Trouble purchasing an MSDN subscription

Recently I’ve decided to purchase a Visual Studio 2012 Professional  MSDN subscription. There are several reasons for this. First of all, my Visual Studio 2012 30 day trial ran out and I absolutely need the non-express edition of it for a side project. Secondly, I’d like to be able to test poshrunner in older versions of Windows. Thirdly, Having access to checked builds of Windows would allow me to lean more in my Windows Internals study group.

I started my journey to an MSDN subscription on Saturday December 8th 2012. I was able to access my benefits Thursday December 12th. The four day journey was not pleasant.

On Saturday I sat down credit card in hand and placed my order. I didn’t save the receipt (stupid I know). I got no confirmation email, and I did not see an authorization on my credit card. I waited. On Sunday I got notification that my order was pending. Perhaps they wanted to verify I wasn’t a software pirate. It seemed annoying that this wasn’t an instant process, but I remained patient and understanding. Then Tuesday I woke up to an email stating that my order was canceled.

MSDN customer support hours are from 5:30PST to 17:30PST. I am on EST so I had to wait until 8:30 to call. I was already in the office at that time. I was told the bank did not accept my charge, but that if I placed the order again in 48 hours, the security check would be overridden and I would be able to download the software instantaneously  I tried buying the MSDN license again. It failed, but instantaneously.  I called my bank. I was told both authorizations were successful on their end. So I called Microsoft again. They claimed a system glitch prevented them from accepting the payment. The specific phrase “system glitch” was used consistently by several MSDN customer support representatives over several phone calls to describe instances when my bank authorized a charge but Microsoft rejected it. I never uttered that phrase once. I’m suspicious this is a common enough occurrence that there are procedures and guidelines in place documenting the “system glitch”.

At this point they asked if I placed the second order from a computer on the same network as the first. I said no. The first order was placed at home and the second order was placed in the office. I was told to try again from the same network. I don’t have remote access to my home computer (take away my geek card) so I had to wait till I got home. I asked what would happen if it didn’t work when I tried again. I was told the only other option was to place the order over the phone, and that phone orders take three business days to process. I didn’t get home until after midnight so I didn’t try Tuesday night.

Wednesday

Wednesday I awoke and attempted to place the order. It failed. I went into the office,  called customer support and attempted a phone order. It failed, because my bank decided three identical charges for $1,305.41 (Microsoft collects sales tax in NY on top of the $1199 base price) seemed suspicious. Luckily I am able to fix that by responding to a text message CitiBank sent me. A chat session and a call later and the purchase seems to have been resolved. I would have my subscription on Monday.

Thursday

Thursday I got a call saying my order was canceled. However, T-Mobile dropped the call before I could deal with it. When I had some free time I called CitiBank. The first operator gave me some free airline miles and transfered me to Ashley, the fraud department specialist. Ashley ensured me Microsoft could bang my credit card as often and as many times as they wanted to. I then called MSDN support and talked to Chris.

I summarized the situation for Chris. I told him I didn’t want to wait another three days for a phone order. He said he had no power to deal with that. He determined my order from Wednesday was still going through. After putting me on hold a few times, he said he would get me a welcome email that would let me download my MSDN products in 30 minutes. I got his name and a case number and he did just that.  I got a call back to ensure I was able to access my download, and everything worked just fine. I’m a little curious as to why his tune changed and he was able to get me my subscription number in thirty minutes though.

Conclusion

First of all I have to thank CitiBank for their actions. At no point did they do anything wrong or fail to do anything. Secondly, the customer service staff at MSDN were very professional and understanding, despite my growing irateness. However, the fact is they were never able to tell me why my order was canceled. If they at some point explained that I was flagged as a pirate, or something else, I’d be a bit more understanding. Thirdly, why does the process take so long? I was able to buy a new car in about an hour. It took a few days for delivery because the package I wanted wasn’t on the lot. However, it took less than four days for the car to be driver off the lot (by someone else because it was the car I learned stick on).

The MSDN subscription sales model seems to make sense for businesses purchasing volumne licenses. They take checks, you can talk to a real person. Its not at all optimized for the person that wants to buy one MSDN license “right now”. People like me are on the lower end of the income bracket for Microsoft, but we are also the ones that are either really passionate hobbyists, entrepreneurs, or the people on the fence. While I’m still going to develop on the Microsoft stack for years, this experience has left a bad taste in my mouth for their purchase process, compared with for example JetBrains or RedGate.

In the end the real issue was the lack of transparency. Its generally safe to assume that when you are buying software for online delivery, you will have it within an hour. If Microsoft made it clear its not as simple for them, first time subscribers like me would be a little more understanding.