Uncle Clete and Microsoft Office 365’s online billing

Office 365

WASHINGTON, August 24, 2014 — A recent experience with Microsoft billing has dredged up some memories of Uncle Clete because the littlest things can have some past events stand out in our memories. Over the years the meaning and significance we accord such recollections, however, may change.

For some reason, I recall such a minor incident many years ago; it was a brief conversation with my Uncle Clete, who passed away back in 1970s. He was chatting with my dad about some place with one of those truly fascinating, peculiarly bizarre names that you can still find in rural North Carolina. At ten years old, I was curious. I interrupted my dad and Uncle Clete: where was this place with that strange name?  Interrupting grown-ups was not something a young boy should do back then, and Uncle Clete looked at me, and, with a slightly irritated grin on his face, responded: “You can’t get there from here!” I think he took great delight in playing with the mind of a ten year old.

As I got older, his playfully irritated response caused me to think: maybe there are some things, some conclusions, where, indeed, “you can’t really get there from here”? That is, what Uncle Clete was saying is there are times when a neophyte needs to wait patiently until it’s his turn, until he’s considered the circumstances, or until he’s better prepared.

Oddly, this recollection came back to me this month when I tried to update, of all things, my Microsoft Office 365 subscription. Last month after my old computer crashed and went to Heaven (well, I am not at all sure about that! The other place seems more probable a destination), I purchased a new desk top system. The new one has all sorts of programs and services that I will probably never use; but one thing it did not have was Microsoft Office 365, which is something I use daily.

At the same time I was acquiring the new Dell system, I had the misfortune of having my Visa card compromised. The good folks at the State Employees Credit Union courteously telephoned me to let me know, and that I would be receiving a new Visa card shortly. The old card was cancelled. And that meant that I needed to change some online billing information. Now, I don’t like online billing, and I don’t use it that much, just for my AOL, my DISH Network, my VPI pet insurance, and that Office 365 subscription. (You would think that Office 365 would have come with my new system, but it didn’t.)

I know I’m old fashioned, but I like to actually talk to folks at the companies that bill me. It’s not that I don’t trust online transactions, I mostly do. But there’s something reassuring about “Tim” or “Suzie” taking down my information and giving me a “confirmation code” over the phone, even if I receive the same thing in a future email.

Everything went well with AOL, DISH, and VPI. I gave them my identifying data, answered a security question—“What was your mother’s maiden name?” or “What was the name of your first pet?”—and I was home free, credit changes and billing information all complete in just a few minutes. Not a problem.

But then came Microsoft. Now you would think that Microsoft, given who they are and their relative importance in electronic technology, would be even more manageable and easy to deal with. This time I went online (a telephone number was not easily obtainable); I went to the “billing” page, went into the section where I could change my billing information, and made the changes to my credit card. Voila, I thought, I’ve done it!

But, no, I had NOT done it. I soon got a message from the good folks at Microsoft regretfully reporting that my billing information—the credit card information—for Office 365 was incorrect. I went back to the accessible billing page in my account; everything on it was correct. The valid new credit card showed up, and there should have been no problems. Alas! I decided to search for a telephone contact line. So back on July 30 I called, and after a wait of about fifteen minutes and listening to some perfectly awful elevator music, a nice young lady came on the line. I explained to her what I had done and that I was getting a message from Microsoft that, despite my correct billing information on the page I filled out, I kept getting a message from them that it was incorrect.

She explained to me that, well, you see, I could not be use the NEW credit card until there was actually a new charge made to my account, and that since my OLD card had been cancelled and I was paid up until August 18 using the OLD card, that I would need to wait until August 18, and when I received an email notification at THAT TIME that Microsoft “could not process” my billing charge, that I should go in and change the credit card information AGAIN.

And that is exactly what I tried to do. But, alas, when I tried to make the appropriate edit, an error message showed up, again, indicating that the edit I was attempting to make was no change at all, that my account had already been changed appropriately—but with one small catch: Microsoft STILL “could not process” payment using my new card.

Thoughtfully, back on July 30, I had requested of the Microsoft consumer representative an “800” number to call, just in case I needed it. So, I dialed it—more elevator music, and this time I was on hold for thirty minutes. Finally, a very nice young lady, based in the Philippines, came on the line, and after giving her all my identifying information, she assured me that she COULD, indeed, help me. I gave her the new credit card information, and after some back-and-forth, she informed me that the alteration had been made.

I got a friendly email confirmation message from her, but with a “service request transaction number,” should the same thing happen next month. Bless her heart, she must have actually written that message herself, since therein she wrote: “Thanks for contacting Microsoft Billing Support. We hope you had a great experience. Thank you for being so sweet, kind and a true gentleman.” I don’t think this is standard template for responses to customers. Anyway, it is a nice sentiment, and she did try to assist me as best as she could.

I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous about all this. I like to think that the nice service rep on the other end on the line was able to correct my situation. You would think that Bill Gates and his company would make life simple for customers. Or, perhaps it’s just me and my ignorance of the finer points of computer technology and etiquette, to which I freely confess.

Perhaps I should have waited and contacted Best Buy or the Geek Squad, rather than immediately attempt this fix myself? Or, maybe it’s like my late Uncle Clete explained to me years ago, updated to our electronic age: “You can’t get there from here!” and that this is just one of the necessary bumpy, customary experiences that comes with the triumph of the Computer Age, and patience and waiting my turn are required?

I certainly hope my issue was corrected. But given my experience thus far, I plan to pay close attention to incoming messages and my credit card account information for the next few days and weeks!

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Boyd Cathey
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.