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What Inept Billing Software Have You Encountered? 219

Chris asks: "I am a Sprint customer signed up for automatic payments, and over the past week I've found that Sprint has a computer system that does three ridiculously inept things from a programmers standpoint. First, they send a 'Do not send payment...this amount will be charged' bill then a 'Disconnection Imminent' notice for the same amount, within a week of each other. When customer service is called about this, everything appears fine to the customer service rep, and they assure the client that everything is fine. Finally, the computer system shuts down the customer's cell phone for lack of payment, even if the customer has a credit card on file and has given Sprint authorization to use it. What's the worst experience Slashdot users have found with billing systems that don't make any sense?"
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What Inept Billing Software Have You Encountered?

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  • No charge.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by rf0 ( 159958 ) <rghf@fsck.me.uk> on Friday October 06, 2006 @07:26AM (#16334539) Homepage
    I had an account with a small local company and due to a payment / full refund I ended up owing them nothing however their billing system didn't accept that so they sent me a bill for £0.00. So I ignored it until I got a nasty gram saying they were taking me to court for literally nothing. Despite repeated rings they still said that I had a balance. I ended up sending a cheque for £0.00 and then heard nothing more on it..

  • Excel (Score:4, Funny)

    by SomeoneGotMyNick ( 200685 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @07:33AM (#16334595) Journal
    I've seen Excel being used as a billing system before.

    It was a resourceful effort for a family owned business with a "smart teen", but it goes against my beliefs that Excel should be used only for number analysis, not data management. A billing system is data management.

    Excuse me now, while I get back to my VHS tape collection worksheet. :)
  • by theMerovingian ( 722983 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @07:57AM (#16334727) Journal
    I had a similar experience with AT&T Wireless when I changed my phone number to a new area code. They tried to charge me like I had two different phones, and when I called to correct them they charged me a $300 fee for early closure of the first account. Then, I got really mad and cancelled the new-area-code account also (another $300 fee). It was a nightmare dealing with those customer service people.

    The whole experience made me so mad I quit my programming job and enrolled in law school. After my first semester classes, I sued them in small claims court. Of course, they promptly agreed to remove all the charges and fees in exchange for dismissing the lawsuit.

    I guess that means I am stubborn, $60k in tuition just to get out of a $600 phone bill.
  • by spencerogden ( 49254 ) <spencer@spencerogden.com> on Friday October 06, 2006 @08:34AM (#16334961) Homepage
    I used to have a Sprint phone. I had electronic billing. I haven't had a Sprint phone for 3 years, but I still get an email every month helpfully letting me know that my SPrint bill is ready online. I've called Customer Service and they have said there is nothing they can do about it. Good thing for procmail.

  • by Mr. Shiny And New ( 525071 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @08:54AM (#16335103) Homepage Journal
    Bell Canada's OneBill system takes the prize in my book. The idea is that the phone company gives you one bill for all of the services provided by their various sub-companies, i.e. television (ExpressVu), local phone, long distance, and internet (Sympatico).

    The problem is "OneBill" is actually a separate company, which means that in order to send the bills on time they have to get the billing information so far in advance that bill payments, and credits, don't appear until the NEXT bill.

    For example, ExpressVu was charging me for a PPV movie even though I had a credit for $50 of free PPV for signing up with them. Problem is, the credit wasn't being applied correctly, so when I received my bill it said there was a $5 charge for PPV. So I called ExpressVu and they credited my account, except that they aren't scheduled to send an update to OneBill for 30 days, so the credit doesn't reflect in my OneBill balance, and consequently if I don't pay the amount it says I owe I will be penalized and charged interest (and, theoretically, risk disconnection of service).

    Not only that, but the system is even dumber when it comes to disconnecting features you don't want. I didn't want to pay for the movie channels that I'd had for free since joining (as a promotion), and I was told to give 30 days notice to terminate them. I called 32 days before my trial was up and explained that I didn't want the channels after the trial ended. So far so good. Well, I receieved my bill for the month after the trial (remember, TV service is paid in advance) and there was a charge for the movie channels. Even though my service was disconnected on time. So I called the OneBill people and they fixed my bill. But on the NEXT bill ExpressVu ALSO fixed my bill, so I got credited twice. Later on when speaking to a rep about the PPV problem, they explained that in their system, the "stop collecting the fee for Services" message isn't sent to OneBill until the service is disconnected, but the service isn't disconnected until the day it's supposed to be, except OneBill sent that bill out already, because they get their updates 30 days in advance. Dumbest thing ever. Needless to say, I never got around to calling them telling them of their second mistake in the billing.
  • by computational super ( 740265 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @09:22AM (#16335371)

    Actually, he got the story wrong - the $0.00 check was supposed to crash the billing system, too.

