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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

March 12, 2009 at 11:53 AM

Woman struggles to prove to Microsoft’s Xbox service agents that Nome, Alaska, exists

Kim Galleher’s nightmare may be coming to an end. The Nome, Alaska, mother has been trying since mid-February to get Microsoft to send her a shipping box so she could return her 13-year-old son’s Xbox 360, which died of the Red Ring of Death in the depths of winter when going outside to play wasn’t really an option. Microsoft extended the warranty on the Xbox 360, including shipping costs, in summer 2007, responding to what it called an “unacceptable” rate of hardware failures. But representatives at the company’s repair center could not find a way to ship an empty box to Nome for the Gallehers to send back the game console for repair. Their address wasn’t recognized, probably because the town of about 3,500 people on the remote Seward Peninsula has only post office boxes. And so began a month-long back-and-forth with Microsoft agents, nearing a dozen contacts, that starts to read like an Abbott and Costello routine, or an episode of the Twilight Zone, as Galleher put it.

Shortly after I asked a Microsoft representative for comment on the situation yesterday, Galleher was contacted by the company and told a repaired console was on its way.

She’ll believe it when she sees it.

Kim Galleher documented her “extreme frustration” in a letter to Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division. I’ve summarized below what she described as a crusade, or you can read the letter yourself here: 4-page PDF.

On her first attempt, things were going smoothly. She contacted the service center, got a service number — the first of at least seven she would receive — and a prompt e-mail confirmation. But when she went online to print a mailing label, box up the console and send it off for repair, the Web site didn’t recognize her service number or zip code. She tried three more times during the next several days with the same result.

She called again on Feb. 21 and the agent said the company would just send her a shipping box.

“Now, here comes the apparent insurmountable obstacle that’s facing Microsoft,” Galleher wrote. “We live in Nome, Alaska. It’s a fly-in only community. I gave him our PO Box number and was told that they can’t mail to PO boxes. I patiently explained that is the only way we get mail here. We do not have house delivery through the US Postal system. This problem seemed resolved when I said that we can get UPS, and I gave him our physical address…”

A day later, she received an e-mail from Microsoft asking her to call and confirm her address. “Once again, I explained our mail delivery system,” she wrote. And once again, the agent said a shipping box would be sent.

The pattern repeated. Another e-mail. Another phone call. This time with her husband, Blaine Galleher doing the honors. Microsoft still could not verify any address in Nome. Blaine spoke with a supervisor, explaining the mundane details of the USPS in the remote town where the Iditarod Sled Dog race ends.

“Although your agents always assure me they are keeping notes on each call (somewhat reinforced by the fact they can recall that our mailing address is a post office box), we firmly believe they delete every other relevant detail and comment,” Kim Galleher wrote. “We also find it odd that although your service department states that calls may be recorded for better customer service, Cliff [the supervisor] flatly refused to record the conversation when my husband requested it.

“By now, my extremely patient and understanding husband’s nostrils are starting to emit smoke. He pleaded with Cliff to just give us the service center address in Texas with the understanding that we’d pay to ship it to them, no strings attached. He was told that it wasn’t possible because we had to have the service request number. Despite the fact that we now have a half-dozen service request numbers and promised to spray paint all of them on the unit, you guessed it; it’s against policy.

“He finally got Supervisor Cliff to get authorization to ‘override’ your USPS verification software and to just send the damn empty box and/or shipping label to us despite the fact that we apparently do not exist.”

The Gallehers received another call on March 3 from Microsoft asking to verify their address. And yet another on March 5. On that call, the agent told Kim Galleher the shipping box would be sent via FedEx, overnight. No box arrived.

She went online “to order a new Xbox 360 and guess what? That site had no problem being able to send it to me. Of course I didn’t order it because I am now committed to seeing this issue through, if for no other reason to prove to your corporation that UPS and the US Postal system do in fact work in Nome, Alaska –but apparently not with each other. … You guys at Microsoft ought to be embarrassed and ashamed that a group of women at Victoria Secret can figure out how to send a bra to me via UPS and yet Microsoft can’t figure out how to send an empty box.”

Galleher shared the details of her struggle with The Seattle Times. I asked a Microsoft representative yesterday afternoon for a comment. David Dennis, an Xbox spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement, “For this specific situation, there was a process breakdown with our agents regarding the validation of the customer’s address. We’ve spoken to the customer and are in the process of resolving the issue.”

A Microsoft “advocate” that Galleher had contacted previously called her Wednesday afternoon.

“He said that they have discovered that Fed Ex does deliver here after all,” Galleher said via e-mail. “They are sending us a ‘repaired console’ along with an empty box, as a way to cut down the wait time for us to get one back. He didn’t have a tracking confirmation number, but said it should be here around the 17th. At this point, I’m not holding my breath because every time they’ve said they are doing an over ride and are sending the box it doesn’t show up.”

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