A conversation with Microsoft

A few days ago I tried to download a file from microsoft.com. Nothing important, just a code example that might be useful to a possibility I was exploring at work. So when my company's firewall refused to let me download the file because it contained a virus, I wasn't horrible disappointed. But, being a good internet citizen, I decided to let Microsoft know that they were offering an infected file for download. This is something they want to know about, I thought. And how hard can it be? Just send off an e-mail to the abuse department, and some smart person will forward it the right way.

How hard can it be, indeed.

Here's my original mail to Microsoft:

Subject: Excel macro virus on download.microsoft.com


My firewall reports that the following download contains a virus:



Virus report (antivirus-no2)
Virus was found and quarantined in

Found virus MacroStripped in file PO.xls (in xml03192001.exe)

The file xml03192001.exe is moved to /etc/iscan/virus/virFaWMe7.

- Bjørn Stærk

Short and matter of fact, just the kind of mail I'd like to receive if I was sitting at the other end.

A few hours later, I got this reply:

Hello Bjorn,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.

My name is Deepak and I will be assisting you today.

I understand from your e-mail that Firewall reported that the download from Microsoft contains Virus. I realize that you must be facing inconvenience because of this issue.

Bjorn, as a Customer Service Representative, I would like to inform you that, to provide customers timely support for virus-related and security related issues, Microsoft has created a toll-free number where customers can receive support at no charge: (866) PC-SAFETY or (866) 727-2338.

Bjorn, I hope you find above suggestions helpful. Please let us know if the above information has been helpful.

Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.

Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative

If you have any comments or feedback about the service, I provided you, please send an e-mail message to my Manager Anurag Yadav at managers@microsoft.com

Is your software secure? Make sure you are current with all security updates by running the scan program available at http://www.microsoft.com/security/protect

Hm? Obviously they thought I had been infected and was asking for help. Must not have read my mail very carefully:


I think you misunderstood me. I'm not asking for your help - I can manage. I'm just trying to help _you_. You're offering a virus infected file for download. That's not a very good idea, so perhaps you should forward this to someone who can clean the file.

- Bjørn Stærk

But my good intentions were wasted:

Hello Bjorn,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.

My name is Abhiranjan and I am glad to assist you.

From your e-mail, I comprehend that you are concerned about an e-mail with viruses, which appears to be from Microsoft. I realize your concern in this regard and look forward to assisting you.

Bjorn, the e-mail message you received is considered a hoax. To help you identify e-mail hoaxes, here is some additional information:

- Microsoft does not send unsolicited e-mails that include attachments. If you ever receive an unsolicited e-mail with an attached executable claiming to be from Microsoft, it is best to delete it immediately.

- To verify that an e-mail message that claims to be from Microsoft is genuine, visit the following Web site: http://www.microsoft.com/verifymail

- If you have already opened the attachment, suspect that your system is infected, or want information about viruses, visit the following Web site: http://www.microsoft.com/security/

Bjorn , for information about this and other hoaxes, visit the following Web sites:

http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/ (CIAC is the Computer Incident Advisory Capability, a United States Government organization.)



Note: The links in this message may lead to third-party Web sites. Microsoft provides third-party resources to help you find customer service or technical support resources. Information at these sites may change without notice. Microsoft is not responsible for the content at any third-party Web sites and does not guarantee the accuracy of third-party information.

Bjorn, I hope the information provided to you would be helpful
and your issue gets resolved at the earliest. If you have any further concern, please contact us. We will be glad to help you.

Thank you for using Microsoft Products and Services.

Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative

If you have any feedback about your Online Customer Service experience please e-mail my manager Dennis Mathen at managers@microsoft.com

Sure, it was possible that my firewall was mistaken, but that hardly qualifies as a hoax, and whatever made them think I had received "unsolicited e-mails that include attachments"?

I try again:


Again, you misunderstand me. I have not received any infected e-mail. I am not asking for any help. Allow me to repeat:

1. When attempting to download a file from download.microsoft.com, my company firewall warned me that an excel file in the download contains a macro virus.
2. This is not a problem to me. I have not been harmed. The virus was discovered before I could be infected. I don't really need the file anyway.
3. This may be a problem to the next person who attempts to download that file, who may not have any anti-virus software to detect it.
4. You should check and if necessary clean up the file asap.

- Bjørn Stærk

Now they thought I was requesting a bug fix in one of their products:

Hello Bjorn,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.

My name is Yoga and I am glad to assist you today.

