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Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support
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Author:  winstep [ Thu Apr 02, 2020 9:24 am ]
Post subject:  Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

So, Microsoft has been trying to get their customers into subscription based and cloud based solutions. I will never be caught dead using those and the true story I am about to tell perfectly illustrates why:

Back in the old days, ISPs used to offer their customers web storage space and email accounts. My ISP - a major ISP here in Portugal, back then called Netcabo and now NOS - was no exception. Web page storage quickly went the way of the dodo and was discontinued as the Internet gained more and more popularity though.

Now, I have this <xxx> personal email account, which I obviously use for everything not Winstep related, which was created some 25 years or so ago. So, not something one would want to lose. I don't remember exactly when, but I think in 2014 my ISP decided to migrate all their customer's email accounts to Microsoft

This way they completely washed their hands and Microsoft was now solely responsible for managing my email account (and the email accounts of all the other customers of my ISP).

Since then and for all these years things have been going so so, although from time to time I would have my login rejected by Microsoft's pop3 server for no apparent reason (unknown user name or password). Usually this situation would not last more than a handful of hours, I suppose someone at Microsoft would notice or be notified of the problem and quickly fix it, with no change or intervention from me.

And this gets us to last month.

Suddenly Microsoft's pop3 server starts spewing "-ERR Server Unavailable. 21" after accepting the login. I was still able to use web mail to access my account, but I need POP3 access. I wait a couple of days to see if Microsoft fixed the problem and when they didn't I decided to contact them.

So I contact the Outlook email client team (I'm still using Outlook 2003, and yes, I know, unsupported but works fine) who then promptly referred me to the team. There they again referred me to the Outlook email client team despite all my protests that this was not a client side issue (I even attached the client/server communication of the Winstep email checker with the raw server responses). You can already see where this is going.

So, luckily I managed to convince the Outlook client tier 1 tech that I needed to speak to a tier 2 tech (let's call him Alex). Despite me explaining until I was blue in the face that this was NOT a client side issue, I ended up having to let Alex remotely access my PC to see for himself. Half an hour later he was finally convinced, so much so that he himself sent an email to the team while still on my PC. Server issues are handled by the guys and now he too understood this to be a Microsoft Exchange server configuration problem.

Even then I was given the run around, but a couple of days later or so the situation was resolved and I got an email from the guy apologizing for the inconvenience. It 'only' took them a week to solve the problem.

Not 10 days later Outlook 2003 starts with the old issue of rejecting my login with '-ERR Logon failure: unknown user name or bad password.' This was on a Saturday, so I waited to see if Microsoft would eventually fix the problem like they normally do. Monday comes and goes and the issue persists. Again I am able to access my account via web mail, the only issue is when I try to access via POP3.

So, email to referring to the previous issue and begging them to believe me this was a server side issue. Again get referred to the Outlook client team. Now I know how Bill Murray felt in GroundHog Day.

So, I manage to talk the tier 1 tech to pass my chat to a tier 2 tech. Let's call this one Justin.

What happens for the next 2 hours I remained on a live chat with Justin (kid you not) was probably one of the most frustrating and infuriating things I ever had to go through in my life (being locked at home for 3 weeks now didn't help my mood either).

The conversation apparently had started well, but it soon became obvious that Justin simply REFUSED to believe that this might be a server side issue.

Despite me telling him what had previously happened, how it was indeed a server side issue, that this particular problem had happened before and usually 'solved itself' (which meant a server side problem), despite showing him the raw server responses of the Email Checker so he could see this was NOT an Outlook 2003 problem, despite actually telling him what I do and that I have been a developer for over 35 years so he should at least give me *some* credit, Justin simply REFUSED to believe me.

All he needed to do was contact the server team or send them an email explaining the problem, but he would not do that because, according to him, there was no proof this was a server side issue.

In his own words after literally two hours going back and forth:

"Also from my end, I am unable to connect you directly to anyone in Server Manage Team because:

1. The issue you are raising is from the connection between Server to the product which was "out of warranty time" and "self-developed".

