MSN versus The Fraser Gallery
Our gallery is suddenly battling Microsoft for our survival, and I am at a loss as to what to do next.
Yesterday, out of the blue, and in the middle of responding to emails, our computer screen suddenly declared that our Hotmail account had been closed and access was denied.
"So why are you still using Hotmail," some of you technogeeks must be asking?
When we first opened The Fraser Gallery in 1996, we literally funded it through our credit cards, and yet, one of the first things that we did was to create a website (a free one back then via Geocities) and used Hotmail as a free email account service.
As the gallery did better and better, the website grew larger and larger and we migrated from a free online website service to a paid one (it's one of the largest gallery online sites in the world now by the way... nearly 3,000 pages).
And as the website grew larger and larger, the Hotmail email address became so closely attached to our business, that it became impractical to replace it with a more formal one. So we continued to use email@example.com as our main email address, while trying to "switch" slowly to "firstname.lastname@example.org"
When Microsoft bought Hotmail a few years ago, we immediately upgraded to their paid service (Hotmail Plus), which costs $19.95 a year.
Since 1996 the business has grown tremendously, and now we probably do about a third of our business strictly online. We receive anywhere from 100 to 200 emails a day, as well as a few hundred spams, which the Hotmail filter is pretty adept at catching.
So that's why, in 2006 we are still using Hotmail. Too many people, too many collectors, too many webpages, etc. already have it listed as our email address. A couple of years ago we began developing the use of email@example.com, but the vast bulk of email stuff still comes to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, since 1996 we've been using email to send out our press releases and also invitations to our openings to people who have signed up and given us their email address for that specific purpose.
We've also kept a pretty good record of electronic correspondence with museums, collectors, etc. online through the use of Hotmail folders, etc.
Again...So that's why, in 2006 we are still using Hotmail.
And then yesterday, our account was unilaterally and without warning closed! And then people started calling us telling us that emails to us were being bounced back as "undeliverable."
Now, even though this is a paid service to MSN, there's no phone support to Hotmail, and so I sent them an email asking them "what's the problem?"
About 30 hours later I received a message back from their Technical Support people (clearly in India) with the following:
From : MSN Hotmail Technical Support"Objectionable material of any kind or nature" Come again? (And by the way, the next person who calls me "Fraser" is getting his ass kicked!)
Sent : Thursday, April 27, 2006 8:03 PM
To : email@example.com
CC : firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject : RE: SRX1013082496ID - MSN Hotmail Plus:I need something fixed:My Mail:Others
Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail Technical Support.
I apologize for the delay in answering your e-mail. We appreciate your patience as we handle every customer request as quickly as possible.
This is Shamy and I gather that you have been having issues accessing your email@example.com account and getting the message that it has been closed.
I realize how important this account is to you since you are using it in business purposes. I appreciate that you have written to us regarding this.
Additional information about MSN Hotmail's anti-spam policy can be found here: http://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/anti-spam.aspx
We appreciate your understanding and continued support of MSN Hotmail.
MSN Hotmail Technical Support
And so I began to frantically try to call and contact every possible telephone number and email associated with Microsoft, only to be told that Hotmail only deals with any issues via email.
Several emails to firstname.lastname@example.org nonetheless have resulted in this one response:
From : Customer Feedback for PSS Customers email@example.comSo I am taking deep breaths, and realizing that this is not Shamy B's or Arun's or even Biji Balan's fault... and yet.
Sent : Thursday, April 27, 2006 5:18 AM
To : "F. Lennox Campello"
Subject : RE:'RTCProd=011-770-387' Why is my account closed? I can't get any answers! 1013078543
Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.
I understand from your message that you are unable to log on to your Hotmail account. I realize the importance of your issue.
As your issue persists to Hotmail, I request you to contact Hotmail support team. They will be able to assist you better in this regard. You may contact them at;
Lenny, I hope the above information can help you. If you have further questions or concerns regarding Microsoft Products and Services, please write back to us. We will be glad to assist you.
Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.
Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative
If you have any feedback about your Online Customer Service experience, please send an e-mail to my manager, Biji Balan, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are losing business everyday, as online inquiries about our art and artists get returned as "undeliverable." This can really hurt the gallery, as we have just laid out a ton of money to pay for the various art fairs that we're doing this year.
What can we do? How does a small, independently owned business get heard from a giant like Microsoft?
Here's what I think happened:
1. I doubt that it is any "objectionable materials," unless email invites to the Bethesda Literary Festival talks are deemed objectionable by MSN.
2. I think that Hotmail has recently implemented some sort of fuzzy logic threshold to catch spammers; they probably did this a few days ago.
3. This "catch" is probably simply based on the number of emails sent over a certain time period. It doesn't take into account (a) that we've been doing business with them for over 10 years (most spammers I suspect get a free account, send out a ton of spams and then go away) and (b) Our "usual" email pattern has these monthly hikes, when we pump out a few hundred emails all in one day for invites to openings, etc. But on a daily basis, we just respond and/or send 30-50 emails a day.
4. When we sent the Literary Festival invites to our subscription list, it tripped that arbitrary number, and without even checking with their customer (us), their software killed our account.
5. And now I cannot get Shamy B or Arun or even Biji Balan to understand that they may be killing an independently owned small business' online presence and a lot of its business.
I am at a loss as to what to do, immensely pissed off and in dire need of some advice.
Microsoft started in a garage somewhere near Seattle; even in its current incarnation, I am hoping that a human being will still be able to do something to fix this issue.