What a great way to start my day. I just received a call on my work phone from an anonymous number where a guy with a thick accent on the other end of the line began his pitch by claiming, "This is Windows Technical Support. I am calling you today because we have been receiving a bunch of messages from your computer which are telling us that..."
Hehe... seriously? This clueless dude had no idea he was dealing with a Microsoft employee. But then again, I had a busy day planned, so I had no time for squabbling.
I quickly cut him off and said, "Look, I can save us both a bunch of time. Do you know who I work for?"
The would-be con man was immediately taken aback and momentarily at a loss for words, but he managed to eke out a hesitant "No" as a reply.
I continued by saying, "I work for Microsoft."
The scammer attempted to regain his composure and started to reply with, "Oh, then you must know..."
I cut him off again and I asserted, "Yes, I do know. I have worked for Microsoft for over 20 years, and I know that Microsoft does not call customers like you are doing. You are a liar. And what you're doing is illegal."
Predator had turned to prey, and the hapless dolt on the opposite end of the phone began to mumble, "Honestly, sir, I... uh..."
And then I heard nothing but dial tone.
Yup, that was a great way to start my day.
I just saw this t-shirt and I absolutely love it...
I cannot count the number of times that I have had to explain this simple concept to people who think that something coincidental was the driving force behind a problem which has developed with the technology that they use in their daily lives. For example, imagine the following statement: "I just closed the door and my television no longer works." Those two events obviously sound like completely unrelated events, and yet I have had to answer questions from dozens of people who honestly believe that one inapplicable event like this caused the other unconnected failure.
Oh sure, there are concepts like the Butterfly Effect to consider, but by and large those do not apply in your average, day-to-day situation. More often than not, the cause for most of the technology problems which I help people troubleshoot have nothing to do with what they believe to be the cause. (And believe me - I have heard some amazing theories from various people about the sources of their technological maladies.) My favorite story along these lines is the apocryphal My Car Does Not Like Vanilla Ice Cream story, which I honestly wish was true.
Nevertheless, as a piece of unsolicited advice - when something has gone wrong, it is often best to analyze the failure for what it is instead of trying to analyze what you believe is the origin of your problems.
Here is another entry in my on-going list of examples for both good and bad technical support experiences. For this situation, I will show an example of bad technical support as provided by the Microsoft Outlook Support Team.
Here is the scenario: about two months ago one of my Hotmail accounts stopped working with Windows Live Mail. When I attempted to sync that particular email account, I received an error message that was similar to the following example:
Bear in mind, however, that I made no changes to my Windows Live Mail settings, and I have several other Hotmail accounts which are working perfectly with the same settings on the same computer.
So I started a support issue with the the Microsoft Outlook Support Team, and over the next several weeks I went back and forth with several people on that team who were clearly uninterested in working on this issue. (In fact, at one point they simply closed the case without notifying me!) As of today the issue is still not resolved, and I have not heard from anyone at Microsoft within the past month.
As I said before, this is an example of really bad technical support.
With that in mind, listed below is the full thread from my support case in order of the events. Note that I have substituted the following variables where necessary to hide my actual account name, email address, and support number:
- %ACCOUNT_NAME% is my Hotmail account name
- %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% is my email address for my Hotmail account
- %TICKET_NUMBER% is my ticket number for my Microsoft support case (e.g. SRX12345678ID)
So without further narrative, here are all of the notes from the support case.
Service: General Issue
What type of problem do you have?
- Selected Product
- Selected Issue
- Your account has been temporarily blocked
Enter a short description of your issue: Cannot Sync Email from Windows Live Mail
Enter the email address (Microsoft account) affected by this issue: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%
Enter your contact email address: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%
Enter a detailed description of your issue:
I was able to sync my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account in Windows Live Mail until a week or so ago, and now I receive the following error message:
Unable to send or receive messages for the Hotmail (%ACCOUNT_NAME%) account.
