Friday, 3 October 2008

PayPal: We're terribly sorry, and we no longer walk over customers

Google indexing is great. Literally within hours of posting my rant about PayPal's 'Unwelcome' doormat marketing, it appeared in Google for suitable searches; and as I predicted, the marketing firm found it.

It's also been picked up by my favourite IT news outlet, The Register. I'm pleased to announce that my cat Shiva is now famous!

I've just had a call from someone at PayPal's 'Customer Experience Team' (called Maria, with a rather lovely Dublin accent), who was as nice as pie and couldn't do enough to help. She was most apologetic about my experiences and pointed out that under PayPal's brand new protection schemes, I would have been able to claim back my money.

They have unlocked my account and deposited £150 in there as a 'gesture of goodwill' - not a bribe, of course. And not as an admission of guilt over my dispute (otherwise I would have cheekily asked where the other £150 was!)

Naturally, I'm assuming that anyone else who has been unjustly put out of pocket by PayPal fraud will be treated just as well... pertinacity aside, while I probably still won't use PayPal again, it's only fair to say that they seem to be responding to past mistakes and improving their protection and customer service schemes. Or so they claim - I'm sure other people will make their opinions known if they still feel maltreated.

And just a few minutes later, another call from their marketing team in London - apologising for any offence caused by the Unwelcome campaign. I would have found it amusing if not for my personal history with PayPal. Because of this, I found it actually insulting. Others in my office just found it unpleasant. I stand by my opinion that it is rather negative advertising. Bad publicity is still publicity - so I don't think it will actually harm PayPal in any way - but those like me who have been burnt before will just find it hilariously apt, in exactly the wrong way.

Here's a transcript of parts of my calls (not everything, and this is just in case anyone else finds it interesting or useful, it's not to point out any fallacies or embarrass them further):


Maria: I just wanted to give you a call because your blog got picked up by one of the UK marketing team, and they asked me to give you a call about it.

Me: Yes, I thought it might!

Maria: ...I read through it all and the marketing team had asked me if I can see if there's anything I can do about this, as it's obviously a very bad user experience. It was at a time, 13th of December 2005 actually was the date the payment was made, it was a time that our protections on eBay were kind of in product development, and they're an awful lot better now I have to say, so you probably wouldn't have encountered that same situation had you been doing it today.
So also, what I have done is that your PayPal account has been unlocked, and as a courtesy we've put £150 in there for you to use.

Me: Oh right... oh that's nice, is that a result of the investigation into the fraud, or...?

Maria: Well, it's more of a courtesy, at the time that was the way that the policy worked, and it was very unfortunate, and due to a lot of consumer feedback on it - a lot of people tended to encounter the same problem as you did, we changed the protection, as I said if the same situation came up today you wouldn't have lost that money. It's more of a, we're saying that we're sorry that you had this bad experience with us, so we'd like to make it up to you a little bit... When I read through it I felt very bad...

Me: If the same thing happened to me now, so, what exactly would happen then?

Maria: What we've changed on eBay now, actually it's fully gone live from the 30th of September, is that you don't have to send to confirmed addresses any more, which was always a big pain point, so if you send to a confirmed address and the person claims that the payment was unauthorised in any shape or form, what we're going to ask you for is proof of shipment. If you can provide us with proof of shipment, we'll cover you for that payment.

Me: Oh right... so I would be covered for that kind of transaction, now, that would be good.

Maria: Exactly. We looked at it, and at that time, there was a lot of people who were their first time selling on eBay, and weren't entirely sure how it worked, and used to be hit by this. And so we looked at changing it, purely due to that reason, a lot of people got in the same situation as you. We do completely care and we obviously want to make sure you're happy. So if there's anything else I can do, you're free to use the account from today onwards, and I apologise that it stayed locked for so long, because it shouldn't have as you paid off the amount and there were no issues there, you might not have used it anyway...

Me: Thanks, I'll take a look at it, and read your new terms and conditions, and see what I think. But from a business point of view, I mean, I do work for a ticketing agency that might be the kind of business you want accepting PayPal, hence us receiving the Unwelcome doormat. My concern would be, well, if customers just use their credit card, if they do have problems, they can talk directly to us or directly to the bank, but my concern with PayPal is that there's no immediate customer service if they do have a worry, there's no phone number to call.

Maria: For the UK there is, and it's seven days a week, we have a team here in Dublin, and there's people over in Omaha as well, and we're open until 10pm every night.

Ian: Oh right... I think that must be an improvement, becuase I had great difficulty actually getting through to a person when I had this complaint. I think I eventually got through to someone who was completely unsympathetic!

Maria: I can imagine, it's very hard for the customer service people as well, I empathise with them, they're kind of constrained by the product.

Ian: Yes, they can only do what they're allowed to do.

Maria: So I would say, definitely you can get through to somebody. If somebody has a problem with a payment they've done to you, we would never advise them to go and do a chargeback... what we would advise them to do is use the dispute system...
Ian: The problem I had in my case was that the person who bought the item was not the person who owned the credit card, it was stolen credit card details. It was that person who did the chargeback as obviously they were not a PayPal customer. How would you handle it in that way as you wouldn't be able to trace the person who did buy it, as they just vanished into thin air?

