Microsoft today announced they would be scrapping a key customer complaints division set up over a decade ago.
The department was initially set up as a general-purpose support centre, but was quickly repurposed to another task: dealing with the expected high volume of digital error reports sent by Microsoft’s automated reporting feature built into Windows.
However, instead of the flood of reports to be taken care of, the centre staff were met with quite the opposite.
“We were all pretty excited that first day,” says Centre Head of Operations Jeff Daley. “It was a new age, you know? A digital revolution, and a new way of reporting errors.”
“I mean, let’s face it, we knew who we worked for; we were expecting to be fairly busy.”
But they weren’t. That first day, recalls Jeff, “there wasn’t a single error report filed. Not one. We all kind of high-fived each other, thinking we’d got out of some work.” He pauses here, tears in his eyes. “God, how naive we were.”
The next day also brought no error reports, and the day after that. The days stretched into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years. No one sent an error report to the support centre.
“At first we couldn’t quite believe it, you know?” says Daley. “We goofed off for most of that first week, and the weekend guys goofed off that weekend. But on the Monday afternoon, when no reports had come through, we started to realise we might have a problem here.”
Initial checks at Microsoft confirmed that the reporting system iself hadn’t been broken in a fit of irony. People simply weren’t clicking.
“We included the service as a courtesy,” says Microsoft VP of Promotion and Sales Tim Dunstreet. “And we needed to have it monitored in case someone actually did report an error. We had no idea how it would all play out.”
Surely after a few years someone would have pulled the plug? “No, we believe in staying the course at Microsoft,” he says.
“We received a single message in 2005, which we actually ignored,” Daley says. “I think by that stage we were frightened of what would happen if we picked up the phone.”
The centre’s initial staff of 20 soon dwindled, as people moved on and weren’t replaced. However most chose to stay, given that employment opportunities soon dried up as soon as prospective employers heard where the person had been working.
“It was a joke,” says Daley. “And because our boss Jim Hart got out of here after a couple of months, I was put in charge. Which meant I was in charge of a joke.”
“It might have been all right if there had really been no complaints. But come on- it’s Microsoft. We’d hear audible screams from two offices over, where the actual phone support was based. They never stopped. The screams. God, how I wish they were screaming at me.”
All employees of the centre have been given a severance packe described by Microsoft as “very generous, under the circumstances” .
Most emplyees are just happy to be out. Jim Denton, who worked in
the centre for nine years, says he’s happy. “Ah hell, they assigned me here when I accidentally sent out some “worm” thing prematurely onto the net. I’d been working in Development as a coder, and hit “send” instead of “save”. Simple mistake, right?”
“Well, they sent me down here. But I liked it . Sure there’s no sense of fullfillment, and I can feel my life slipping away one second at a time while I sit in a cublicle with no windows, idly surfing internet porn. But I aint got it as bad as some people. Some people got no legs.”
In the meantime, Micrsoft has no plans to replace the “service” provided by the error report centre.
“We’ve done testing,” says Microsoft Head of Innovation Mike Sterling. “It turns out people don’t like the idea of a major corporation gathering information about their home computers, even if it’s for the best intentions. Kinda crazy if you ask me.”