Server Error: 3219
Windows Live Mail Error ID: 0x8DE00005
For reasons that are completely unrelated to this issue, I completely reinstalled Windows 7 Ultimate on this computer, and yet after reinstalling Windows and Windows Live Mail on this computer I still see the same error. In addition, I have a couple of other Hotmail accounts that I use with Windows Live Mail on the same computer and they work without any errors.
With that in mind, the problem should not be caused by any settings on my computer. However, I did not make any changes to my account settings at Hotmail before I started seeing this problem.
There is one thing that I have noticed, though - when I log into the Hotmail.com website, when I use one of my other Hotmail accounts the title bar says Outlook.com, whereas the title bar for my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account says Outlook Mail (Preview).
From: Microsoft Support
We are writing to let you know that we have received your request for support and will reply within 24 hours.
If you don’t see a message from us within 24 hours, check to see if email from @css.one.microsoft.com is in your junk mail folder. You can check the status of your request on the Microsoft Support site.
The Microsoft Support team
From: Escalation Agent
Thank you for contacting Outlook.com support.
My name is Therese and I’m glad you have reached us today. I have read your description and I understand that you are getting an error message when syncing your account at Windows Live Mail. Let me see what I can do for you.
To start off, we appreciate your efforts in isolating the case by uninstalling and reinstalling your Operating System and Windows Live Mail on your computer. You also mentioned that other Microsoft accounts are working fine on Windows Live Mail which tells us that this is not an issue with the mail client but can be an account-related issue.
With that, I would like you to know that I have escalated this case to our Support Specialist for further evaluation. We will get back to you as soon as we have a resolution or if we need more information.
Your patience is highly appreciated.
Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
Has there been any progress on this issue?
FWIW - I have included a screen shot of the error message in Windows Live Mail.
From: Escalation Agent
Good to hear from you again. This is John from Outlook.com support.
We appreciate the screenshot that you have provided us. I have checked your service request and found out that your issue is still being handled by our Support specialists and the investigation is still ongoing. Once we got any developments or if there is anything that our Support specialist would need from you, we'll inform you right away.
Thank you for your cooperation and patience on this matter.
PS: Please do not delete the first email notification from us. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours, please check the link on the first email notification to see the case progress.
Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER% (Reopen)
It has been a week since I first opened this support case, and from what I could tell - nothing was ever done. So imagine my surprise when I logged in today and I discovered that this support case had been closed without a single notification from Microsoft. This is terrible customer service, and I AM A VERY DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER!!!
At this point I expect three things:
1. I demand that this issue be escalated to someone who can actually work on the issue and resolve it; I no longer want to suffer through working with incompetent 1st-tier support people.
2. I expect to hear from someone within the next 24 hours with an actual update on this issue; I do not want to hear another blasé response which says "the investigation is still ongoing," because it very clearly was not being investigated.
3. I expect to hear from a manager within the next 48 hours as to why this issue was never worked, never resolved, and closed without contacting me.
If I do not hear from anyone within the times that I have put forth, I will escalate this issue through appropriate channels on my own, which will reflect even more poorly on those who have been doing a terrible job thus far.
From: Escalation Agent
Thank you for your response and for sharing your feelings with us. I’m Froilan, at your service.
We apologize for taking your valuable time in trying to resolve your issue with the error message when syncing your account in Windows Live mail. I fully understand how you feel about the inconvenience this has brought you. Please be informed that I will get back to our Support Specialist to get update about the status of your case. We understand the urgency of this issue; however, we cannot provide you with the time when a reply will be available. Rest assured that this post is being tracked and we will inform you immediately once we get any updates from them.
We appreciate your continued patience in going through this issue.
Please save and keep the first email notification you received after submitting this request. That notification contains the link for this service request. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours after your reply, you can check the status of this case and view our response by clicking the link on the first notification.
From: Escalation Agent
How is it going? We received an update coming from our Escalations Engineer and based from what we've observed, it seems the issue is encountered when the server settings for IMAP is not selected.
What you need to do is to make sure that you've selected and followed the Manual Server Settings for IMAP. This should allow the syncing of your accounts.
For more information about this setting, please refer to the IMAP setting that can be found in the link below.
