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Microsoft phone support contractors told to hang up after 15 minutes

So Microsoft fired them, then paid a bonus to play LAN games for three months

On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, in its regular Friday slot where we bring you readers' stories of stuff that goes on in the workplace.

Yesterday's tale of four fellows paid elephant bucks to do nothing for three months prompted a submission from reader “Ivan” who says his first job in tech support was for “a call centre company that had won a support contract from Microsoft.”

“As a bit of background,” Ivan wrote, “retention of the contract depended on maintaining call satisfaction levels from the callers and were paid by the number of calls handled.”

Ivan says the company's team was divided into three squads.

One got to answer queries about “Microsoft toys such as Powertools and the recently released Barney purple dinosaur toy.” That team had three members and each handled 10 to 15 calls a day.

The second squad handled Office support. The ten people on that team each answered about 80 calls a day.

Ivan worked on the third squad which supported Windows 95/98 and Internet Explorer 4. The 15 people in Ivan's team each handled around 250 calls a day.

“For the first few months things went well,” Ivan recalls. “Caller satisfaction was very high and things moved smoothly.”

“Unfortunately, the bosses got greedy, we were being offered far more calls than we could handle. The pointy haired bosses saw this as 'lost revenue' and instead of doing the obvious step of hiring more agents to handle the increased call volume decided that the best way to handle this was to issue the following directive:”

"If you can't solve the problem within 15 minutes, make an excuse and hang up."

Ivan said that approach worked just fine for talking dinosaur support and the Office team didn't have much trouble complying, either, because most of their calls started with “I can't print in Word.”

For Ivan's team the 15-minute rule was a disaster.

“It can take up to 15 minutes just to pry out the details of the fault from the user let alone identify and fix the issue,” Ivan explains. “Also this was in the days before remote assistance tools were a thing. I still have horrible memories of talking a dyslexic user through typing the command del shdcvow.dll.”

Things went predictably pear-shaped as a result of the 15-minute rule. Ivan says customer satisfaction levels went through the floor and before long Microsoft cancelled the contract.

Ivan and all his colleagues were made redundant.

But the call centre contractor still had three months of service it was was bound to provide. So it offered bonuses to all staff willing to stick around.

Ivan signed up for that cash. And then watched, astounded, as two days later the company took the phones away.

Just how one does phone support without phones is a mystery The Register will one day resolve.

Ivan didn't mind because no incoming calls meant he got to play games for the next three months.

“We still had top of the range PCs and someone had a copy of Half-Life. Cue three months of paid-for network Half-Life tournaments. Except for the last week when they took the PC's away as well resulting in us resorting to the old standby of a pack of cards.”

“We got three months of LAN parties and card games followed by a nice bonus at the end of it.”

Can you top Ivan's tale? Or share a story of being asked to fix things at odd times in odd places? Write to me, dear readers, and you may find yourself pseudonymical self in a future edition of On-Call. ®

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