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Microsoft wasn’t ready for the Xbox One disaster

Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) had just a seven-day head start on Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) in this month’s video-game war, but it might have a bigger lead than that in the battle of consumer perception.

Microsoft may seem to be downplaying the magnitude of the defective Xbox One consoles that hit the market this weekend, but it’s clearly bigger than the software giant is letting on. I should know. I was one of the unfortunate early adopters burned by a buggy console that would spit out discs like a baby refusing to eat a jar of creamed peas. Every game or optical disc that I would try to insert would grind, crank, and stall. A quick online search let me know that I wasn’t alone in having paid US$500 for a console that can’t read discs.

Things only got worse when I tried to get the matter resolved.

“The issue is affecting a very small number of Xbox One customers,” Microsoft explained in a statement to GameSpot. “We’re working directly with those affected to get a replacement console to them as soon as possible through our advance exchange program.”

The program is fair. Microsoft sends out a replacement system first. The owner of the defective Xbox One then has two weeks to return the original system. That’s the right thing to do, even if it means that Microsoft requires a credit card authorisation of US$500 to set the process in motion. However, if this problem was so limited, why was customer service so hard to get yesterday? Microsoft offers several options, but it turns out that the only way to execute this exchange is by phone, since Xbox “ambassadors” and the support staff manning LivePerson‘s (NASDAQ: LPSN  ) online chat interface can’t accept sensitive credit card information online. You need to speak to an actual rep, and here’s where Microsoft dropped the ball.

I was shocked to see that the wait time would be “less than 512 minutes” yesterday afternoon. Microsoft calls you back, but it’s still an insane amount of time to be left waiting for a resolution.

The LivePerson chat session I opened up had an 81-minute wait, but the necessary phone support was more than eight hours for the callback. It wound up being closer to six hours, but even after getting called back I was on hold for another 40 minutes before just hanging up. Thankfully I was bailed out by a LivePerson rep who was thoughtful enough to call me to complete the service authorisation by phone.

There’s no way Microsoft looks good when you’re telling people that customer support is backed up by nearly nine hours. If the problems are within the expected range, then it planned poorly in staffing support so thoughtlessly. It’s almost better to admit that there’s a larger number of defective Xbox One consoles out there than the mere thousands being suggested. At least that way it doesn’t look like Microsoft didn’t care in putting up bare-boned support during its launch weekend.

The problem only gets worse from here. If you were a parent stashing away an Xbox One until Christmas, are you going to risk gifting what could start as a US$500 paperweight if it, too, has the broken drive? If you didn’t get your hands on an Xbox One on Friday, how hesitant do you now have to be to overpay for one on eBay or Craigslist? Microsoft burned a lot of its most devout fans this weekend with the defective consoles and its slow response, but the real damage here is that Sony just became that much more viable as the console to beat this holiday shopping season.

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A version of this article, written by Rick Munarriz, originally appeared on fool.com.

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