Kindly share us the outcome afterwards.
Microsoft Support Team
Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
This simply does not make sense; I have several other Hotmail accounts which I simply add them to Windows Live Mail and they automatically work. In the Properties dialog for each of my other accounts, the Server Information tab lists "My mail server is an HTTP server" with the following URL:
These are the EXACT same settings as the %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% email account. So why would this one account require custom IMAP settings?
Also, this account was working fine until a few weeks ago when I started seeing the errors. I made no changes to my settings, so it would seem that Microsoft has changed something about this specific Hotmail account. As I pointed out before, the web page banner when I am using this account reads "Outlook Mail (Preview)", which leads me to believe that this account was only partially migrated to the new Outlook Mail servers. With that in mind, I would theorize that the problem is due to a failed attempt on Microsoft's behalf when trying migrate my account from the old Hotmail.com servers to the new Outlook.com servers.
By the way, while I sincerely appreciate the assistance of the escalation engineer, I still have not heard back from a manager with an answer as to why my support case was closed by the initial support engineer after no work was completed and no attempts were made to contact me.
From: Escalation Agent
Thank you for providing us additional details. I’m Hyver from Outlook.com Support and I have reviewed the exchange of responses that you had with my colleagues. I’m truly sorry if the issue still persists after a week of communicating with us. I understand the displeasure that you’ve expressed for the support that you experienced. We’re still here to help you on your issue.
I really apologize for the inconvenience that you’ve faced. I know you’re expecting an email from a manager explaining why the support ticket was closed without someone trying to attempt to contact you. I'd like to let you k now that we are actively monitoring cases that are being reviewed by the Escalations Team and we do not close cases with open escalations. So we would like to ask for a copy of the email notification that indicates that the case was closed. I will include this to my reports as this could be an honest mistake or a system glitch,
I totally recognize that you deserve a valid explanation about what happened and we are not letting our customers to be upset at any point of our investigation. We don't like to see our customers upset and inconvenienced and we always strive to create a positive customer experience. With that being said, this should be reviewed again by our Escalations Team and should be taken care with utmost urgency. Please do not lost faith in us as we are doing our best to resolve this issue the soonest possible time.
As we speak, this support request is in our Escalations Team queue and should be treated with immediate attention. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.
Should you have other questions or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact us back.
Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
There was never an email when the case was closed, which was part of my complaint. If you look at the case notes, you will see that I had to reopen the case on 04/25/2105 when I discovered that the case had been closed when I logged into this support website to check on the status.
From: Escalation Agent
Thank you for letting us know that there was no email with regard to this case that was closed. We will report this to our higher support team and we'll get back to you immediately once we have the latest update from them.
Again, your patience and understanding are much appreciated.
Another week has passed by, and yet I still have not heard anything, which leads me to believe that no one at Microsoft is actually doing nothing with this case. From my perspective, it seems that the "Escalation Agents" with whom I am working are simply stalling for time and hoping that either the problem will go away or I will quit trying and give up.
With that in mind, I will keep everyone up-to-date: the problem is still there - which should be expected since no one at Microsoft appears to be doing anything to fix the problem.
So let me recap the past week or so: I have heard nothing from Microsoft since the last time that I requested an update, my issue is not resolved, and I never heard from a manager at Microsoft with an explanation as to why the front-line engineers closed the case without contacting me or to discuss a plan of action to resolve this issue.
All of this reflects very poorly on the support engineers with whom I am working. As such, I want to work with someone else. Someone who knows what they're doing. Someone who can actually resolve an issue.
From: Escalation Agent
Note: To check the status of your request, kindly refrain from deleting our email notification. If you haven't received another notification in 24 hours, you can view the agent's response on URL link provided on the notification email.
This is Audrey and we apologizer if this case has been going on for so long without any results. Upon checking your concern is still under investigation by our support specialist. We will be making a follow up regarding this and once we have received a word from them it will be immediately relayed to you.
Rest assured that we are exhausting our resources to resolve this matter as soon as possible.
