The next time you reach out to Microsoft’s Xbox support, you might not be talking to a Microsoft employee — or an employee of any kind. According to a new report, Microsoft has replaced most of its paid social support staff with unpaid “Xbox Ambassadors.” In some cases, the support reps who were let go spent their final weeks of employment training the new unpaid volunteers.
The Xbox Ambassador program existed prior to this move, but they weren’t taking on the role of front-line customer support reps. The Ambassadors were active on the Xbox forums, essentially acting as moderators who answered questions and kept order. These are entirely volunteer roles in the Xbox community, but Microsoft opted to replace a dozen paid staff who ran the popular @Xboxsupport Twitter account with ambassadors. When you use the Xbox support site, you get an AI chatbot that will eventually pass you off to the Twitter account or forums.
Microsoft refused to directly confirm the circumstances of the layoffs, but former support reps say they were tasked with training the Ambassadors. Most of these reps worked for an outside company called Affirma Consulting, but operated out of the Microsoft offices.
At least one former support rep claims Microsoft’s cost-cutting will result in poorer support for gamers. That claim is currently supported by the evidence, too. Before the layoffs several weeks back, the @XboxSupport account dealt with dozens of customer questions every day. Now, it mostly retweets Xbox news, and Ambassadors on Twitter randomly reply to a handful of tweets with #XboxAmbassador. The Ambassadors may know more about games than your average work-a-day support rep, but they reportedly lack the deep knowledge that comes with a team of professionals working on customer issues full time.
We are so honored to call these good people #xboxambassadors! Thank you for all that you do. ???????? https://t.co/dCw6vzjBeE
— Xbox Ambassadors (@XboxAmbassadors) April 14, 2018
The only comment from Microsoft notes that it still has “a number of highly-trained customer support agents” in addition to community ambassadors to address customer support. Still, making volunteers the backbone of your customer support seems short-sighted. It’s hard to ensure a volunteer is committed to the task or accountable for mistakes.
Microsoft doesn’t pay the Xbox Ambassadors — technically, they pay Microsoft for the privilege. You can only be an Ambassador if you pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription. You also need a gamer score of at least 1,500 and no account infractions for at least 12 months. In return for their volunteer efforts, Microsoft rewards Ambassadors with XP, free games, and entries in prize drawings.