Earthlink’s Incompetent Email Tech Support Frustrates Felix

Felix Salmon, a stalwart NYC blogger (check ’em out here) and all-around good chap, sends in his little chat with Earthlink about how his emails gets delayed for sometimes up to two days. The succession of tech reps he talks to are equally mystified, but instead of owning up or trying to resolve the issue, dump buckets of useless red herrings on his head. One of them even quits mid-session after not being able to provide an answer cribbed from the tech support binder propped open in front of him. Full juicy transcript, interlaced with Felix’s commentary after the jump.

It takes a bit to get going but it’s worth it, a real stunner of customer support ineptitude.

Welcome to Earthlink LiveChat. Your chat session will begin shortly.
Not at home and you want to read your email? With EarthLink Web Mail you can check your email from any computer with an internet connection!
‘Sharon T.’ says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today? I’m having latency issues with my email when I send an email it can take up to 2 days before it arrives

Sharon T.: I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you. I’ll try my level best to help you.

A good start! Here are some headers:
Sharon T.: Are you facing the issue in Web Mail? Received: from ( []) by (Switch-3.1.7/Switch-3.1.7) with ESMTP id k1GA0RD2010307 for ; Thu, 16 Feb 2006 05:00:28 -0500 X-DKIM: Sendmail DKIM Filter v0.2.1 k1GA0RD2010307 X-DomainKeys: Sendmail DomainKeys Filter v0.3.2 k1GA0RD2010307 Received: from ([] helo=[]) by with esmtp (Exim 3.36 #10) id 1F935U-00037k-00 for; Tue, 14 Feb 2006 11:31:36 -0500 no, this isn’t via web mail this is via Apple’s

But it goes wrong very quickly…

Sharon T.: You are using a Macintosh computer, right? as you can see seems to sit on the message for 2 days before finally delivering it right, using a G4 desktop 10.4.5
Sharon T.: Please give a moment while I transfer you to a Macintosh Technical Support Agent who can resolve that for you.

This will be a pattern. Earthlink tech support has only one visible function: to use any excuse to turn the problem over to someone else.

Please wait while I transfer the chat to the best suited site operator.
‘Sherman T’ says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today? can you see the chat transcript thus far? basically it’s latency issues at
Sherman T: Yes. I’m not sure why I was transferred to a mac person, since this isn’t a mac problem
Sherman T: Are your emails getting delayed? yes if you look at the headers posted above, you can see that they’re delayed for up to 2 days In that case, from Tue, 14 Feb 2006 11:31:36 -0500 until Thu, 16 Feb 2006 05:00:28 -0500
Sherman T: Usually when messages are delayed it is because of a couple of different issues. The first is that time stamps are incorrect. Every time a message is passed from one machine to another a time stamp is put on it. In many cases the senders machine may have the time stamp on it but be off several hours one way or the other. If the senders time on his system is correct but the time zone is not set right, the email could appear as if it was sent several hours later than it really was. You may want to make sure that your system is set in the correct time zone for your area. Also you may want to mention to your friends to to the same. Another reason that mail is delayed is because servers may be down somewhere between us and the person sending the mail. As you know the internet is just a bunch of computers strung together. Occasionally, a machine in that string goes down. In this case mail needs to be re-routed. This re routing is automatic and should cause no more than a minute or two of delay. However, if the message is on a machine that goes down, before the message is completely passed off, then the delay can be longer. While we would like to say the internet is a solid medium for communication, it isn’t. There are still major hang ups and bugs that need to be worked out. Thank you for your understanding as we work to resolve all these little problems that arise from time to time.

Well, the good news is that Sherman understood the problem and even found a canned solution to it. The bad news is that the canned solution is no solution at all. At this point, if I was smart, I would just have given up, in the knowledge that things were unlikely to get any better from here on in. But I wasn’t smart. Sherman, that looks like a brush-off to me the time-stamps are clearly correct on those headers i showed you and they clearly show the message residing on earthlink’s own servers for 2 days before being delivered
Sherman T: Yes, I see that.