Outlook.com Support Team
From: Escalation Agent
Sorry for the wait. We received an update coming from our Escalations Team and there's a possibility that your account's server settings were changed. With this, configuring your account to Windows Live Mail using this server "Windows Live Hotmail" will not work.
We are still working on your issue but what you can do is to use IMAP as your server type if you want to sync your emails.
Thank you for consideration and cooperation.
Microsoft Support Team
Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
I do not wish to use IMAP; I have used that before and it has presented me with a separate series of issues. I will continue to wait for you to fix the problem with the server settings.
To be honest, at this point I have little faith that the Microsoft Outlook Support Team will do anything to resolve this issue. It is abundantly clear to me that the support team is ignoring my support case and simply waiting for me to close it, which I refuse to do since my problem is not resolved.
So once again I reiterate the obvious - this is a perfect example of truly awful technical support, and it demonstrates why many people eventually give up on Hotmail and switch to Gmail.
A few years ago I wrote my Why I Won't Buy Another HP Computer blog, wherein I detailed several terrible support experiences that I had to endure with Hewlett Packard's technical support people. In order to show that not everyone has terrible technical support people, I recently wrote my Why I Will Buy Another Dell Computer blog, where I described a great experience that I had with Dell's technical support people. That being said, not everyone can be a good as Dell, so in this blog I will illustrate another bad support example - this time it's from Microsoft's Technical Support.
Here's the situation: I recently purchased a Dell 8700 computer, which came with Windows 8.1 installed. Since I run a full Windows domain on my home network, I would rather run the professional version of Windows 8.1 on my computers, so I purchased a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack from Microsoft in order to upgrade my system. The upgrade process is supposed to be painless; Microsoft sends you a little box with a product key that you use to perform the upgrade.
Well, at least that's the way that it should have worked, but I kept getting an error message when I tried to use the key. So after a few attempts I decided that it was time to contact Microsoft's Technical support to resolve the issue. I figured that it was probably some minor problem with the key, and it would be an easy issue to resolve. With that in mind, I browsed to http://support.microsoft.com and started a support chat session, which I have included in its entirety below:
|Answer Desk online chat
|Vince P: ||5:12:37 PM
||Hi, thanks for visiting Answer Desk. I'm Vince P.
Welcome to Answer Desk, how may I help you?
|You: ||5:13:09 PM
||I just purchased a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack Product key from Microsoft for my Dell 8700 computer, but I get an error message that the key does not work.
Here is the key: nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnn
|Vince P: ||5:13:43 PM
||I'll be happy to sort this out for you.
For documentation purposes, may I please have your phone number?
|You: ||5:14:02 PM
|Vince P: ||5:14:38 PM
||Thank you, give me a moment please.
As I understand, you cannot install Windows Media Center using the key that you have, is that correct?
|You: ||5:17:53 PM
||Yes, I am trying to upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center
|Vince P: ||5:18:12 PM
||First, allow me to set expectations that Answer Desk is a paid support service. We have a couple of paid premium support options should your issue prove complex and require advanced resources. Before we discuss those further, I need to ask some questions to determine if your problem can be handled by our paid support or if it's something really easy that we can fix at no charge today.
I will remotely access your computer to check the root cause of this issue.
[Note: Vince sends me a URL and code to initialize a remote session to my computer using a 3rd-party application.]
|You: ||5:19:40 PM
||Why is a remote session necessary?
|Vince P: ||5:21:19 PM
||Yes, I need to check the root cause of this issue.
Or I can send you some helpful links if you want.
|You: ||5:21:52 PM
||Or you can ask me to check anything for you
What do you need to check?
|Vince P: ||5:22:38 PM
If this link doesn't work, there might be some third party application that are blocking the upgrade.
