I Paid for Microsoft's Mistake

Update: A positive outcome as resulted from the blog post below. See the blog post Score One for the Little Guy and Kudos to Microsoft for the latest news.

It’s no secret that my dislike for Microsoft has grown in recent years, but today that dislike skyrocketed to a new level of anger that is rare for me. My growing dislike for Microsoft is centered around my belief that Microsoft’s operating systems are not as good as the alternatives, their developer tools are not as good as the alternatives, and their productivity software programs are not as good as the alternatives. But today I’m angered not by Microsoft’s technologies but by their unacceptable customer service. I’m upset because I’m left with no other option than to pay for a mistake caused by Microsoft, and after dealing with the issue for years, I have yet to receive a single reply from a Microsoft employee.

The story begins in the fall of 2004. Microsoft acquires Placeware, Inc and its online meeting solution now called Live Meeting. I had recently started working full time for White Peak Software and was looking for an online meeting solution. Microsoft ran a special in December 2004 for it’s newly acquired solution Live Meeting, $99 for a 1-year, 5-seat subscription. For me it was a no brainer. I signed up as soon as I heard about the offer.

Jump forward a year later to December 2005. Turns out I rarely used Live Meeting during my 12 month subscription so I canceled the service. No harm, no foul. I tried the service and it wasn’t for me.

Skip forward to 2007. I received an email from an Accenture contractor working on behalf of Microsoft. I can only assume he was working in the Accounts Receivable department. The email said I owed for a past due invoice. The invoice was attached to the email as some funky Word HTML format that I could not view.

I asked that the invoice be resent in a viewable format, preferably as a PDF. I also stated in the reply email that I was unaware of any past due invoices related to Live Meeting. I explained I signed up for the service in December 2004, for 1 year then canceled in December 2005. I also included proof of payment for the 1 year subscription (dated December 28, 2004 and paid to Placeware), and I tried reaching the person via the phone. I left voice mail.

I did not heard back from the Accenture person acting on behalf of Microsoft. No reply email or returned phone call. I assumed the matter was resolved. Then in December 2007 I received email from another Accenture person acting on behalf of Microsoft once again saying I was past due on an invoice, which once again I could not view. I asked that the invoice be sent in a viewable format, something other than this weird Word HTML, and I provided dates and proof of payment for my 1 year Live Meeting subscription dating from December 2004 through December 2005. No surprise that I got zero responses, so I once again thought the matter had been resolved.

Now we jump ahead to July 2009, a year and a half since my last contact regarding this matter. I got yet another email with yet another non-viewable attachment from the same Accenture person who emailed me in December 2007. Again I explained I could not view the invoice and asked that it be resent. I also resent the proof of payments, dates, etc for my 1 year subscription started in December 2004 and ending December 2005. Of course I got no reply, no viewable invoice, and again I was left with the assumption the matter was resolved though deep inside I knew better.

Today I got a voice mail from a collection agency regarding a past due invoice for a Live Meeting subscription. A collection agency? Seriously Microsoft? After not returning my phone call or emails over the years, you turn the matter over to a collection agency?

I promptly called the collection agency back. I talked with a friendly gentleman name Dan who shed light on the situation, something Microsoft and their Accenture contractors failed to do.

First, he tells me I am past due on an invoice date December 13, 2006 for a 1 year subscription to Live Meeting. The subscription is for the period between December 13, 2006 and December 12, 2007, a full year after I had canceled my account. Not only that, he said his records show I started the account in December 2005, not in December 2004. Of course my credit card statement says otherwise, showing a payment to Placeware, Inc on December 28, 2004.

It turns out the past due invoice that has been in question for years and I was unable to view is from December 2006, a full year after my account was canceled. Not only that, Dan told me the invoice was mailed in December 2006 to my office address in New York City. I relocated the company to Salem, MA in March 2006, so that explains why I never received the original invoice. (Side note: He also email me a copy of the invoice, in PDF format. I was finally able to see the invoice for the very first time after all these years.)

Best I can tell the whole mess is due to an error on the Microsoft side, and if I had to guess it has something to do with Microsoft’s acquisition of Placeware, Inc and the switch over in billing systems. Remember, my payment was to Placeware in 2004 and my account was canceled in 2005. I was never asked or invoiced for the period between December 2005 and 2006. Then out of the blue comes an invoice in December 2006, sent to the wrong address, for the subscription period between December 2006 and December 2007. And remember the collection agent said according to his records the account started in December 2005, yet there was no record of payment for the period between December 2005 and December 2006. That because the account was actually canceled in December 2005, not started.

It is obvious to me that there was some accounting error on the Microsoft side in 2006. Despite the error by Microsoft, I have no choice but to pay the outstanding invoice. I asked the collection agent if there is a contact at Microsoft that I can talk to about this matter. Short answer, “No”, and past attempts to talk with Microsoft representatives also failed.

So here we have it. The big, mighty Microsoft with piss poor customer service chasing $99 thought to be owed to them by a small business and why? Because of an accounting mistake they made.

I would love to talk with someone at Microsoft regarding this matter, not an Accenture contractor, not a collection agency, but a real live person from Microsoft. I would love to hear the reasons why my emails were never answered years ago. I would love to hear why the records show my account was re-opened in 2005 and was never charged (obvious proof they screwed up). And I would love to hear why out of the blue I was invoiced in December 2006 for the period December 2006 through December 2007 despite having canceled my account in December 2005.

I doubt I will ever hear from Microsoft. Meanwhile I paid the invoice. I guess Microsoft needs the money more than I do.