…or does he? this is a problem I have had repeatedly
Sherman T: Did you check it in the WebMail ?

…no, he doesn’t. Instead, he disappears onto a wild-goose chase involving webmail. check what?
Sherman T: WebMail
Sherman T: The EarthLink Server sorry, I don’t understand your question I sent my email through the smtp server
Sherman T: WebMail is the EarthLInk server where your emails resides that you can view. after that it made its way to and then to
Sherman T:
Sherman T: Please login in the WebMail using above link

I decided the best thing to do was to play along with Sherman, and prove to him that once one sends an email through, it can not be seen by using webmail. are you saying that if I log into webmail I can see queued emails? OK, I’ve logged in
Sherman T: As you mentioned that, if the emails are residing on the EarthLink server, you can see them on the WebMail . I can see 10 emails in my inbox and 0 emails in my Sent folder

And then Sherman disconnected himself. I tried typing stuff in, but it never appeared.

You are not currently in a chat session.
You are not currently in a chat session.
You are not currently in a chat session.

So, muggins that I am, I reconnect:

Welcome to Earthlink LiveChat. Your chat session will begin shortly.
Not at home and you want to read your email? With EarthLink Web Mail you can check your email from any computer with an internet connection!
‘Peter M’ says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today? hi, I just got disconnected from one chat session
Peter M: Hello, I see you’ve already been chatting. Please give me a moment so I can read the previous chat and pick up where you left off. OK, great
Peter M: I understand your concern regarding email latency.

This, as we shall shortly see, is an outright lie. great and I assume that Sherman’s assertion that I can see emails sitting in some smtp server queue somewhere by logging into webmail is incorrect
Peter M: Are you able to see email’s in Web Mail? yes I can see a bunch of emails from earthlink but as I say I’m worried much more about emails FROM me than about emails TO me
Peter M: Okay. Are those email’s getting emailed? well, they get sent by me through and, eventually, they arrive the problem is that there can be as much as 2 days in between the first thing happening and the second thing happening
Peter M: Okay. Let me know from which email address are your email’s getting delayed. is the return address on the emails
Peter M: Okay. I suspect that this user has set his system time incorrect. This is the reason you are getting email’s delayed. no, this user is me and the email arrives 2 days after I send it in the real world
Peter M: Okay. Is that the hosted Domain? I’m talking about email, not web hosting
Peter M: Are your email’s to getting delayed?

This is not a real question: his response would be the same no matter what I answered. reply emails sent to I get immediately probably because I host it myself and they don’t go through earthlink’s mail servers
Peter M: Okay. I suspect this issue would be with the Domain of . I suggest you to contact the technical support of to fix this issue.

Peter M has found one possible way of passing the problem on to someone else. (Quite astonishing, really, that he didn’t first attempt the I-don’t-support-Apple maneuvre.) But of course this makes no sense: no, did you see the mail headers? the email gets stuck at it never goes anywhere near
Peter M: Yes. I saw that header information. I am talking about emails sent through which earthlink then sits on for days before it delivers them I fail to see why this has anything to do with in fact, the email at seems to be the only thing which is working without any problems at all
Peter M: Okay. I suggest you to contact with the header information.

Peter gives up on “it’s” almost immediately, and immediately replaces it with something even more idiotic: the email address used to complain to Earthlink when an Earthlink customer is spamming other people. ????
Peter M: They will research in the issue and will contact you back through email. This is a latency problem, not a spam problem
Peter M: Okay. I can understand this.]
Peter M: Our earthLink team will contact about this issue to check whether this issue with your specific email address or all EarthLink email address and will take necessary action on it.