I appreciate the time you have taken to offer us your feedback.

When you contact Microsoft through this Web site, your submission is reviewed by a member of the Wish Team and then directed to the group that can best use your feedback to improve our products or services. Because of the volume this Web site receives, we cannot guarantee that you will receive a personal response, but we can assure you that your submission was received and reviewed.

Bjorn, Microsoft is committed to listening to our customers and improving our products and services based upon your wishes. When it is time for the appropriate group to begin planning for a new product or service, or an updated version of an existing product or service, your suggestion will be reviewed by the department that implements those changes.

Although we are unable to reply individually to each suggestion we receive, we appreciate your thoughts and opinions.

Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.

Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative

If you have any feedback about your Online Customer Service experience, please e-mail my manager Ranjith Chakkambadh at managers@microsoft.com

I take this to mean that my mail has been sent to the request list of some product, (but which one? it was just a code example), where it will be reviewed for possible approval at some undefined point in the future. Hey Microsoft, it's a virus - you're not supposed to "review" the possible disinfection of a publicly available download. You run and clean it up, before anyone gets hurt.

But I suppose this is the closest thing I'll ever get to an "ok, thanks, we'll fix it", so I'm not trying again. Besides, I don't want to know what they'll think I'm reporting next.


deja vu

Have similar mail exchange with Symantec when I find _new_ virus. I cleaned manually system and submitted virus to Symantec what they first don't recognized has virus. Send them e-mail and get answer that they don't have free support to my area. Phone support cost was unaffordable - they don't have service numbers here. Has result virus been added their database week later when I reported, what is 9-10 days later than computer was infected.

No more NAV, paid at least.

Not good. In fact that is pretty poor. I work for Microsoft and that is just embarrassing to me. I have contacted the person who wrote the article that code is from and asked him to look into it. I suspect that you are getting a false positive though. Chances are that your firewall is set to assume that all macros are malicious. I'm not 100% sure about that but I can say that the anti virus program on my system gave that download a clean bill of health. You may want to check with your firewall administrator.


I just saw this. I'm so sorry. I've forwarded this to some people I know in support. I've also sent it to the security folks. I'll get that file checked out ASAP.

Robert Scoble
Microsoft Corporation

Anyone just focusing on the file is missing the point, I think. Just try to *read* those lame, canned, overly complicated replies. Does that sound like a conversation that you'd have with a real person? No, it sounds fake. Who wants to do business with a company that sounds like that when talking to its customers?

Agreed that focusing on the file misses an important point. I'm trying to find people in Microsoft to address the poor customer service as well.

Alfred: "I suspect that you are getting a false positive though. Chances are that your firewall is set to assume that all macros are malicious."

Yeah, you're probably right. I looked up the name of the virus, and it seems to be used by some anti-virus products when they're set to block all macros.

Glad to hear you're taking the customer service part of this seriously, though. I suspected it could be a false positive, but I didn't expect that three different people would be unable to understand my e-mail.

PSS and Premier services are very open to improvement, Microsoft welcomes this type of input, and we will strive to improve. My direct teammate is Alfred and Robert (well sort of), but indirectly my extended teammates are the "Third Party" folks that are mentioned here. They acted using best practices that are used by all teams worldwide, and I am proud to have them on my team.

Internally there is a process that is kicked off when we see this type of thing happening. So there are some emails flying around now that Robert put out the email to the correct alias. I have also determined who one of the PSS folks are, and we will be able to drill down on what happened and how to improve.

As to using third parties, this has been the way that phone support has been done for many years at many companies. My teammates in India and other places are open to improvement, and we are working on this problem. I have worked phone support as well as customer support, and this type of thing can happen anywhere.

Although hardly perfect, Microsoft's responses (especially the later) were better than many I've gotten from some companies. It's enormously frustrating when serious matters get handled like they were minor gripes. You did the right thing by sticking to the issue with them - everyone benefits.

I think what Bjorn is experiencing more than anything here are the fruits of off-shoring labor.

This kind of minor can happen to any customer service representatives when the work pressure is high and the pay scale is low. The experience that Bjørn had with Microsoft customer support is not the fruit of off - shore out sourcing.

Out sourcing is gaining importance day by day not because of cheap labour in Asian countries, but due to the high quality of service we provide. The quality of outsourcing is best in these asian countries.

There may be exceptions because no one is perfect and people are prone to make mistakes.

Blumen, India.

