I was an FBI trained hostage negotiator working in the state prison system. Every day inside the “big house” and perhaps even more so, later in my career, in the halls of the state captiol, I put these skills to the test. I convinced hard core felons to give up their weapons and surrender, let prison gang members defect and turnover evidence for murder prosecution. I was able to get legislators to understand that their nice sounding law had real world implications. Nothing prepared me for what I faced this week…
I was held hostage…
By a software company customer service center.
I won’t mention the name of the software company that held me and all my files for ransom–but it rhymes with BicroLoft. It’s a huge mega-corporation and holds most of the world’s word processing power by the scruff of the neck. And that scruff was on the back of my neck when my word processing program, all of the associated spreadsheet applications and others in this software suite, locked me out.
I updated my MacBook’s apple OS. Nothing special about it. When I came back to the word processing program, I got a screen that locked me out and demanded that I enter the product ID code…A fricken electronic ransom note.
Now being the good little writer, I needed those documents that were now hermetically sealed behind glass. Ever try to locate a product ID after a few years? I even saved the download card and emails. Finding those was a two hour adventure in “How Much Of A Hoarder Have You Become?”
While a search was underway, I reached out to the software giant and got the digital equivalent of the bird. We can’t go look for your product ID code Sorry, not sorry. Your software is no longer supported, but we have this new package we can sell you.
I went back on the dark reaches of the web and pulled up incantations, scripts and what looked like ancient Celtic runes to restore my computer’s functionality. Nothing… But the virtue of hoarding paid off when the product ID card was found.
Turning back to the software company, with my proud product ID in hand, I went to the screen on my computer and entered the 25 character line like it was the launch code for a bunker in Nebraska. Enter–and–this code is invalid.
Invalid my ass! It’s the code you gave me when I bought your software. A nice little message informed me that if I’d like to fork over some money, BicroLoft would happily upgrade my software and unlock my files. Blackmail–extortion–ransom.
I reached out to customer support once more. (I have yet to see why they use the word support in the title). This time I pulled out the hostage negotiation playbook?
- How can we resolve this and everyone goes home safe?
- Before anyone gets hurt and this gets out of control, let’s end this.
- You have a list of demands?
- I’ll show you good faith by (insert act here)
- I won’t use the word “No” when I talk to the hostage taker.
- I will not escalate the situation with the hostage taker.
- Mirror back the last few key words the hostage taker says.
- Use open ended questions.
- Employ active listening.
I got further with the tech support contact this time. He ran a remote diagnostic on my set up (No, I have nothing that remote prying eyes would care about). He couldn’t get the product code to activate the software. Broken stuff (my term not theirs). This hostage was not going anywhere.
At some point the support tech’s supervisor must have cut him off. I got the message that my software is no longer supported. “But I have a valid product ID? Can we work something out?”
He said he couldn’t and offered discounted ransom for newer products. Slow burn…
Sometimes the negotiation doesn’t go as you planned and you have to send in the SWAT team with their flash bangs and dark web workarounds. Whatever they did, I have custody of my files, a functioning suite of programs and no one was hurt in the process.