2. At this moment, from our informational page, the Server health is still good:

The Out of Warranty product is Outlook 2003, and the "self-developed' product is the Email Checker module in the Winstep application (he even saw the website himself, so he KNEW this was not a 'mom and pop' operation).

So, according to Justin writing a self-developed application makes a liar out of me.

The whole thing was nothing but a 2 hour exercise in stupidity and pure frustration. In the end he referred me to some useless public forum links and terminated the chat (I saved the whole conversation by the way, so if anyone from Microsoft is reading this and wants to know how it actually went, just drop me an email to the Winstep support address).

Now, with 'quality level' tier 2 tech support like this would I EVER trust Microsoft with critical stuff like handling business office documents over the Cloud?

NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS!!!! Imagine something going wrong, you losing access to all your customer invoices stored on the Microsoft cloud, and then running face to face with Justin. "No, no, it's not a Microsoft problem. YOU must be doing something wrong, WE are Microsoft, we NEVER make mistakes." Aaaaaaaaaaargh.

And so the problem remains. My only hope is that someone at Microsoft either reads this or finally notices - or gets notified, I'm sure there will be others in the same situation as me, and just as frustrated - that something in their servers is not working as it should.

And Justin, if you are reading this (I told him I was going to write this article) you really should be ashamed of yourself. If Winstep's tech support was even 1/10 as bad as the type of 'support' you gave me, I would have been out of business a long, long time ago.

Author:  vectornut [ Thu Apr 02, 2020 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Jorge, I finally ditched Outlook 2010 due to issues with its lack of support of more modern security measures resulting in it regularly not being able to log in to my gmail IMAP server. I switched to eM Client ( ), and have been very happy with it. There is a free version that I use, as well as a paid version with more features. I have it set up to connect to 2 gmail IMAP accounts. For a while, it was getting an "error" connecting to gmail due to the long response time from the gmail server, but it was still able to connect, and after fiddling with the settings and the developer updating the software that issue has gone away. I like it SO much better than the piece of crap MS includes in Windows 10, and it does its job of connecting to email servers much better than Outlook was when I finally gave up on it.

Author:  winstep [ Thu Apr 02, 2020 10:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Thanks for the suggestion, Paul.

The issue here, however, is not an email client problem or a connection problem, but a server side configuration problem with the POP3 protocol/authentication.

Happened before, is also happening to others who still use their Netcabo email accounts with POP3.

Most people using Office these days are using IMAP, so it seems to me like Microsoft isn't paying much attention to the POP3 side of things, if any. And as we all know given what has been consistently happening with Windows 10 updates ever since some idiot thought it was a good idea to use RAD to develop an OS (besides completely misunderstanding what that actually means), quality has gone to sh*t.

Firing most of their QA team all those years ago ensured that nobody is now properly testing Microsoft products and the changes they keep making, instead relying on customer feedback for issues. But when they then REFUSE to listen to (or completely ignore) that same feedback (as in the example above) you have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

It would actually be fun to watch this horror if not so many people depended on MS products for their livelihood. As it is, it is just a tragedy, and a sad one at that.

Author:  nexter [ Fri Apr 03, 2020 4:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Well, simplest answer it would appear to me would be simply get rid of both Outlook and Netcabo for your private mail Jorge. Set up a new (free?) email account - ideally, a fully encrypted one - using web mail or the email service provider's own app. Then send a bulk email to all your contacts informing them of the new address, and after a suitable time delete the old account.

I generally prefer not to store any email locally and in any event tend to delete everything once replied to. I shall soon delete my last remaining - largely disused - MS mail account and have moved everything to anonymous, secure email providers where I also have no problems connecting from TOR. MS services are almost impossible to use over TOR or even VPNs, and even the equally evil Google tend to throw wobblies.