This is the point at which Peter M starts to just say anything at all which might possibly end the session. He refers to some vague “team” which almost certainly doesn’t exist, and says that they will contact a domain name (?!) without even asking for any contact information. The rest of the session then descends into farce, if it hadn’t already. I AM! And why do you seem to be so hung up on email addresses? I’m talking about individual email messages, NOT addresses
Peter M: Are all the email’s got delayed? the address is nothing but a piece of information inside the message which tells the recipient where to send the reply to not every email gets delayed only some or are you saying that if I try to send an email through with a return address which isn’t at, then I run a higher risk of running into latency problems?
Peter M: No. We need to look in to the issue.
Peter M: I suggest you to forward that Header information to above given email address. abuse@abuse? why would an email address set up for reporting spam be the best place to research latency problems?
Peter M: First we need to research had hung up at server for 2 days. correct and by “we” you mean “someone who isn’t me and the only people I can think of who deal with email are the spam people, so try them”?
Peter M: This is the reason I have specified you to forward that header to that email address.
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? Peter, do you have any reason whatsoever to believe that the people who monitor the abuse@abuse email address either know or care about latency problems?
Peter M: Yes. I am sure they would take care of it.

The “I am sure” line is some kind of genius. It’s only when he trots it out again later apropos of something which is patently false that it becomes clear he means nothing by it. you can probably see why I might be skeptical of that claim
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? yes please I’ve done a bit of research on that email address and it looks to me that it is used to report spam BY earthlink members in other words, if I were sending spam to people from my earthlink account, then they should go to abuse@abuse in order to complain about my behaviour

Peter M is quite unfazed by this piece of information: he just passes the buck again, this time by proxy!

Peter M: Okay. But they will forward that header to concerned department. why can’t you simply tell me yourself what the “concerned department” is? or try to find out?
Peter M: I am sorry. It has to go through Certain proceedure.

You’ve got to love the capitalisation there, even if it wasn’t deliberate. I am a customer, I have a problem, so I go to customer support. Customer support tells me that a different department, which isn’t set up to deal with customer problems, is the place to go to. Not because they can help, but because they can forward my query on to some unknown department elsewhere. A window has popped up in my browser asking me a bunch of questions. Here are some of them: “I always leave a contact with EarthLink knowing what will happen next”. “When I contacted EarthLink, my request was resolved satisfactorily”. What am I supposed to answer when I’m asked whether I agree with such statements?

A Zen moment: Earthink Tech Support refers me to… Earthlink Tech Support.

Peter M: EarthLink’s Technical Support Department can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 888-EarthLink (888-327-8454) or via the Email Support form at [] [ed.]
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? Have I been in the wrong place? Are you not Technical Support?
Peter M: Yes. But to best resolve this issue instantly, I suggest you to contact through Call.

My flabber is quite gasted at this point, so I try to ask Peter what he thinks he’s doing: so, to upsum: I have a problem. You think that the people should be able to resolve it. I ask again, you say that the abuse@abuse people should be able to resolve it. I ask again, you say that they might not be able to, but at least they can forward the problem to someone else, who might be able to resolve it. I ask again, and you say that the telephone people at tech support (but not the Chat people at tech support) should be able to resolve it. Is that about right?
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today?

This came quite quickly, so I thought maybe we’d sent the messages at the same time. (There was non-negligible latency in the Chat box, ironically enough.) But there was no further response, until eventually:

Peter M: Are we Online? yes, Peter. Sorry.
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? I just feel that I’ve got absolutely nowhere here, and that rather than try to look into my issue, all you’ve done is try to pass the buck to a succession of other, unknown, people. The best thing you could do would be to either point me to a specific person who can help me, or else take it upon yourself to help find me such a person.
Peter M: Let me know the reply address you have set up in your email.
Peter M: Is is Hosted domain ? Please be specific. I have a web host, yes I am quite thankful at this point that my web host is not earthlink

You can probably guess where Peter M goes next: after trying all manner of different ways to fob me off, he decides to go back to square one!

Peter M: Okay. I suggest you to contact whether your Hosted Domain company had any email latency issues.
Peter M: If it has no email latency on there end, I suggest you to get back to us. no, there is no latency at
Peter M: I am sure that EarthLink has no email latency isues.