It is much faster if I remotely access your computer, if it's okay with you.
|You: ||5:24:34 PM
||I have gone through the steps in that article, they did not work, which is why I contacted support
|Vince P: ||5:25:06 PM
||I need to remotely access your computer.
|You: ||5:25:11 PM
||The exact error message is "This key won't work. Check it and try again, or try a different key."
|Vince P: ||5:25:16 PM
||Please click on the link and enter the code.
|You: ||5:25:46 PM
||Or - you can tell me what I need to check for you and I will give you the answers you need.
|Vince P: ||5:26:51 PM
I'm sorry, but I have not received a response from you in the last few minutes. If you're busy or pre-occupied, we can continue this chat session when you have more time. If I do not hear from you in the next minute, I will disconnect this session.
It was a real pleasure working with you today. For now, thank you for contacting Microsoft Answer Desk. Again, my name is Vince and you do have a wonderful day.
|Your Answer Tech has ended your chat session. Thanks for visiting Answer Desk.
Unbeknownst to "Vince", I worked in Microsoft Technical Support for ten years, so I know the way that the system is supposed to work and how Microsoft's support engineers are supposed to behave. Vince was condescending and extremely uncooperative - he simply wanted to log into my machine, but no one gets to log into my computers except me. I know my way around my computer well enough to answer any questions that Vince might have had, but Vince didn't even try. What's more, when Vince sent me a long support thread to read, he took that as his opportunity to simply end the chat session a few moments later. Very bad behavior, dude.
Unfortunately, Microsoft's chat application crashed after the session had ended, so I wasn't able to provide negative feedback about my support experience, so this blog will have to suffice. If I had a way to contact Vince's boss, I would have no problem pointing out that Vince desperately needs remedial training in basic technical support behavior, and he shouldn't be allowed to work with customers until he's shown that he can talk a customer through a support scenario without a remote session. If he can't do that, then he shouldn't be in technical support.
By the way - just in case someone else runs into this issue - all that I had to do in order to resolve the issue was reboot my computer. Seriously. Despite the error message, apparently Windows had actually accepted the upgrade key, so when I rebooted the computer it upgraded my system to Windows 8.1 Professional. (Go figure.)
Several years ago I wrote a blog post that was titled Why I Won't Buy Another HP Computer, in which I described (in detail) a series of awful customer support experiences that I had with Hewlett-Packard (HP) when I purchased an HP desktop computer.
I would now like to offer the details of an entirely different customer support experience that I recently had with what is probably my favorite computer manufacturer: Dell.
Why I Like Dell
To start things off, I need to point out that I am a huge fan of Dell computers, and I have been for years. The reason for my admiration is simply this: Dell's computers have always worked for me. I have never had an experience where the hardware in a Dell computer has failed, even in extremely bad conditions. For example, I used to manage the network for a small church which had somewhere around 15 to 20 desktop computers and three Dell PowerEdge servers. During a particularly bad thunderstorm, a nearby lightning strike took out the hard drives on nearly all of the computers, including the servers. Fortunately everything on the network had multiple redundant backups, but as it turns out - I didn't need to use the backups. Only the hard drives were bad - all of the computers survived the damage, and I was able to use a combination of Symantec Ghost and Runtime Software's GetDataBack to restore all of the data on the failed drives to new drives. Despite the wide swath of destruction, all of the computers were up-and-running in less than a weekend.
In addition to having lived through that situation, I have been nothing but impressed with all of the Dell computers that I have owned both personally and professionally, and I have owned a lot. My currently laptop is from Dell, as is my wife's laptop, my son's laptop, my daughters' laptops, my Windows Media Center computer, my tablet PC, and several of my work-related computers. In fact, the only non-Dell computing devices in my house right now are my home-built rackmounted server, my wife's Microsoft Surface, and the HP computer from my earlier blog - which is what led me to my recent experience.
Shopping for a New PC
The single HP computer in my household is several years old, and it was time for me to start thinking about upgrading. I had been doing a little shopping, but nothing serious. Since I am taking some graduate courses at the University of Arizona, I have found myself on the receiving end of spam that various companies throw at college students. (Dear Spammers: if you are reading this, I do not need another credit card, or back-to-school attire, or a summer internship, or student housing, etc.) But one piece of spam caught my eye: Dell had sent me an email advertising a free tablet computer with the purchase of a new computer. Since I was already in the market for a new computer, I thought that I would check out their deals.