Ultimately, the answer has to be to move away completely from MS and Apple and use the best security and privacy available. Now more than ever it is important to do all we can to preserve our privacy and freedom, and to stay in charge of our data. Our data are ours, and ours alone and none of anyone else's business.

As for MS customer service, the less said the better, I think... ;)

Author:  winstep [ Fri Apr 03, 2020 11:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Hey Ric! Glad to see you are doing fine. :)

nexter wrote:
Well, simplest answer it would appear to me would be simply get rid of both Outlook and Netcabo for your private mail Jorge.

See, that's probably what every Millennial working at Microsoft thinks: why doesn't he just get another email account?

But here is the thing: an email address is a very special thing, especially one that is over 20 years old. It is everywhere, it is used everywhere, even the IRS uses that account to send me notifications.

So, can you imagine the nightmare it would be to change the email address used in all those locations and sites, and that is assuming I would remember them all (I would not), as well as asking all my friends and acquaintances to change it?

And I have to go through all that because of one *incompetent* tier 2 support tech who simply refuses to send a message to the server team?! I don't think so.

They must flog Microsoft employees with a nine tail whip and hung them out to dry if they send too many messages to the server teams, that's the only explanation I can think of.

Author:  winstep [ Sat Apr 04, 2020 10:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

And suddenly, just like that, it's back to working again. Just like before, it 'only' took them a week.

<ironic mode on> How did that happen considering this is supposed to be a client side issue according to Microsoft's tech support? Must be magic! <ironic mode off>

Author:  vectornut [ Sun Apr 05, 2020 12:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

winstep wrote:
Thanks for the suggestion, Paul.

The issue here, however, is not an email client problem or a connection problem, but a server side configuration problem with the POP3 protocol/authentication.

I understand that. I'm just saying that if you removed the unsupported software from the equation they might actually DO something. Maybe even if you just used it as a backup to prove that it wasn't a client-side issue.

Author:  nexter [ Wed Apr 08, 2020 2:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Good to see you're OK too, Jorge. :)

I well understand your frustration - it really is amazing how bad customer support can be, and not only at MS. I have encountered numerous issues over the years - all with other organisations though - that were equally as bad or even worse. Fleabay are perhaps the most notable example I can think of here. Talking to their people is like talking to a frigging bot, except not as entertaining! Arrrrgh! In the end I totally gave up on them and told the 'bay to eff off and kiss all of my hairy ar**.

See, I've never kept an email address for any great length of time, at least in the past - it may change now. However, I've always kept separate accounts for different purposes - e.g., friends, software, business (in the past), web sites I ran, etc. (Never used web/email for anything official like tax etc. - no way! Nor e-billing. Refuse to have any of that nonsense.) Made it easy to change addresses - just sent a bulk mail to all contacts, for the most part. One factor, at least, years ago, in changing email addresses used to be that over the years spam etc. would become a real PITA, and spam filtering was not as efficient then as it is now. (Haven't had any spam in years now, but then I don't let addresses get out there also, using fake ones where possible/necessary.) In the end, for me anyway, the advantages of this strategy far outweigh any possible other considerations. And if you value your privacy, you should seriously consider at least moving to secure, encrypted mail Jorge. And is it really worthwhile putting up with all that grief with MS? Moving your account could be a one-time effort - who knows how many more times you have to put up with MS hassle? Life's just too short to argue with a***holes and I gave up on that sort of thing a long time ago now. I just take my custom elsewhere. :)

Author:  winstep [ Fri Apr 17, 2020 4:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

I'm beginning to think they are doing it on purpose now. We're back to '-ERR Server Unavailable, 21'.

Who has Microsoft been hiring lately? Are they really THAT clueless these days?! Sigh.

Never mind, rhetoric question, everyone knows what the answer is.

Author:  winstep [ Fri Apr 17, 2020 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Well, at least this time they didn't take a week to fix it.

Author:  winstep [ Fri Apr 17, 2020 11:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Microsoft: How NOT to do tech support

Nope, spoke too soon. What a riot!

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