Yes, Peter M is sure
that there is no such thing as latency at Earthlink. Wonder why he didn’t tell me that before? because I have never sent a single email via
Peter M: Okay. Send a email to your earthlink email address from email address and check whether it reaches your Inbox. Peter, EVERY company which offers email has latency issues sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re frequent, sometimes they’re rare
Peter M: Please refer to above statement and let me know the result. I was attempting to get support because the latency problems at earthlink were both big and frequent If I send one email to felix.salmon@earthlink, I’m sure it will arrive fine especially since I send my emails through earthlink in the first place
Peter M: I am sorry to inform you there is no latency with issue.

Peter basically tells me at this point that my whole problem is a figment of my own imagination, and refers me to a webpage saying that Earthlink doesn’t have any known email problems right now.

Peter M: For reference I suggest you to go through below given link :
Peter M:
Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? you can answer me this: Do you feel as though you have provided me with any useful technical support?
Peter M: I am sorry for inconvenience but this is the way we can fix this issue from our end.

Which is probably true, if by “fix” he means “ignore”.

Peter M: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? no. I give up.
Peter M: You’re welcome and thank you for using EarthLink LiveChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
Peter M: Bye.
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Felix is right, email the would not have helped him. The only useful piece of advice chat support may have given was for him to call the phone tech support.

Originally posted at memefirst.


Edit Your Comment

  1. mrscolex says:

    I made it through about 6/10ths of that log before I felt compelled to post a comment in my typical devil’s advocate fashion.

    I have to say from a perspective of someone who works a lot of tech support that Felix is a customer that every tech person dreads. He’s a fairly intelligent user with an odd problem that can’t be fixed easily with the tools that are given to low-level tech support grunts.

    The problem is that Felix is also a person who is very engaging to the point of being almost accusatory and he also doesn’t follow his instructions. There is an etiquette involved with tech support calls that basically says even if you think you have an iota of the problem, if a tech support person suggests you try something to resolve the problem, even if you can’t wrap your head around what they’re thinking, you should atleast give it a try. Logging into webmail and sending an outgoing email would have proved whether there was some sort of problem with Earthlink’s configuration vs Felix’s local computer’s configuration. Even if Felix has a better understanding of how SMTP works, it would have been a prudent step to take from a tech support standpoint and he should have gone along with it rather than abusively be dismissive towards the representative.

    Assuming that Felix even accidentally found someone who was equipped with the knowledge and tools to solve his problem he probably would have been so pushy and obnoxious I would have disconnected the chat session as well. So theres a problem with Earthlink’s SMTP relay servers? Are you going to get it solved by:

    a.) Dismissively shooting down every support tip that a rep gives you and spamming them with your own preconceived notions of what a problem is (something a good tech ought to be trained to ignore)
    b.) Politely engaging the representative and going through their predefined steps to solve the problem so that they can then raise it to a higher support queue once their solutions obviously don’t work.

    Earthlink’s support may not be one to call home about, but I say the blame goes 75/25 more in Felix’s court for bad etiquette.

  2. drsmith says:

    Please take the time to read the SMTP RFC’s. They clearly indicate that a 2 day delay in the transfer of email is an expected occurrance. Anyone complaining to me about a 2 day delay will get the following information:

    I know email is important and we’re all spoiled by instant communication. However to be honest, if the sender isn’t getting a message saying delivery failed it’s not really worth complaining about. If you want faster communication, use IM, a cel. phone, or a text message. All of those alternatives are designed for instant delivery.

  3. Karmakin says:

    Both drsmith and m.rscolex are right on. Instant e-mail usually does happen. However, if there is ANY backlog on ANY server often times it’ll take some time before the e-mail is even launched. If there’s a backlog in one of the servers just one or two off the actual sending SMTP server, then Houston, we have a problem. Sometimes an ISP will fix this by rerouting the mail, but any good ISP will fix this by themselves in a day or two…

    And first line agents can’t help you with this. Not one bit. Even the best agents in the world can’t do a thing about e-mail routing. And until all the troubleshooting steps are done, no escalation for you. That’s the way it works, and there’s a good reason for this. Because 90% of the time, going through the steps will actually fix the problem. There’s only a limited number of upper-level technicians, and quite frankly, usually they’re not as good or efficient as doing those basic things as the first line people. Because they’re not supposed to have to do them.

