Locked out -- and shut out by VMware tech support

One Gripe Line reader discovers that the magic words are no longer "please" and "thank you." They are "may I speak to a manager"

Dean recently found himself locked out of VMware -- a business cloud-computing solution -- virtual server without a set of keys to get back in. That's the cloud's equivalent of standing in front of the building with a useless card key.

"Being a systems administrator," he says, "I was able to unlock it myself. But a few minutes later, it was locked again." He did a little detective work and discovered that the VMware management server was using incorrect credentials. "This was locking my account every two to four minutes." He was unable to fix that problem himself. And that was about the moment his day went south.

[ A support call to Adobe almost turned off one Gripe Line reader forever; find out what happened in "Escalating into a complete tech support breakdown" | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

"I attempted to search for answers at VMware's support site but kept getting a 'site under maintenance' page instead," he explains. "So I called VMware support." After a brief exchange involving Dean's customer credentials, Dean was told that the support portal was indeed down, so there was no way to confirm his information. Without confirming he had paid for support, the technician wouldn't give him any. Instead of helping Dean solve his problem so he could access his server, the technician told him to call back later.

"Being too dumbfounded to think or argue," says Dean, "I politely said OK and hung up." He was locked out of his company's data and on his own to solve the problem. So he got to work.

"Windows administrators know that one of the things that can cause a lockout is if a different computer is logged in with the old password. I'm very careful about this, though, having locked myself out once before in that manner. But my inexperience with VMware made me question whether one of the virtual machines displayed in the management console was logged in as me. So I checked every server listed - over 100 -- for signs that I was logged in. I was not."

With little choice and no help forthcoming, he then set about searching online forums for more clues as to what might have caused his lock out. "Finally I ran across a cryptic post where the respondent said he had reinstalled the authentication piece of a third-party VMware tool.  Remembering I had once used a trial version of a different tool written by the same company, I searched the computers I normally use and found it. I uninstalled the software from that system and the authentication attempts stopped." A nice bit of detective work.

But with his crisis averted, Dean had a chance to look back at all the time he had just wasted solving that problem. And he got mad. "My company paid a lot of money for VMware licensing and maintenance," he says. "But when I attempted to take advantage of that support, I was told to call back later -- through no fault of my own. Yes, I could have resolved the issue by resetting my password back to its previous incarnation, but the problem would have come back when I needed to change my password again." And anyway that isn't the point. "I was never even asked what my issue was," he says.

Dean asked me if he should he have handled the call differently. Been less polite? Made a bigger stink? Should he have insisted someone call him when the support portal was working again to confirm his credentials and offer help?

All good questions. I forwarded his letter to VMware for answers.

A spokesperson said the fault certainly did not lie with the way Dean handled the call. "VMware reached out to this customer to apologize for the way his issue was handled," explained a spokesperson. "The VMware Customer Service team has processes in place so support requests can always be filed. Unfortunately, in this instance, those processes were not followed. We take this matter seriously and have reviewed this situation with the Customer Service team to ensure it will not happen again."

What if you find yourself in Dean's shoes -- in need of help and told to call back later? "The VMware management team is always available to assist our customers, so please request to speak to a manager if any situation has not been handled to your satisfaction," explained the spokesperson.

Dean confirms that VMware did call him directly to apologize. In fact, the company went further than that. The global support manager who contacted Dean gave him her number to call directly if ever he found himself in need of help again. "She also told me," says Dean, "that she had personally conducted training for Global Support as a result of my experience and that she would perform random checks via anonymous customer calls to the support desk. She explained that her group's policy is to err on the side of the customer. She apologized, took personal responsibility for the incident, and explained they have many new people in support without using that as an excuse."

Dean is ready to put the indecent behind him -- and to remember those magic words: "May I speak to a manager, please?"