I tend to agree that oursourcing was not the problem here. I have seen replies from US Congressmen that show the same lack of understanding of the question or the wrong use of a form letter reply. And those are Americans responding to Americans. Rather the problem is training, time, and a rush to meet goals of responsiveness. I will say that this particular case recieved some serious attention inside Microsoft. I am hopeful that this will result in improvements in service. And oh by the way, the file and related ones have been checked out in case you were wondering.

Alfred: "I will say that this particular case recieved some serious attention inside Microsoft."

So it seems, though I only see the external part of it. I must say that this is not the response I expected when I posted this. I didn't expect any response - that's just not how major corporations behave. You proved me wrong, though I suppose it was luck that I have a reader a Microsoft who flagged this, or the process more automated? In any case, congratulations are in order.

I agree with blumen abt the off-shoring labor!!! yeah its coz the asian Cust Service guyz are more technically efficient and hard working that, you guyz have to out source ur work to us so that we do it in the right way.

Dont u think so???

if you wanna knw hw ur Cust Service is jus go thru the e-mail that the Cust Servc Rep, in *** (most probably USA) responded to one of the custs:

Cust Servc Rep's reply:

After reviewing your email it is unclear what it is that you are contacting us about. And quite honestly the reason I enjoy doing this job is to help people & in order to do that I require some information, such as the following.

What program are you using that is causing this problem? What happens as part of the incident? Were there any symptoms that precluded this situation? Have you recently downloaded and installed any updates from Microsoft? What exactly is "HTTP:403" and why is it "forbidden"?

Also for speeder service it really is in your best interest to include the product identification number for the program that is causing this problem. This information is valuable for a variety of reasons. Primarily it ensures that the response that we give you to solve your issue are synchronized to the version that you are using. It also validates warranty support so we can help you quickly.

This information can be found about you operating system by doing the following.
1. Open your Control Panel (either via the Start menu or "My Computer")
2. Double-click the System icon to open System Properties (note: you may need to click "Switch to classic view" to see the System icon)
3. Click the General tab to find the 25-digit number under the "Registered to" line.

So guyz howz tat??? any replies to tis!!!

Bjørn, te e-mails from te asian Cust Servc Rep is not as horrible as te one i've posted above, which is from one of ur own people.

So plz b sure of wot u say b4 u say it!!!

gud day!!!

I agree with Lisa..... Bjorn and others who think that the CSRs in US can never be compared with the CSRs in Asian countries,pleaaaase ur TOTALLY MISTAKEN........I hope u must have read the e-mail response that Lisa had posted...is that the way a response is to be send to a Customer...huh...its as if the CSR is seeking help from the Customer!!.....I had also worked as a CSR for quite a long time (In a Voice process) and I have had customers in US (Believe me , I said "US"!!) who have come back to us(IN INDIA) telling that we were extremly polite and helpful and patient unlike the CSR's in US who do not have the patience, nor the willingness to help !! So before u start commenting please think twice or thrice.

The CSR is also a human who is prone to commit mistakes...he is not a machine! Ofcourse suggestions for improvements in Customer Service is always welcome (the CSR who responded to you had included the e-mail address of his manager so that as a Customer you could always write to his manager regarding the service you received from him)....but that doesnt mean you start making his service a public joke!

Gud day!

hello ...sometimes one can make mistake when there are lot of incomming mails(Due to SP2 and other update) ..but I will prefer to get support from Asian people only as being customer service rep they research a lot for technical issues and try thier level best to help us out. But these guys from US..will never read email properly and will always route to inproper support and you will always be in a loop with out support.

bjorn, i guess u missed the point.trust me the guyz in the asian cus ser are real good, they helped me even when my entire computer had gone whacko and they did even charge a single penny. If it had been US, i would have to pay bigtime money.

one such incident may happen when hundereds of thousands emails and phone calls are to be attended everyday. please. if it had been me, i would have written to his manager rather than this.... Rita i agree entirely with you in your point.

i read Bjørn's first email and no where... repeat no where.. do i understand the fact that he was jus reporting a problem....as rita says CSRs are human.... they have a lot of workload and expected to do it prefectly??!!!!!... people do make mistakes!!!.... everyone goofs up at some time or other!!!... but i dont c a need to make it a public issue!!!!! its a proven fact that asians are smarter... and to be to able understand some of the cryptic emails CSRs receive...it has to be talent!!!!!....

Hey...trust me...Asians r gud in providing support. My comp was screwed up n i was almost abt to throw it. One Asian guy helped me with simple instructions. Why blame them, when they can provide quality work!!! I have seen worst from our fella Americans......