  • by gregmac ( 629064 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @09:29AM (#16335433) Homepage
    Oh Bell..I have so many stories.

    One of my friends' mother was in the hospital with cancer. He had a DSL line installed for her so she could use her laptop to use email, IM, etc. She unfortunately passed away several months later due to complications. He cancelled the DSL account, and then a month later, noticed that there was still a charge from Bell on his credit card. He called bell, and they told him they had no record of his account anymore, and no record of the charges, and he should take it up with his credit card company. Again the next month, the charge showed up again. He again called Bell and got the same story. Eventually, after talking to several people, he finally found someone that saw the charge going through, but couldn't do anything about it because there was no account to cancel the charge from. (He did eventually get it cancelled after getting his credit card company talking to Bell and going through a lot of hassle).


    My favourite story of messed up billing systems is this:

    I had a customer using a Bell dial-up line with an unlimited internet account (no high-speed available). They pretty much stayed connected all the time. After having this account for over a year, they noticed a $200 bill one month (for something that's supposed to be $22), which was because of several "over usage" per-minute charges. They had actually been getting these over usage charges for a few months, but only the $200 amount triggered someone to notice it (government organization..).

    Now, apparently "unlimited" accounts actually give you 744 hours per month (24*31). So it IS actually possible to go over that, if you connect during say, the 31st day, and stay connected until the next day, which is what the rep on the phone explained was happening. Of course, you can only stay connected for 12 hours at a time. So the maximum overusage you should possibly be able to get is 12 hours. They were being charged several hours. I saw the usage for one month, it went something like this:

    Disconnect time: 1/5 12:45 Minutes: 9999.99
    Disconnect time: 1/5 12:46 Minutes: 9999.99
    Disconnect time: 1/5 12:47 Minutes: 9999.99
    Disconnect time: 1/6 12:03 Minutes: 634.2
    Disconnect time: 1/7 8:34 Minutes: 9999.99
    Disconnect time: 1/7 8:35 Minutes: 9999.99 ....

    I should also mention that if you connect with a second modem while your account is already connected, your first account gets booted off - so it's not possible to have multiple simultaneous connections to the same account.

    The reps explained this to them by telling them that they were being charged every time they "logged in" (which they either implied meant, logged in to any website on the internet, or my client took it as that) and because they had a few computers connected to this one connection, it meant that 3 or 4 people could all "log in" to websites at the same time, and be charged by bell for overusage on their dialup. I explained over and over that Bell could had no idea when they "logged in" to a website and either way that had NOTHING to do with connecting to the ISP, but the Bell reps stuck with their story. My final solution was "get another ISP" (even suggesting a few alternate local ones). This went on for months, I believe they got most of the charges reversed, but Bell would do the exact same thing the next month. As far as I know, they're STILL using Bell, and probably still being charged. What can you do.
  • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @10:29AM (#16336163)
    My local library tried an automated phone system about 7 or 8 years ago. It would call you for overdue books and fine notices. A syntehsized voice would even attempt to pronounce your name in a call like: "John Smith, you have four library items due October 2nd. Return the items today to avoid additional fines."

    They didn't call at inappropriate times, as far as I know. It's just that the combination of the syntha-voice and the demand sounded more like a TV show kidnapping ransom call than a librarian. I don't think the system lasted very long in practice. Probably alarmed too many people.

  • by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Friday October 06, 2006 @11:55AM (#16337297)
    30 years ago I was working in a physics lab at a major university. The man in charge of the support teams that were helping the scientists bought a set of tires on his gasoline company credit card. He paid the entire amount for the tires the next time he got a statement. But the tires had been put on an automatic payment plan stretched out over four months so the company only charged him for one tire that first month and gave him a positive balance for the other three tires. He didn't use the card for anything else and at the end of the four months he had an outstanding balance due to the interest that had accrued even though he had paid off the amount in full when he got the first statement.

    Repeated phone calls to the company got him nowhere (which just goes to show we have no need to out-source customer service since we are perfectly capable of providing terrible customer service domestically). Back in those days the billing systems were just getting computerized which was why this mistake was made and also why this man was having a hard time getting his problem solved.

    Back in those days the companies actually sent all of their customers a punched card [uiowa.edu] in each monthly statement and the customers were supposed to send this card back with their payment. Well, this man knew all about punched cards since he was in charge of several computers that still used them. So he simply punched in an end-of-file on a blank card and sent that back instead of the card the company sent him.

    A couple of weeks later he got a phone call from the company asking him what he did and why he did it. He explained and they said they would correct the problem as long as he promised not to tell anyone else about the trick he had pulled.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky