xbox – Stay N Alive

This Isn’t the Microsoft it Used to Be – My Full Circle Journey and Why I’m Back Again

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

You may remember my scathing blog post denouncing my Xbox 360 and swearing I was leaving Microsoft.  I still feel that way about my old Xbox 360.  It was a piece of junk.  I sold it, sold all the games, and sent my Windows 7 machine with Windows Media Center on it to the scrap pile.  The fact is Microsoft used to create junky hardware and software, and being big and experiencing growing pains they got lazy and stopped competing in a lot of the consumer market.  My old Xbox 360 died 4 times and they still weren’t willing to give me something better.  Windows Vista still crashes all the time.  The old Windows Mobile was out of its time.  IE is terrible and a joke in many circles.  I hate the old Microsoft.  For the first time in my life, being the company that got me into programming, I didn’t want to go back.  I was sick of the problems and didn’t want anyone to try and fix it for me.

All that changed when my kids convinced me to try the Kinect.  Enter the new Microsoft.  Everything is new now.

The Backstory

It started when I was throwing around the idea of getting a PS3 with the Move wand and camera.  It just didn’t seem to interest my kids.  My kids, Mario Kart junkies that could care less about graphics and more about what games they can play and challenge their friends on, are happy with just having a Wii (bless their hearts).  Something was getting to them, though, as they would see commercials on TV when Microsoft’s Kinect launched of people controlling a computer screen with their hands and legs.  That looked really fun to them!  This was something, finally, for their generation!

It was when they started asking me about the Kinect and not the PS3 that I started to realize I was going to have to reconsider the Xbox again.  So I started investigating.  I also started to see a buzz that I hadn’t seen since the Wii came out.  The 250 GB bundles, the most popular bundle, were near impossible to find in stores.  Friends were starting to talk about getting them.  My parents finally bought an Xbox just for the Kinect (something I was trying to convince them for years to do).  There was something special afoot, and I needed to find out what it was.

The Purchase

So I decided to jump the gun and at least give it a try.  It turns out Microsoft has a new Xbox console.  One that’s less-prone to errors.  So I went out, got practically the last Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle in the city (at Target), and brought it home, just in time for my family to play for Thanksgiving.  You should have seen the glee on my kids’ eyes when I walked in the door with this thing they were seeing on TV and now had in their house, in real life.  This was the future!  In their home.  For them to play with.  Yeah, the thing I took away from them just a month before (that didn’t work anyway).

I hooked up the new Xbox 360 – to my surprise it was quiet!  I could barely hear it across the room!  “Finally, a machine I can play movies and not degrade the experience because of the sound of Xbox fans,” I thought to myself.

The Kinect

Then we hooked up the Kinect.

“Simply Amazing” are the best words I can use to describe it.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  Just ask my wife – I told her I never wanted to buy another game that requires a controller again.  We started by playing “Kinect Adventures”, which comes with the unit.  Immediately it recognized without any tuning that my daughter was a girl, and that me and my sons were boys.  It would immediately recognize when there was a second player and let them play against the current player.  We were very quickly, without prompting, playing as a family, together, laughing and enjoying ourselves.

The Kinect comes with a camera.  During the games, the camera takes pictures of you, just like those little photos amusement park rides take of you at your most embarrassing moments.  The cool part is you can share these to Facebook and Twitter though.  The games also replay the pictures at the end so you get to re-live the fun you just had during the game you just played.  Simply amazing.

The Experience

But the coolest part is not the games – it’s the overall experience the Kinect gives you on the Xbox.  By just waving my hand when I turn on my Xbox 360, it immediately recognizes me, identifies me through facial recognition, and logs me in.  No longer do I need to search for the controller to log into games – Kinect does this for you on compatible titles.  In addition, because the new Xbox 360 comes with ESPN 360, I get to watch all my favorite football games (especially cool since BYU Football, one of my favorites, will have an exclusive partnership with ESPN next year), pick the winning team and get Xbox points if they win, but challenge my friends as well and see how many of them voted for which teams.  Even cooler though, with the wave of a hand and some Jedi mind tricks (Jedi mind tricks unnecessary) I can pause, rewind, and fast forward my games, or choose a new game.  No remote necessary.

The new Xbox comes with all the old stuff – Facebook, Twitter, integration, and integrates really well with Windows Media Center on any Windows 7 machine.  Of course, this got me to kill my cable and turn on my Windows 7 Media Center box again.  Add to that services like Hulu integration into services like PlayOn, I’ve got everything I need for the full entertainment experience.  Microsoft has me in their clutches.