I followed the link from the email to Dell's website, where I quickly learned that Dell's offer was for an Android-based tablet. I could care less about an Android device, but I was curious if Dell had a deal for a Windows-based device. With that in mind, I clicked a link to start a chat session with a sales representative. I don't want to give out full names for privacy reasons, so I'll just say that I wound up with a guy whose initials are "N.A." He informed me that Dell did have a deal where I could get a Windows tablet instead of the Android tablet, although it would cost more. That was perfectly acceptable to me, so I said that I was interested, but I had more questions. Our chat session wound up lasting 45 minutes, all of which was entirely due to me because I spent much of the chat session looking at various products on Dell's website and asking N.A. lots of questions about this option or that.
Bad News and Good News
I eventually decided on a deal that I liked, and I gave all of my contact information to N.A. so he could call me to get my credit card information. N.A. sent me the full text of the chat session, and he promised to call me within five minutes. But he never called. I remembered from the chat session that I had mentioned that I might want to wait 24 hours since it was the day before payday, so after 20 minutes I decided that N.A. might have misunderstood what I had meant, and I decided to wait until the next day to see if Dell would call me back.
By the following afternoon I still hadn't heard anything, so I decided to call Dell's 1-800 number to see what the deal was. I was routed through to a sales representative with the initials W.P., and I explained the situation. He did a little checking, and he informed me of two interesting pieces of information: first of all, the Dell deal for a Windows-based tablet had ended the day before, and much worse - apparently N.A. had quoted me the wrong tablet PC anyway.
Giving credit where it was due, W.P. was great throughout the call - I was understandably disappointed at the situation, and I kind of felt like I was being forced into a "Bait-and-Switch" scenario based on mistakes over which I had no control. W.P. checked with his manager, J.H., who said that he would try to contact N.A.'s department to see if they would stand behind their misquoted pricing. With that, W.P. and I ended the call.
I hadn't heard anything by the following afternoon, so I sent an email to J.H. and W.P. to ask what the status was with my situation, and I forwarded N.A.'s email with the original chat session. I also mentioned that I am a big Dell fan, and this situation was not reflecting well on Dell's ability to make a sale. Shortly after I sent out my email, J.H. called me to say that he couldn't contact the right person in N.A.'s department, so he was taking responsibility for the situation on Dell's behalf and was going to honor the deal. Very cool.
This entire experience reinforced my appreciation for Dell - not because I wound up getting a good deal, but primarily because a series of people took responsibility for someone else's mistake and worked to make things right.
Ultimately these people's actions made their company look great, and that's why I will buy another Dell computer.
FYI - The computer and the tablet both arrived and they're great. ;-]
First of all, I have to point out that I have a few friends that work for Hewlett-Packard, so I have to apologize up front for what I'm about to write in this blog. But I just had such a horrible customer support experience with HP that I won't buy from them again.
Why I Bought an HP Computer
I have nothing against HP computers; for several years I used two beefy dual-CPU HP/Compaq ProLiant servers for my web hosting machines. (I loved those computers, and I only replaced those when Windows Server 2008 was released and I thought that it was time to upgrade my servers.)
Recently I decided to replace my aging Dell desktop computer with a newer model. I'm quite partial to Dell computers, because I've always had great experiences with their computers and their company. I had a chance to buy a refurbished HP P6510F computer for a great price, so I decided to take a chance with HP since that particular computer model had a lot of great reviews.
When the computer arrived I did what I always do - I reformatted the hard drive and I installed a brand new copy of Windows from scratch. (I have to do this because all computer companies - HP, Dell, Gateway, etc. - install a bunch of useless garbage software whenever you buy one of their new computers.) The computer ran fine for several weeks, but I'm a person that likes to keep their computer up-to-date, so this past weekend I browsed to HP's website to see if there were any updates.
