does he supply an e-mail address. And the posting is only the second one at the blog "Bic's Bickerings." Moreover, the blog is hosted at the BlogSpot network owned by Microsoft's enemy, Google.

Despite all of these red flags, that hasn't stopped Microsoft from taking the account seriously. It is looking into the case "to identity what may have caused the delayed outreach," wrote a Microsoft spokeswoman via e-mail.

She cast doubt on the likelihood that any outstanding technical support case could go on for 10 years and then suddenly be revived.

"The process that we use to track cases, verify case age and identify idle reports is very thorough. Our process takes into account the age of each case as well as the number of hours and days since the support team has worked on the incident," she wrote. "Due to the integration of all of these components, outstanding cases, such as Bic's, are reviewed regularly so that we can ensure we're resolving customer issues in a timely fashion -- regardless of the callback commitment set by the agent. Nonetheless, no system can ensure complete accuracy."

As of late Tuesday night, the story had been viewed more than 100,000 times at The Consumerist blog, and garnered more than 2,300 diggs so far at Digg.com.

Comments ranged from jokes about the length of time it took for Microsoft to respond to skepticism that any trouble ticket could remain open that long.

"I work at a telecom company that uses work tickets like that," wrote Fred0204 at The Consumerist. "We can set callback dates, but we also monitor the queues to make sure no ticket has gone more than 24 hours without at least an update if not resolution. I don't know how a ticket could go 10 years without anyone noticing it."

Others praised the fact that someone from Microsoft called back.

"My hat is off to the tech that made the call," wrote another, M. Schalbach.

At Digg, one poster, "theworldisflat," who claims to have worked at Microsoft support in the past, said the above case could have happened exactly as described.

"The closed status would have been a dead giveaway, but they were most likely just in a hurry," he wrote on Digg. "Rather than go 'oh ... I screwed up, never mind,' they just followed the motion of checking to see if the issue was resolved. And yes, metrics go back 10 years. I've pulled up case notes from the Win95 release days ... talk about a trip."

Or could Bic be a budding author stealing a theme from a well-loved tale? A quick search of the Urban Legends Reference Pages Web site, a.k.a. Snopes.com, turned up 74 fanciful myths involving Microsoft.

The closest one to Bic's story is one about a technical support rep who, upon discovering that the caller's problem was caused by trying to use his desktop PC during a power outage, tells the caller to return his computer to the store because he's "too stupid to own a computer."

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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