Because of Microsoft (with some help from my Apple and Google TV devices, which I’ll talk about another time), I disconnected my Blu-Ray player, and took back my Comcast Cable boxes.  Microsoft is back in the game!

The Change

Microsoft has changed my mind with the new Xbox so completely, that they are now one company, as Holden Page said earlier today, that I’m investing in for the year 2011.  In fact I predict their stock price will hit $100 per share in 2011.  I’m confident in that.  With the advent of the Windows Phone 7 (which I have many “normal world” friends looking already to convert), integration with the Xbox and games for the Xbox, with them showing they “get” the living room experience, Microsoft is finally about to hit a Nirvana stage where they have full control of the living room experience.

I’m a Linux geek.  I’m not supposed to like Microsoft.  But I like this Microsoft.  It’s a new Microsoft with a new attitude towards competition, and a new wave of modern technology, standards compatibility, and willingness to listen.  It brings me back to the Microsoft I loved when I started programming – one that was on the cusp of new technology, a leader, not a follower, and one that developers could feel comfortable innovating under.

I hope Microsoft can convince others that they’ve disappointed in the past as I’ve accidentally been able to discover that they’re a new company now – it’s a new brand.  Microsoft has some wounds they need to heal with their loyal customers first.  Assuming they’re able to do so, if I were Google I wouldn’t be looking at Apple as my primary competition – I’d be looking at Microsoft. In my opinion, Microsoft is the biggest threat to Google in 2011.  They owe that to the living room experience of which they have already begun to take ownership, and to being the only other major vendor to be focusing on software, not hardware for phones and succeeding at being innovative in doing so.  Google – don’t get distracted.  This is your real competition.  If you’re a blogger – don’t get distracted.  Microsoft is the real deal this year.  Let Apples be Apples (har har).

Microsoft, I don’t know how you did it, but your technology alone has completely turned me around and made me a fan again.  I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds.

The Art of Ignoring. Why @XboxSupport Convinced Me to Leave Microsoft.

There is such a thing as too much Social Media.  I’m talking about the art of ignoring.  We see accounts such as @comcastcares and @richardatdell and various other accounts on Twitter that do an excellent job at handling customer support and actually gaining, as well as retaining customers as a result, all while maintaining a great PR front for the company.  Such media arms require a fine art that includes customer support, PR, a little technical support, and often a little power to make decisions at the executive level.  When you create a customer support channel on Twitter you are, in essence, exposing yourself, and your customers, to the world when it comes to support.  This is a very delicate line to cross. Some times it means you have to ignore certain irate customers to maintain that brand image.  Today, the @XboxSupport team, to me, showed me how not to manage a customer support channel on Twitter.  In fact, they’ve convinced me to leave Microsoft altogether.  Let me share why.

A few days ago on Twitter I mentioned my frustration (note that TweetBoard didn’t archive that entire conversation for some reason, so some of my responses are missing), after my 4th Xbox 360 received its red ring of death, and after taking it through the Microsoft diagnosis tool, it would soon become the 4th Xbox 360 I owned to be replaced by Microsoft under my extended warranty.  4 units!  (I should note, in full disclosure, that one of those is a separate unit that my brother now owns after I replaced it once, so it would be one unit replaced once, and another replaced 3 times)  I paid full price for the unit, and full price for the extended warranty.

I loved my Xbox 360.  I was okay going through the replacement process a couple times.  It was, as I’ve said here before, my entertainment center more than anything.  No other unit, in conjunction with the Windows 7 machine that I own, can allow me to stream and record live TV in as efficient, cheap, and as powerful and flexible a manner as my Xbox 360.  Not only that but I get great games like Halo, and my kids get great family games like Viva Pinata and others that go with it.  I was getting excited for the Kinect product which had been lauded for years as the next generation controller.

Yet at some point having to replace your console over and over again for similar problems, it starts to nag on you.  It especially nags on me as all my friends are starting to buy the PS3 and are trying to convince me to switch after years of defense of the Xbox 360 by myself.  So I complained on Twitter. Sure enough, the first tweets that come in are from friends of mine, asking me if it’s time I let the 360 go.  Some mentioning the return rates of the PS3 are extremely low.