Upgrading the BIOS
As it turns out, there was a new version of their BIOS that was supposed to resolve issues when waking the computer from sleep mode if you have more than 4GB of memory. I only had 4GB of RAM in the computer, but I was already shopping for another 4GB, so it seemed prudent to install the BIOS update. I downloaded the update and ran their installer. After a couple of minutes a dialog box popped up saying that the update had applied successfully and I needed to reboot my computer, which I did.
That's when everything started to go wrong.
All Heck Breaks Loose
When my computer restarted it immediately hit the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD); something very much like the following illustration:
A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to
prevent damage to your computer.
If this is the first time you've seen this Stop error screen,
restart your computer. If this screen appears again, follow
Check for viruses on your computer. Remove any newly installed
hard drives or hard drive controllers. Check your hard drive
to make sure it is properly configured and terminated.
Run CHKDSK /F to check for hard drive corruption, and then
restart your computer.
*** STOP: 0x0000007B (0xFFFFF880009A9928,0xFFFFFFFFC0000034,
It didn't matter how many times I tried to reboot, I still got the BSOD. I knew that BIOS updates changed some of the settings, so my natural suspicion was to assume that something in the new BIOS settings was causing the problem. I tweaked a few settings like disabling hardware virtualization and such - but there was still no joy in Mudville. After this I started to assume that perhaps the BIOS updated hadn't actually applied successfully, so I started trying to see if I could get my computer to boot from one of my several WinPE-based utility CD-ROMs and reapply the patch, but all of those also fell victim to the vicious BSOD.
I'll spare you the details of everything else that I tried - both hardware and software - but I finally gave up and decided to call HP's 24x7 technical support number.
The Technical Support Nightmare Begins
For geeks like me, having to call technical support is humiliating enough, but it's made so much worse by having to deal with front-line technical support people. Having spent 10 years in technical support myself, I have a great deal of patience with technical support engineers, but it can still be an aggravating experience. I spent the next half-hour answering mundane questions and following every instruction from HP's Tier 1 technical support script - all of which I had tried before. (At least the parts that actually applied to my situation.) I'm sure that the engineer with whom I was working meant well, but it was clear that she was floundering.
After a while she began to tell me that I didn't need the BIOS patch and that this was all my fault, to which I replied that she was correct - I didn't actually need the BIOS patch right now, but I would need it in the future, but that didn't really matter - the BIOS patch should not cause the BSOD. Besides - I always updated the BIOS in my Dell computers with no problems. (There's a good jab at HP to try yourself sometime.) Then she started to tell me that since I had a different version of Windows than HP had installed on my computer, the BIOS patch was not compatible. I asked her incredulously, "Do you mean to tell me that HP expects their customers to never install a new version of Windows?" She hesitated before replying "No," and then I reiterated my earlier assertion that no matter what, the BIOS patch should not cause the BSOD.
Then she began to tell me that I needed to purchase a system restore DVD from HP to rebuild my system. I was quick to point out that doing so would reformat my hard drive - thereby erasing all of my files - and that I was willing to bet that the problem wouldn't go away since the system restore DVD was probably not going to reset the BIOS back to an earlier version. So in my estimation I would be wasting my money and my time on a suggestion that would ultimately achieve nothing. This is where I lost her - she had no idea what I meant; so after more than an hour of basic troubleshooting with Tier 1 support and lots of time spent on hold, my patience was finally gone, and I asked to speak with someone in HP's Tier 2 support.
The Technical Support Nightmare Continues
I was transferred to a guy in Tier 2 support who discussed my predicament with me, and he seemed to have a much better handle on things. One of the first things that he did was verify that there was no reason that the BIOS update shouldn't work with my version of Windows, to which I replied that I had been trying to tell the earlier engineer the same thing. We looked at several settings, but the problem persisted, and then he suggested that I needed to purchase a system restore DVD from HP to rebuild my system. I restated my earlier claim that I would be wasting my money and my time since I was 99.9% sure that the system restore DVD would not roll back the BIOS version, so he put me on hold while he checked on that.