    The other side of the coin..well…not really but I digress. Is that there’s a LOT of people, especially in ISP support, who will literally get on the line and ask for someone higher within the first 2 minutes of contact. The general policy is that these people are not helped, because they are not willing to be helped. Actually as someone who used to do this sort of chat support, we’d see this issue come, last for a few days then go away, without any actions on our part.

  4. Ben Sherman says:

    You three are kidding, right?

    A two day delay on an ISPs mail server is unacceptable. No matter what the RFCs say, this should not happen, and if it it happening with any regularity, something *is* broken.

    Further, how far should I stray down a level one tech support’s path? I did this with dell yesterday when I had a problem with a *keyboard* right up to the point where he asked me to “restore my system”, i.e. erase my hard drive.

    If any of these people had any idea how smtp worked, they would have immediately escalated this or told them they could not help.

    When you have tech support people that only tell you infor from a binder, they are useless. You empower these people to escalate problems that are NOT normal, or you expect angry customers.

    To expect them to be able to fix SMTP servers is not reasonable – for them to be able to comprehend and escalate the problem is something EVERY level one support rep should do.

    And the *first* time someone asks for a supervisor, they should get one. All the time, every time.

  5. Mike says:

    Hmm. Looks like we have an open boldface tag. If I manually put a close one in there, will it solve the problem?

    — Mike

    (And, to make this comment marginally on-topic, boy, man, can I sympathize. Yahoo! Domains gave me a similar runaround — but for two months!)

  6. OkiMike says:

    If it was a one-time occurrence, then all the rep had to say was, “Yeah, we’re working through something right now. Things should be back to normal in a few days.” But this wasn’t the case with this guy.

    I tend to contact Tech Support first and ask direct questions like “What is the status of your network servers on the following domain…?” rather than unload my problem. This gets us headed in the right direction where I can introduce my problem by saying, “I’ve been having issues for weeks with _____…”

    And when I get the “Try this first” response from the tech rep, I ready my trusty copy/paste keys with the reply, “Okay, I tried that and it didn’t work.”

  7. Felix says:

    mrscolex — I was more than happy to do anything that the tech people asked me to do, except for those things which simply tried to bequeath the issue to some unknown third party. I *did* log in to webmail etc. The only support tips that I shot down were not tips at all, but rather “go away and bother someone else”.

    drsmith — would *you* be able to function in your job if your emails took 2 days to get delivered? Delays on the order of a minute or two are acceptable. An hour or two can be a nightmare, in certain situations. And a day or two is unacceptable. But do show me where in the SMTP RFC it says that a 2-day delay is normal and expected.

    karmakin — I never asked to get escalated, I just asked for help. And instead of getting help, I got lied to.

    I think that was the thing which annoyed me most. Some ISPs are good at telling you when their mail servers are acting up, others are not. But Earthlink takes the biscuit for refusing to even comprehend the question, and then just lying to me instead. “I am sure that EarthLink has no email latency isues.” Etc.

  8. Felix says:

    I just got a phone call from Earthlink — apparently the honchos there read this site — apologising for the quality of their live chat support and saying that it should improve now that it’s under new management.

    I’ll believe it when I see it. But at least senior people at Earthlink are aware of the problems (a) with SMTP service, and (b) with support.

  9. Buzzby says:

    I fully understand Felix’s consternation at not getting a _specific_ question answered. “Why did it take so much time at this specific server that you run and does so repeatedly?”.

    The tech support person should say either “Because …” or “I don’t know, let me do x to help get you the answer…”. Period.