But after someone pointing them to me, in swoops @XboxSupport on Twitter, suggesting, without my asking, that I try out their diagnosis tool online that I’ve tried a million times.  I told them I wasn’t interested, in fact suggesting the only thing that could make me feel better would be a refund or one of the new Xbox 360s that is supposed to have these Red Ring of Death issues fixed, and they proceeded to argue with me.  It got to the point that I was suggesting that the Wii wasn’t giving me these issues and they were in essence saying that the Xbox produced more heat (yes, that’s the problem) which is why it was breaking and the others weren’t (duh).  In all the messaging I got from them, the message that came through to me was that I was wrong, and they were right.  All this in their public stream for all their followers to see, without me originally asking for their help.  You can see part of the conversation here (again note that a lot of it is missing):

They finally stopped the conversation and we both went on our separate ways.  In fact, I was starting to calm down a bit and was actually considering just buying the new Xbox 360 after I replaced this one and perhaps sold it on Ebay or something (or maybe just destroyed it on Youtube for everyone to see).  It was at the same time MG Siegler, of TechCrunch, was mentioning problems he was having with Xbox Live making him want to kill his Xbox 360 as well.  I pointed him to the @XboxSupport conversation I had earlier, and evidently someone else at @XboxSupport caught wind of that too.

When I woke up this morning, in swooped @XboxSupport again, thinking they could save the day, but this time the 3 tweets I received from them were accusing me of not cooperating, again, in front of all their 35,000 followers.  The latest message being, “We do understand your frustration, but for us to provide the best support possible we do need some customer cooperation”.  This after I had done all they asked in my previous conversation with them.  After that they started saying they had done all they could do “if my console was out of standard warranty”.  Again, i was wrong, they were right.  Even though I had the extended warranty they were assuming I didn’t have.  All in their public stream, to their 35,000 followers.  I then suggested they stop arguing and leave it alone, and then they proceeded to defend why they engaged customers on Twitter. 12 Tweets to their 35,000 followers later, they stopped.  At this point my entire Replies column was filled with arguments from @XboxSupport (and one person telling me the PS3 was superior):

My Replies column full of Tweets, in my perception, telling me I’m wrong

When is enough, enough?  I think when the customer tells you they don’t want to hear from you any more that should definitely tell you to just let it go.  Especially when you’re representing one of the biggest brands on the planet, and potentially damaging or hurting that customer’s reputation in front of all the other people following your brand.  When approaching customer support in a public environment, the rules change.  You absolutely cannot give any hint that your customers are ever wrong. Take it to DM.  Take it to e-mail if you want to do that.  Encourage immediately for those customers to e-mail you or call you when it comes to that.  Assumptions can never be made, because you can be held liable.

Instead, I got to tell my 26,000 followers, and now a blog post that will go out to more, how frustrated I was with Microsoft, over and over again with them only fueling my fire each and every time.  The Twitter XboxSupport account has told me, to their 35,000 followers, that I’m wrong, over and over again.  It’s lose-lose, and nobody wins.

Again, I’m wrong, even though that’s not what they were informing me considering they know I already knew.

Now I’m forced to stick to my decision.  I’ll be selling my replaced Xbox 360 on Ebay, and using the money to purchase a PS3.  Or maybe I’ll save the money and just stick with the Wii I currently own.  Microsoft has convinced me with their continual pressing that I’ll always be wrong in their opinion and because of that I can’t stick with them.  Therefore I won’t buy an Xbox 360 again.  Not only that but their other followers also see that.  Also, as a result, that Xbox 360 was the only reason I was still on Windows 7 – my Windows 7 machine was my media center, and Windows Media Center powered my entire Xbox 360-controlled media experience.  Now I don’t need that any more either.  Unfortunately in a world of interconnected devices, killing one device causes a ripple effect to the others.  All this very possibly could have been stopped by a single support person keeping their mouth shut and letting bygones be bygones.

There is a time when Social Media can be too much.  It’s important you train those representing your company on Twitter and elsewhere to realize this.  Customer Support is no longer just a support role any more.  It’s a PR role as well.  There are legal repercussions.  There are reputation repercussions.  There is much more to this position.

It’s important, as you’re approaching your customer support approach to social media that you have a way to get to the bottom of the situation as quick as possible, and preferably in private.  You should recognize the problem, contact the person individually, and determine if in the end they can ever be right.  If that’s not the case, it’s a moot point to try and convince them otherwise.  The customer is always right.  They should especially be right in public.  To this customer, unfortunately in Microsoft’s public perception, I’ll always be wrong, and that will never be deleted.  That’s just bad support, and the exact opposite of what a social media campaign should produce.  There’s an art of ignoring, and at least Microsoft’s XboxSupport team has proved to me they don’t get that art.  Goodbye Microsoft.  I hope you can sway me back.

So, who’s got a good deal on a PS3?