When he came back he informed me that the system restore DVD would not roll back the BIOS version, so I needed to return the computer to HP in order for them to reset the computer's BIOS to the original factory version. He pointed out that this would be free since the computer was under warranty, and he took my address so HP could send me a box in order to send the computer back to HP for repairs. Once all that was taken care of, we hung up.
My total time on the phone was about two hours. Ugh.
The next day I went out to lunch with my good friend, Wade Hilmo, and I related my experience to him. Once I described the symptoms he said, "I'll bet the BIOS update changed the mode for your SATA controller. Switch it from IDE to AHCI or vice-versa and the problem should go away."
Darn. I should have thought of that. ;-]
Sure enough, when I got home that night and I pulled up my BIOS settings, the SATA mode was set to RAID; I switched it to IDE and the BSOD went away. Once I knew what the problem was I found the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article that allowed me to enable AHCI:
Error message when you start a Windows 7 or Windows Vista-based computer after you change the SATA mode of the boot drive: "STOP 0x0000007B INACCESSABLE_BOOT_DEVICE"
My thanks to Wade for pointing that out, but Wade's follow-up comment was apropos, "I'm still a bit surprised that neither of the HP folks suggested it." So I decided that I should call HP and let them know what it took to fix the problem.
Back to Technical Support
The next day I called HP Customer Care to have them cancel my open work ticket, which was the polite thing to do since the problem was resolved. Having taken care of that, I thought that I'd give their technical support people the details of what caused the issue and how to fix it. Having worked in technical support, I always liked to know what it took to resolve an issue.
This seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it didn't turn out that way. When I called HP's Customer Care folks transferred the call to their technical support people, one of their idiots support engineers put me on hold for 20-30 minutes while he read the case notes.
Are you kidding me? It doesn't take 20-30 minutes to read the case notes, even if you're in your first year of Hooked on Phonics.
Once he took me off hold, I was pleading with him to listen to my explanation that the problem was already resolved and it was not caused by whatever stupid idea kept popping out of his wild imagination - I just wanted to share the details of how to resolve the issue if another customer calls in with the same problem, which is undoubtedly going to happen. I pointed out that I was trying to help HIM, for Pete's sake, and he just wouldn't listen. (I started hoping that HP was recording the call.)
After all that, I made it abundantly pretty clear that what he did was very unprofessional, and I asked to speak to a manager. He informed me that he'd see if a manager was available - then he put me back on hold. Fortunately I was calling from work where I have a headset for my telephone, this way I could keep working while I was on hold. (Otherwise this would have really aggravated me.)
After another 20-30 minutes I realized that this idiot engineer was not going to find a manager, he was waiting for me to hang up and go away. So I decided to put that call on hold and try to call back into technical support, but my @#$% LG-Nortel phone won't let me call a phone number if I already have that number on hold. Argh. While I was browsing HP's website to see if I could locate a different phone number for technical support I accidently hung up the original call.
Crap, crap, crap.
So I called HP again and I got another engineer - and I asked to speak to a manager right off the bat. I profusely apologized to the new engineer, and I stated emphatically that it was nothing that he did. He asked for my name and such, but I told him that I had a support ticket number and I gave him that instead. Then I started to explain what happened with the other idiot and how I resolved the issue, but this new engineer attempted to defend the earlier idiot engineer and started to change the subject. I politely cut him off and simply pointed out that the first guy took 30 minutes to read the case notes, whereas he took less than 30 seconds - even this guy had to admit that the first guy's behavior was uncalled for.
Cutting the rest of the story short, I did finally tell the new engineer what it took to fix the problem, which was simply resetting the SATA configuration back to the pre-update BIOS value. I also gave him the information about how to enable AHCI using Microsoft's KB 922976. He thanked me for the information, and after he tried unsuccessfully to upsell me on a new warranty for my computer we ended the call.
So there you have it - a thoroughly bad HP customer support experience. If either Hewlett or Packard somehow manage to read this blog, they should be ashamed on behalf of their employees. I'd give you the names of those employees, but no one that I talked to had a name that I could pronounce.
Of course, I never did get to speak to a manager at HP.