Earlier this week, I turned on our brand-new laptop. Scratch that – our almost-brand-new laptop. We bought it in late August to use at our wedding. The first time I turned it on, in mid-September, I got an error message that the copy of Windows Vista on it couldn’t be authenticated and we were using an invalid key.
Now, first of all, the thing came pre-loaded with Windows Vista. Secondly, I’d just barely turned it on. I hadn’t played with it, I hadn’t added to it. I hadn’t loaded a pirated version of software or hacked into something. I’d hit the power button and turned it on.
So I spent three hours on the phone with three different representatives from Toshiba tech support, wiped the hard drive clean, and reloaded everything. After three excruciating hours of explaining the problem and trying every single stupid “solution,” over and over, we seemed to have gotten it right. Up popped a message on the screen that everything was taken care of.
So imagine my surprise and frustration when it happened again this week. I was halfway through loading our wedding photos on there so we could show them off at a family birthday party (because, of course, Costco wouldn’t let us print “professionally-done” photos without a written note from our photographer, but that’s another blog for another day) when up popped an error window. “This copy of Windows is not genuine,” it said. “The pass key you typed is invalid for activation.”
Sure enough, when we went to turn it on again, there was nothing but a black screen and a window saying I’d been the victim of counterfeiting. Nice job, Microsoft.
So my husband took the computer in to Best Buy (where we bought it – see? no counterfeiting happening here!) to see what they would say. He and the tech called me at work. “Well, see, the copy of Vista was preloaded on your computer by Toshiba,” the tech explained, “but this is a Microsoft authentication error. It’s Microsoft-based. They probably just have to reset it, or give you a new one. It shouldn’t be too hard. But you’ll have to call Microsoft.”
My heart sank.
Six months ago, I spent almost four hours on the phone with tech support at Microsoft. I had a three-month-old Zune .mp3 player that had suddenly stopped being recognized by my (Windows) computer. From tech to tech I bounced, with varying Southeastern Asian accents and levels of understanding my problems. After trying every trick they could think of, someone had me wipe my Zune’s hard drive clean. Which resulted in the thing completely freezing and not being able to turn on or off. I finally got to a second-level tech with an American accent who confirmed that, yes, the thing was indeed beyond their telephone-based capabilities. Unfortunately I would need to send it back for a replacement.
Which is, of course, what I had figured from the beginning.
This week, I again found myself on the phone with Microsoft. I called the number listed online for Windows Vista support, gave them my name, my phone number, my zip code, and explained my issue. I told them that it had been a floor model and I suspected that someone had stolen the key and used it on their own system. And that I thought we really just needed a new key. “Oh no, ma’am,” the person on the other end of the phone said, “you need to call customer service. This number is for people who have already authenticated their software. Your copy isn’t authenticated. I can’t help you.” Umm… Okay. So you can’t tell me why my copy won’t authenticate? And you can’t just give me a new code?? A lot of help you are… “Thank you for calling Microsoft. Have a great day.”
I hung up and called the number she’d given me, once again having to spell my name and give my number and zip code before anyone would talk to me. “Oh no, ma’am,” said the next person once I explained the problem, “you need to get in touch with our Genuine Authentication department. They’ll be the ones you can help you. I’ll transfer you. Thank you for calling Microsoft. Have a great day.”
One failed transfer later, I’d gotten the direct number off the third person who picked up the phone in the customer service department. I gave my name and number a third time and explained the situation again. “Okay ma’am, can you read off to me your key?” It was 35 painfully slow digits, repeated back and forth twice. “Yes, that’s a valid key,” explained the tech in the Authentication department. “But it’s a technical problem. I can’t help you. I’ll transfer you back to customer service.”
“Well, I can’t transfer you directly to the technical support department. I have to transfer you through customer service. Thank you for calling Microsoft. Have a great day.”
Fuming, I waited on the line for customer service to pick up. “Hi, this is Paul in Customer Service. Can I have your first and last name, please?”
Through gritted teeth, I told him all the information I’d imparted on the last four telephone representatives. He told me it would be a nine to thirteen minute wait for a technician and could I please hold.
Like some nonsensical farce, I was stuck on the line with awful, repetitive on-hold music while Microsoft’s minions laughed about how often I had to give them my name and plotted ways to make me go crazy while still not fixing my computer. And I was stuck in scripted response hell.
The technician picked up. And asked me once again to provide my name and telephone number and tell him about my problem. I tried to stay calm – I really did. But my husband came into the room halfway through my description of the problem (which included a lot of “I’ve been on the phone with you people for more than an hour!!!” exclamations) and told me to calm.down.
The technician decided at last to take pity on me. “Restart the computer,” he said, “and as soon as you see the Toshiba logo, hit F8 repeatedly. Don’t stop hitting it.” Enthusiastically, I clicked the key until a DOS screen appeared. “Now,” he said, “hit ‘repair my computer.'” I did. The computer whirred for a moment and stopped, saying that there was nothing to repair. “Okay,” the technician said, undeterred, “now hit ‘restart my computer in Safe Mode.'” I did. Now the tech took me through an automatic recovery process. Only the computer was too new. There were no safe recovery points. “Can I put you on hold for three or four minutes,” asked the tech, “while I check my resources?”