    I’m helping someone whose earthlink email stopped downloading to their client. 3 of 4 support calls contain the helpful advice to “update your earthlink software with update x (or y or z). It’s 3.4 MB (or 2, or 5…) This is a dialup account.

    We dance, the problem doesn’t change, though we go through Technical Support Agents like paper napkins at a picnic serving fried chicken. 8 times we confirm the pop and smtp addresses. 3 reboots.

    Finally, I ask about escalation – How do I escalate this issue? No response but the heroic, “I will try my level best to help you resolve this issue”. But that’s not what I asked. I asked simply, “This is the fifth chat, and sixth hour, how do I escalate this issue?” I am met with a stoic resolution, please give me the information about the problem you are having and I’m sure we will resolve this issue”.

    Obviously EarthLink has posted these folks primarily as perimeter security. And they’ve left them unarmed.

  10. arlinjv says:

    I fully sympathize with Felix. I have had many similar run-arounds with Earthlink. I’m at my wit’s end with them. It’s amazing that every person I talk with can have a completely different answer from the last. I’ve also been lied to and hung up on quite a few times.

    mrscolex — isn’t etiquette a two-way street? Yes, I’m usually willing to go through the ‘turn it off, wait half a minute, turn it back on routine’ once or twice. And every once in a while it actually works. But why do we lowly callers have to go through this nonsense, every time we call on the same problem? (One thing I’ve learned is never expect a resolution on the first call.)

    Karmakin, I think the reason that there’s a LOT of people, especially in ISP support, who will literally get on the line and ask for someone higher within the first 2 minutes of contact is that they have learned from prior experience that they will get just the kind of treatment that Felix got. I’m willing to be helpted. I expect the person I am speaking with to make a good faith effort to help me, as well.

    Well, anyway I would consider changing ISPs but I’ve at least learned how to get what I want with Earthlink – even if it takes a lot of work. I strongly suspect that the main competition here, Comcast, would be just as bad.

  11. acarrigan says:

    I had signed up with Earthlink telephone and dsl service in October. Since then, I have not been able to use my telepone, my fax machine, and TIVO also can not dial in. Also the dsl service would stop working after 20 minutes on the computer.I have wasted many hours on the phone with different technicians. One Friday night, I was on the phone for almost 3 hours, and I was transferred many different techs. No one could help me. I not only wasted my cell phone minutes, but I wasted my time as well. No one could get this service to work. I had to change my phone service to AT&T, however Earthlink will not cancel this account. They are telling me that I am under contract. They have not lived up to their own contract, because their phone service does not work in my home, and no one could get it to work.
    On 10/13/07 Earthlink charged me $39.95, and on 11/17/07 they charged me $125.10 for services that they did not deliver. I also could not use my home phone that Earthlink was supposed to have set up, so I had to use my cell phone for most of the phone calls made to earthlink, resulting in wasting my cell phone minutes. Earthlink will not allow me to cancel the account. When I call them, they just want to keep transferring me to someone else. I feel like I am in the Earthlink twi-light zone!

  12. sloanish says:

    I had Earthlink DSL for 7 years. I cancelled Thursday after literally the 8th awful customer service session. The outsourcing is criminal (because the reps have no idea what they’re doing). Add in all the years where I had to call to get the rate down to 35 bucks from 50, the scientology, etc. They’re really an awful company. Right now, part of me is just delighted to be free, part of me feels like an idiot for staying so long to keep an email address — which only costs 4 bucks a month if you cut ties. If I only would have known…

  13. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone know how to bypass the lower level techs to get to someone who can help? 5 days ago, my dialup Earthlink stopped connecting; I spoke to 5 different techs over the next 48 hrs. without any resolution. (They all put me through the same, exact manuvers, even after I informed 2-5 that I had already done that, without success.) They then told me (#2, #4, and #5) that a “senior tech would be calling within 24 to 48 hrs. I gave them two numbers, my email, and have heard NOTHING in five days. Any advice?