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Originally published March 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 13, 2009 at 12:43 AM

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Sending empty box to Nome, Alaska, for ailing Xbox fails to compute

The Nome, Alaska, mother has been trying since mid-February to get Microsoft to send her a shipping box so she can return her 13-year-old son's Xbox 360, which died of the Red Ring of Death in the depths of winter, when going outside to play wasn't really an option.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Kim Galleher's nightmare may be coming to an end.

The Nome, Alaska, mother has been trying since mid-February to get Microsoft to send her a shipping box so she can return her 13-year-old son's Xbox 360, which died of the Red Ring of Death in the depths of winter, when going outside to play wasn't really an option.

Microsoft extended the warranty on the Xbox 360, including shipping costs, in summer 2007, responding to what it called an "unacceptable" rate of hardware failures indicated by red lights around the machine's power button.

But representatives at the company's repair center could not find a way to ship an empty box to Nome for the Gallehers to send back the game console for repair. Their address wasn't recognized, probably because postal mail in the town of about 3,500 people on the remote Seward Peninsula is delivered only to post-office boxes.

And so began a monthlong back-and-forth with Microsoft agents, nearing a dozen contacts, that starts to read like an Abbott and Costello routine, or an episode of "The Twilight Zone," as Galleher put it.

Shortly after a reporter asked a Microsoft representative for comment on the situation Wednesday, Galleher was contacted by the company and told a repaired console was on its way.

She said she'll believe it when she sees it.

Galleher documented her "extreme frustration" in a long letter to Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division.

On her first attempt, Galleher explained to Bach, she contacted a Microsoft service center, got a service number — the first of at least seven she would receive — and a prompt e-mail confirmation. But when she went online to print a mailing label, box up the console and send it off for repair, the Web site didn't recognize her service number or ZIP code. She tried three more times during the next several days with the same result.

Apparent obstacle

She called again Feb. 21 and the agent said the company would just send her a shipping box.

"Now, here comes the apparent insurmountable obstacle that's facing Microsoft," Galleher wrote. She explained Nome's post-office-box-only practice for postal mail. To which, she was told the service center can't send to post-office boxes.

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But that problem seemed to be solved when she told the service representative that UPS delivery was possible, so Galleher gave the rep her home address.

A day later, she received an e-mail from Microsoft asking her to call and confirm her address. "Once again, I explained our mail-delivery system," she wrote. And once again, the agent said a shipping box would be sent.

Nuances of address

The pattern repeated. Another e-mail. Another phone call. This time her husband, Blaine Galleher, did the honors. Microsoft still could not verify any address in Nome. Blaine spoke with a supervisor, explaining the mundane details of the USPS in the remote town where the Iditarod Sled Dog race ends.

"Although your agents always assure me they are keeping notes on each call (somewhat reinforced by the fact they can recall that our mailing address is a post-office box), we firmly believe they delete every other relevant detail and comment," Kim Galleher wrote.

At this point, Blaine Galleher pleaded with the supervisor to just give him the service-center address in Texas, and the Gallehers would ship the unit at their expense, "no strings attached." He was told that wasn't possible.

Blaine Galleher did ultimately get the supervisor to override the center's address-verification software and to send an empty box or shipping label "despite the fact that we apparently do not exist," Kim Galleher wrote.

The Gallehers received another call March 3 from Microsoft asking to verify their address. And yet another March 5. On that call, the agent told Kim Galleher the shipping box would be sent via FedEx, overnight. No box arrived.

She went online to order a new Xbox 360. "Guess what?" she wrote to Bach. "That site had no problem being able to send it to me. Of course, I didn't order it because I am now committed to seeing this issue through, if for no other reason to prove to your corporation that UPS and the U.S. Postal system do in fact work in Nome, Alaska — but apparently not with each other ... You guys at Microsoft ought to be embarrassed and ashamed that a group of women at Victoria Secret can figure out how to send a bra to me via UPS and yet Microsoft can't figure out how to send an empty box."

Details shared

Galleher shared the details of her struggle with The Seattle Times. When asked for a comment, David Dennis, an Xbox spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement, "For this specific situation, there was a process breakdown with our agents regarding the validation of the customer's address. We've spoken to the customer and are in the process of resolving the issue."

A Microsoft "advocate" that Galleher had contacted previously called her Wednesday afternoon.

"He said that they have discovered that FedEx does deliver here after all," Galleher said via e-mail. "They are sending us a 'repaired console' along with an empty box, as a way to cut down the wait time for us to get one back. He didn't have a tracking confirmation number, but said it should be here around the 17th.

"At this point, I'm not holding my breath ... , " she said.

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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