Sure. Why not?
When he returned, he took me through a series of command prompts that I couldn’t possibly hope to ever repeat on my own. Each one returned the same result – that Windows was working fine. He had me restart the computer. The error message popped up.
“Okay,” he said, “I cannot help you.”
“Excuse me?” I said… Er… screamed…
“This is an authentication issue. I need to transfer you over to the authentication department.”
“But I was just there… They transferred me to you!!”
“Yes, but it’s not a technical issue,” he chided. “Please hold while I transfer you. Thank you for calling Microsoft. Have a great day.”
I walked, phone on my shoulder, into the kitchen to get a drink of water, wishing I had something stronger. “Crappy on-hold music!!” I mouthed to my husband, sitting agape at the fact that I was still on the line. “Tech number seven coming right up!!!”
Tech number seven picked up. Her name was Priya, I remember, and she had a pleasant voice. But nothing could save her from my wrath when she asked me again for my name and my problem. “Didn’t he tell you? I’ve explained it over and over!!! What is wrong with you people???” Undeterred, Priya started taking me through a series of steps. “Restart the computer,” she said, “and as soon as you see the Toshiba logo, hit F8 repeatedly. Don’t stop hitting it.”
Sounded familiar. “What are we going to do here?” I asked. “I mean, I’ve already done this, with the last guy. Are we going into Safe Mode?”
“Yes,” she answered, “I’m taking you into safe mode so that we can check that all the settings are correct.”
“But,” I argued, “we already did that! The last guy was from technical support and he took me through all these steps already…”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” she answered, “but I need to do this with you now.”
Okay. Fine. I hit restart. I hit F8 repeatedly. We started the machine in Safe Mode. “Now,” she said, “we’re going to use the automatic recovery program to take the computer back to a safe recovery spot.”
“Wait, no,” I said, “we already did this. It didn’t work. The computer is brand new.”
“So do you see a safe recovery point in the box?”
“Did you hear what I said?” I asked, “The computer is brand new. There are no recovery points. None.”
“Can I put you on hold for three or four minutes while I check my resources?” she asked. Scripted questions for when you don’t know what the hell is going on. Fabulous.
“Sure, go ahead,” I spat. “Everyone else has today.”
I tried dancing to the on-hold music this time, to pass the “three or four minutes” that she was gone. The music clicked off. She clicked on. “Okay,” she started, “can you tell me what screen you’re on?”
I tried not to groan. “I am on the automatic recovery screen. Right where you left me.”
“Great,” she started. “We’ll need to find a safe recovery point for you to bring the computer back to.”
That was it. I lost it. I got eerily calm and quiet. My husband can attest to the fact that if an Italian stops yelling when she’s mad, you really don’t want to be within a three-mile radius. Or on a phone call with her. “Can I talk to your second-level support, please?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t think I understand you…”
I took a deep breath. Started again. “I need to speak with someone who knows more about this than you do. Your higher-level support.”
“Yes. A manager. I need a manager. I need to talk to someone who can actually do their job and help me because I have been on the phone with you people for almost two hours now and no one has been able to do ANYTHING. This is rediculous. I need to speak with someone who can help me NOW.”
“Okay,” Priya said. “I’ll transfer you to my manager. Thank you for calling Microsoft. Have a great day.”
The manager came on the line. When he asked me what the problem was, I almost reached through the wire to strangle him. “Did she not give you the summary?” I growled.
“Oh, yes,” he answered, and paused to read it. “Okay, well. Yes. I see what’s wrong,” he began. I hung on every word. “You see, this copy of Windows Vista was pre-loaded onto your computer by Toshiba. It looks like something has been corrupted, so even though your key code is valid, it’s showing up as invalid. But it’s a copy of Windows that has been created especially for Toshiba, so we really can’t do anything with it.”
“Hold on,” I said. “You mean to tell me that I need to call Toshiba now? That I just spent two HOURS on the phone with people from Microsoft, being pushed from department to department, only to find out that it’s Toshiba’s problem? When Toshiba already told me that all they could do for me was all they already did?? Are you SERIOUS??”
“Well,” he said, “I guess we could generate a new key code for you.”
It took another twenty minutes before Priya called me back. And then the internet suddenly didn’t work on the laptop – so once I had the new key code, I had to authenticate it over the phone with her (108 digits this time – 54 on my computer screen and another 54 generated by her system). But, after all, the computer finally blinked happily, Vista authenticated. Priya asked if there was anything more she could do for me, and I said no, exhausted from the effort. “Well, then, Elisa, thank you for calling Microsoft,” she said. “Have a great day.”
I couldn’t help but wonder, by the end, whether Apple has scripted customer service calls…