Lately, it seems like I have nothing but praise for the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. I love the console; I love the games; I love Xbox Game Pass. I've claimed that the Xbox Series X is better than the PS5, and that you should seriously consider buying a $100 accessory just to make your Xbox experience even more seamless.
That's why I was absolutely shocked when Microsoft nearly obliterated all of my positive feelings over a $25 battery pack.
For all of the Xbox's strong suits, there's one area where it absolutely falls flat for me, and that's in tech support. Trying to get an Xbox accessory repaired is a frustrating, labyrinthine mess, putting as much distance as humanly possible between you and the service you need. It took me two service requests, three online pleas and four phone calls for a routine part replacement — and in the end, even that wasn't enough to actually get what I needed.
In short, it's a good thing that Xbox gear is generally built to last. Because if your gear breaks, you'll only get it fixed with a lot of perseverance and grit, not to mention a little bit of luck.
First off: I'm not above eating crow. When it comes to Xbox Play and Charge kits, the naysayers were right, and I was wrong.
A few months back, I advocated buying Microsoft's official Xbox Play and Charge Kit, even though the charging cable itself was a step back from the Xbox One model. Commenters were quick to point out that while disposable AA batteries were pretty wasteful, rechargeable AA batteries were more versatile than Microsoft's proprietary packs, as well as cheaper to replace.
I stuck to my guns, however, and continued using my Play and Charge battery, until one day in March when I noticed it wasn't holding a charge anymore. I swapped cables, controllers and power sources until it became clear that the battery was defective, and would require a replacement.
The process seemed straightforward enough. I went online and filled out a service request. Since my product was under warranty, all I had to do was wait 24 hours for a shipping label, send in the defective battery, and wait for Microsoft to send a new one. Microsoft estimated that the whole process would take 8-10 business days.
Twenty-four hours went by, and I still didn't have a shipping label. I decided I'd call Microsoft — only I couldn't find a customer service number anywhere. The Xbox support site gives you hours for a call center, but no way to actually reach it. Eventually, I realized that you could cajole the site's virtual agent into setting up a phone call, although it will try to direct you to automated resources instead every single time.
I spoke to a rep who said he wasn't sure why the label didn't send, but he could get it resent easily enough. I'd have to wait another 24 hours. I agreed, and left it at that.
Tech support woes
A week went by before I realized that I hadn't actually received a label yet. I contacted customer support again, and this is when things started going south.
This time around, the rep asked for my controller serial number. I asked why he would need this, since the problem was with the battery pack. He explained that all accessory repairs route through the controller (which is not accurate — they route through the console's serial number), and that the battery pack's serial number was totally ancillary.
I gave him what he asked for, and he said that Microsoft would be very pleased to send me a new controller. I thanked him for that, but explained that it wouldn't solve my problem. He asked why not. I explained, for the second time, that the problem was a defective battery pack, which is a totally separate part from the controller. He said he'd have to ask another support team for additional information — at which point he hung up on me.
I've made plenty of tech support calls in my life, but this was a first. And yet, my experience wasn't unique. I spoke to Kimberly Gedeon, a senior writer at our sister site Laptop Mag. She evaluated Microsoft's tech support for Laptop's yearly Tech Support Showdown, and the exact same thing happened to her.
"I was really upset about this," she told me over a video call. "The rep seemed like he wasn't sure how to answer my question. He said he would get back to me, then hung up on me."
Her question was about the Microsoft Surface Pro X laptop, but the sequence of events was identical otherwise, right down to the rep giving her incorrect information.
A second try
Frustrated by my lack of progress, I figured that the easiest way to solve the problem would be to just cancel my service order and start all over again. That way, at least, I wouldn't have to deal with any more phone conversations. But 24 hours after starting my new service order, I still didn't have a shipping label.
This time, a new Microsoft rep informed me that he couldn't actually help with the issue, but a Microsoft Store could. I didn't understand how an employee at one of the few remaining Microsoft Stores could replace a product that I didn't buy from them, but I figured it was at least worth a try. The rep connected my call — to a closed store in the UK, which disconnected me automatically.
There was nothing to do but keep calling. On my fourth and final attempt to talk with Microsoft tech support, I finally got a rep who understood my problem and was willing to tackle it himself. He stayed on the phone with me for a long time, getting to the root of my issue and even opening up a permanent case file, so I wouldn't have to explain my situation anew to each new rep. In the end, he asked me to upload a receipt for the battery pack — which, amazingly, I still had — to check the warranty information.
Then he informed me that the product was out of warranty, and his supervisors had denied his request to make an exception.
But the product was in warranty when I initially requested support, I protested.
He said he understood, and that he would escalate the claim to a different department. I stayed on the line as he transferred my call — to a British line that was closed for the day, which disconnected me after an automated message.
The only card I had left to play was a completely unfair advantage: a press contact at Microsoft. I hadn't really wanted to go this route. After all, Microsoft has a dedicated tech support team, and my contact is not part of it. Asking them for help felt like cheating, as well as a huge imposition. But I wasn't sure what else to do.
I explained my situation to my contact, who agreed to look into it for me. A day later, they had found the problem and explained what went wrong. Somehow, a billing and support team was in charge of handling my case rather than an Xbox hardware team. This explains why the reps were unclear on the controller/battery pack distinction. They were supposed to transfer my case to an Xbox team, but didn't do so properly, hence the two connections to unrelated UK lines.
In the meantime, Microsoft has passed my experience onto the support team to help avoid similar situations in the future. By the end of the day, I had three Microsoft e-mails in my inbox, assuring me that a new battery was already en route. Even the Xbox Support Twitter account, which hadn't replied to any of my tags, messaged me to see whether I needed help.
In the end, I'm pleased that Microsoft was able to get the issue ironed out. I appreciate the company's desire to set things right, and am grateful to the reps who helped me out — even the billing and support reps who, in retrospect, were doing their best in an unfamiliar situation.
However, I also don't know whether this story would have ended similarly for an everyday consumer. Going through the regular channels did not solve my problem. Every Xbox owner — not just tech journalists — should expect responsive, intuitive tech support and easy replacements for defective gear.
Microsoft has already produced an impressive game console. But as more and more people find out where to get Xbox Series X restocks, the company's next challenge will be to provide stellar support for years to come.
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