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Really Microsoft?

Microsoft’s billing system is a mess. What’s that you say? You haven’t had a problem with it? Lucky you, cheeky chappy. It’s probably just a matter of time, so learn from my experience: remove any credit cards or payment methods you have on file with them and turn off any auto-renewing services immediately. Do this BEFORE they repeatedly charge your expired CC for a service you are trying to pay for with another payment method (which they won’t allow you to do until the previously initiated charge goes through… which will never happen since the card is expired). Total FAIL loop.

Let’s recap, shall we? My husband’s Xbox Live Gold account status just expired 3 days ago. This fact was not an urgent concern for three reasons:

1) For the past few days we’ve been playing Uncharted 2 on the PS3, rendering his Live account status irrelevant. (BTW: I’d give it 7.5/10. Very pretty game, plagued by control/gameplay issues.)

2) I previously logged in at Xbox.com and turned off auto-renew for his Gold membership.

3) I recently purchased a 12 month prepaid Xbox Live Gold card, intending to use it when he next logged in to Live.

Somehow the billing system decided I didn’t really mean that whole “turn auto-renew off” thing, as today I discovered it was repeatedly trying to initiate a $50 charge to the credit card on file for the Gold status it assumed the Xbox Live account should have. That card was expired, yet the charge was attempted 3 times before the system placed an outstanding balance on the associated Microsoft billing account (for a service I already indicated I didn’t want to renew, but let’s not split hairs).

Ok, that’s fine. Mistakes happen. Something went wrong with the account preferences, causing auto-renew to engage and fail to charge an expired card, resulting in the outstanding balance on the account. No problem. I just needed to log in, enter the prepaid Gold membership code I already had on hand and it’d be squared up, right? Great plan, except the system doesn’t let you apply prepaid codes if there is an outstanding balance on your billing account.

In fact, Microsoft billing doesn’t let you do anything with an outstanding balance tied to an expired CC except replace that card with another payment method. I figured that was a non-issue in this case, considering I already had another payment method at the ready with my prepaid code. Surely I could just click “use another payment method” and enter my prepaid code there. Nope. Adding a new credit card was the only available option (no codes or PayPal accounts allowed).

Why use the phrase payment methods if you really mean credit cards only? Does it make sense to sell me a product (Xbox Live Gold membership code) that can only be used exclusively to pay for your service (Xbox Live Gold membership), then deny me the ability to use that product as a payment method via the Microsoft billing system? I suppose it does if the goal is to have a credit card constantly on file for all your customers, regardless of their expressed wishes to pay via other accepted methods.

I spent 30 minutes on the phone going through hoops with an agitated support agent who clearly gets yelled at for the flawed system all the time. I tried to be nice and repeatedly stated I knew he didn’t make the policies and this wasn’t his fault, yet he still seemed personally insulted that I would challenge the payment policies of the great, mighty Microsoft. He said the only way to resolve the balance would be to put ANOTHER credit card on file to replace the expired one, allow that one to be charged $50, wait 3 days for a refund to appear, and THEN enter the prepaid code.

Logically, I expressed concern over giving Microsoft access to another of my credit cards, considering the bang up job it had done so far. (This was not the first incident I’ve had with Microsoft billing. I went through an entirely different ordeal a few months back when the system refused to remove the CC on file.) He apparently interpreted my reluctance to add a new CC as an attempt to rip them off.

I explained this only happened 3 days ago, we hadn’t been using the account, and that it therefore was fairly unlikely I was trying to shaft MS for the 3 whole days of “free” current Gold status automatically bestowed upon the account while the system tried to charge the expired card. If that’s such a huge concern for Microsoft, why not just cancel the Gold status of Xbox Live accounts when the payment method on file is invalid at the time of auto-renew? Doesn’t that problem sort of magically work itself out then? Not if the real concern is convincing customers to add another credit card to resolve the account balance so graciously added by the system.

After requesting to be transferred to escalated support, a much less flustered representative came on the line and fixed the issue immediately. It took him less than 2 minutes. Literally. He simply canceled the current Gold status issued by the pending charge to the expired card and voided the balance. With the account downgraded to Silver status, I was able to enter the upgrade code at the website and remove the expired credit card from the billing account.

As Nick Burns would say, “There, was that so hard?!?”

It must be more profitable for Microsoft to drag their customers through support than to simply set up their billing account management so that we can quickly and easily add and update payment methods on our own.

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