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If you’ve called Xbox tech support in the last two years to get help with a networking problem, I probably know the person who fixed it for you. In fact, I might be the agent who fixed it. For the past 18 months I have been a member of the connectivity team for Xbox technical support, though I never worked directly for Microsoft. They outsource that department to a company called Stream Global Services, a call center operation with locations all over the world. Xbox is one of their most prestigious contracts, but they also provide support for companies like Intuit and Nike. (Yes, Nike has a tech support line.)
Stream isn’t the only company that supports Xbox. You may have heard about Alpine Access, another phone support provider that Microsoft uses for this contract. The attitude among the agents at Stream is that Alpine is very much the B Team, the second-stringers, the sidekicks. As proof of this we like to point to how only Stream handles networking connectivity calls, which are among the most technically challenging problems that Xbox tech support deals with.
The managers at Stream say Microsoft tells us not to bash Alpine, but they say this with the enthusiasm of a dead fish. When a Stream agent gets a call from a customer who was previously (mis)handled by an Alpine agent, they are said to have been Alpwned.
Of course they don’t like us talking about this in public. There’s a code of silence—well, really a clause in the employment contract—that says a call center agent should never divulge to the public who she really works for. When I answer the phone, as far as the customer knows, I am a Microsoft employee. I was fine with that, right up until they fired me for not being polite enough to a Nazi.
Yes, really. That happened.
Around 6:15 PM PST on July 17th of this year, I got a call from Dave.* Dave had some kind of an accounts issue, which we don’t normally touch. I told him I could transfer him to the Live department and they could take a look at the issue for him. Up to this point Dave seemed perfectly nice. He didn’t even give me shit about being named April and having a male-sounding voice. Then I asked him his gamertag.
“I’ll spell it out for you,” says Dave. “It’s H-E-E-B, and then it’s all together, no spaces, H-U-N-T-E-R, and then an S-S. So it should be HeebHunterSS with no spaces.”
Now, I’m the kind of girl who gets a reputation for being mouthy without really trying. I’m the kind of girl whose friends were horrified when I told them I had made a resolution to be more forthright about how I feel. This is not to say I’m not professional; I’m professional as fuck! If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have lasted two years at Stream. What I mean to say is that not having anything to say is a pretty rare experience for me, even when I restrain my vocabulary to what won’t get me immediately frog marched out of the building. But Dave is something special. What do you say to someone like that?
Tech support is a really stressful job. You learn not to take it home with you, and by the time I went to sleep that night I was sure I’d never hear of it again. Within 5 minutes of clocking in the next day my manager asked me to follow him. He took me to HR where I was promptly fired for hanging up on a customer.
Even though he was a Nazi?
Yes, even though he was a Nazi.
In my confusion, I may have inquired at the top of my lungs as to what the fuck was wrong with them. I may have inquired about this several times. I was escorted out of the building and am very proud of myself for not pulling the fire alarm on the way out like I wanted to.
While I was writing this story, I decided to look Dave up and see what I could learn about him. Here’s the funny thing: no such gamertag shows up where you search for players at www.xbox.com. All the variations I could think of also draw blanks. The gamertag doesn’t exist. This suggests two possibilities.
The first is that the Xbox Live enforcement team was made aware of his gamertag and forced him to change it in a little more than 24 hours. If this is true, it would be faster than I have ever seen the enforcement team move. As far as those of us on the call floor can tell, they always have a huge backlog.
It would also be odd for them to even know about Dave; remember, my manager insisted there was no way for us to tell them Dave’s gamertag was a problem. I didn’t tell anyone else at work what the gamertag was, so it’s unlikely any of us reported him using the report player tool that is available to us on our personal accounts. (That’s right; as a player you have more power to report abusive users than the customer service team does at Xbox tech support.) I know I didn’t report him; I just didn’t want to think about him anymore. So how would they know?
The second possibility is that Dave was a prank caller. We get lots of prank calls at Xbox. The most popular is to claim to have your dick stuck in the disk tray. Officially, we are to advise the customer to call 911, but what everyone actually does is remind the customer that the user’s manual specifically states that small objects should not be inserted into the disk tray. More creative prank calls are rare, because people who are creative don’t waste their time on prank calls.
But what if someone with a shitty sense of humor and no taste just finished watching Inglourious Basterds and didn’t know what to do with the rest of his night? Why not call Xbox and about a problem he doesn’t have? That’s a barrel of laughs just waiting to happen, if you’re an asshole.
It is my current belief that Stream Global Services fired me for hanging up on a prank call. They were so scared that they’d get in trouble with Microsoft for not giving adequate customer service to a literal Nazi that they fired me before checking to see if he was a real person or not. It appears that in Stream’s estimation, it is more important to cater to people who use the Holocaust as a username than it is to stand by their employees—and then they’re too sloppy to double-check to make sure they’re firing someone for what they think they are.
*Not his “real” name. Not that I’m trying to protect him; I just can’t honestly remember what he said his name was.