Hm? What's up with the last five comments, four of which (including the one by Mark from Denver) were posted from the same Indian IP? They're different people, according to the referrer logs, but they followed the same link from their webmail. Perhaps it would be better if they stated what their angle is on this.


rita: Bjorn and others who think that the CSRs in US can never be compared with the CSRs in Asian countries,pleaaaase ur TOTALLY MISTAKEN

I haven't said that this has anything to do with outsourcing. Seems to me the problem could be that these people have a workload that is so high they can't afford to spend more than a minute on each mail they receive, just enough time to get the general idea and select one of a small number of form letters to reply with. Who ultimately has the fault is not for me to say, but the end result is that Microsoft looks dumb.

gator: if it had been me, i would have written to his manager rather than this.

I didn't do that because I didn't want to get those people into trouble. I'd rather embarass a company in public than tell on someone to their manager.

warrior: its a proven fact that asians are smarter

Huh? What's race got to do with this? I have no doubt that the people who read my mails could have figured out what I was saying, and written a sensible reply. They just didn't take the time to do that.

OK! Fine..Agreed that response was not the best and the customer had outlined his issue perfectly!

Yea teh CSRs had goofed up the way they handled the issue whatever the reason be and I bet the peopel who are running the show have some good methods to check the quality of their people's work!

So my point is was Bjorn right in putting the e-mails that he recievd on the public domain... even though he had options of contacting the manager or rather he had the means of addressing his issue!

Picture this Bjorn on of those very private and personal e-mails that you recived or sent to your wife or girlfriend is on the public domain...

For you its just a e-mail (Finally thats what counts though)but these CSRs might be getting hundreds of e-mails which m may be using abusive/racist/prejudiced comments and they have to live with it!

I donta think there is a single CSR be it be in any compny who would start is day thinking, "Alright ...I am not gonna provide support to my cutomers today...damn them" I guess theyt are as eager to provide you suport as you are ro get your issue addressed!

uh, this is weird stuff.. I cant see how these people would get tonns of emails because of these postings? I could not see anywhere their private email..


I just went through a similar experience with Network Solutions. After replying 5 times over several days starting with "You apparently didn't read what I wrote", I can relate. It was very frustrating. At first, I thought, "could this be an AI program, constructing e-mail responses that are likely to deal with the issue?". A fascinating support concept. But, it couldn't be. If so, it would be in their interest to clearly indicate that the response came from "Support Computer", rather than kirk002 or Jasmine003. Apparently, finding support people who can read text and understand it is difficult.

Microsoft doesn't have any automated agents scanning the blogosphere looking for references. Might not be a bad idea though. :-) In a sense you are right, you were "lucky" that you have a Microsoft employee as a regular reader. But at the same time there is a real push inside Microsoft to get every employee to feel some responsibility for customer satisfaction no matter what their "real" job is. And with more and more of Microsoft's 57,000 employees reading and writing blogs (I guess that close to 2,000 of us have blogs these days) it is only going to get easier for people to connect with a Microsoft employee. At least I hope that turns out to be the case. Microsoft needs to provide better service in today's world.

Do you think the email responses came from real living persons at Microsoft? I got a strong impression that they came from an automaton trying to scan the email for keywords and sending out a replay using templates.

If human intelligence at Microsoft is scarce, I think artificial intelligience is no better.

I happen to have an inside track on this one.

You see, they get millions of such email. You recieved the stock "ok, another MS sent me a virus" email. They think you are sitting in a bomb shelter wearing a tinfoil hat.

The files available for download on the microsoft site are from microsoft. It's not peer-to-peer. No one outside MS can upload files to the site, and since they offer free virus support (meaning they employ people to fix viruses,which is costly) it is unlikely they would attatch a virus.

So the chances that the message you recieved was legitimate are slim and none. Anitvirus and other security software are notorious for spitting this message out to you if it can't identify exactly what it is, and since you are on a company domain it is likely they keep a tight reign on incomming files.


Hi Bjorn,
This is yoga, the third guy who replied your e-mail. I am sorry for all the trauma caused to you. This is caused due to hectic work targets which are unable to manage, and bad personalization of the mail which I have compiled. I have understood the idea you are trying to convey then, and actually meant to tell you that I really appreciate the way u have responded and taken care of. Unfortunately, the way I responded has not conveyed the same meaning. Anyway, thanks for bringing this into notice which triggered a debate on csrs across the globe. Take care.............


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