Maria: Well if you met all the conditions, with unauthorised payments it would generally be proof of shipment. If it was over £150 we're hardly going to ask for proof of signature of some kind, because obviously there's a potential there that the buyer and seller colluded...we have to cover ourselves in that sense...

Maria: On eBay you wouldn't have to send it to a confirmed address; off eBay it's still a requirement. On eBay you can send it to any country that accepts PayPal. And if they go ahead and... make a chargeback, we would ask you to provide proof of shipment.

Ian: Well that's good to know. Thanks for letting me know about that.

Maria: ...Your payments on eBay as from 30th September this year, are now fully protected, so where there used to be this tiering system, where you could be covered up to £500, now if you buy something for say £2000, then make a claim and you win that claim, we'll get your full £2000 back from PayPal, so we're covering it on the buyer's side as well as the seller's side.

Ian: Yes, I was never too concerned about buying things from eBay, because there did always seem to be fairly good coverage, it was when I started selling things that I was more concerned as everything seemed to be biased in favour of the buyer, which is kind of understandable when you're buying from big businesses through PayPal, but when the phone was the most expensive thing that I'd ever sold on there, and it seemed a bit unfair.

Maria: Yes, it's one of the things we've recommended to the marketing team, it should be an awful lot clearer, the criteria that you should have to follow, when you list a high value item for the first time. Things like mobile phones are always a target for abuse.

Ian: As I learnt.

Maria: We're trying our best to educate people where we can, without scaring them... just giving them a balance, while allowing them to sell.

Ian: My only other comment is that it would be useful, maybe in your dispute resolution centre, to have local instructions for informing the police or trading standards, because I did report this fraud to the police, but I found it quite difficult finding out who I need to contact. I know it's not PayPal's responsibility at that point, but it might be good customer service to give a bit of help if it does end up going to police or lawyers or anything.

Maria: Yes, that is in fact something our legal team is working on. At the moment there seem to be different practices in different counties in England - some people straight away seem to know what you're talking about, and other people have come back to us and said they had no idea what I was talking about, they wouldn't do anything for me, they said it wasn't their business.

Ian: Exactly, that's what I got, I wasn't sure if I was getting through to the right people. I had this address in London that I knew this item had gone to, but the police weren't interested and there was nothing I could do about it....

Maria: ...So again, apologies that it took so long for your account to be unlocked, and if you have anything else, feel free to give me an email back and I'll give you a call. If you run into any problems... need any kind of assistance, just let me know....

[I then spoke to one of their Marketing geezers, I think Mark?]

Mark: Hi, I'm the Marketing director here at PayPal UK, you've probably got overkill of PayPal people calling you, I appreciate, you did say, 'I know those bloody marketing people will find my blog!', so here's proof!
...Personally I just want to say sorry, but more importantly I want to say we've changed it, so I know it's not much help now, but if it had happened now you would have been covered, so I think we realise it just wasn't something that was working. There's things you can tell people like 'look out for the small print', but you know...

Ian: Yeah, as you're probably well aware, PayPal has gathered quite a bad reputation that makes a lot of people that have been stung, and I appreciate it's not personally your fault, it's the fault of people taking advantage of it, but it's going to rub off on you. But I work in marketing myself, and I was a little surprised by your Unwelcome campaign, as it was quite negative.

Mark: You didn't think it was humourous, then?

Ian: Well yeah, I thought it was quite amusing myself, but would have found it more amusing myself if I hadn't had problems! But other people in my office just found it offensive... and if you're sending out 2000 of these things, it's not surprising if at least one ends up on the doorstep of somebody like me who has had problems, so it's a risky strategy I thought.

Mark: It is, yeah, I don't know if bad publicity is always good publicity, but we've got more response to this than anything else. Most of it, the vast majority, has been very good, but there's been the odd person, like yourself, who have been burnt personally, so it hasn't resonated. So I apologise for any offence caused, it was clearly not intended. We knew it was risky, but we thought, we think we can get away with it, so we hope it gets the message across...


One thing I forgot to mention to him - but I'm sure he or someone else from his team will read this! - those other thing I found a bit off about their doormat mailing was the leaflet proudly stating that it was 50% recycled (the leaflet, not the doormat). I would have left that off - it makes the carbon footprint of mailing out the bloody huge doormat seem much worse in comparison!

So - will I use PayPal again? Personally - not to sell items, but I will to buy items for eBay, from established commercial sellers only. In business - almost certainly not, I really can't see any advantage at this time; but if it is proposed, I will at least investigate it further, and test their customer service a bit to see if it really has improved.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

PayPal: We want to walk over your customers

This is a slight deviation for this blog from motorcycle trips, but hey.

At work today I got this through the post:

Unwelcome doormat from PayPalUnwelcome mat from PayPal

Working in marketing, it's not unusual that I get the odd gimmick through the post, unique, clever ideas to grab my attention to a supplier of some kind. Last time it was a baby Christmas tree.

This gimmicky mailing is somewhat different, though; it's a doormat. from PayPal. Apparently they have sent them out to 2,000 UK businesses as part of their (slightly negative, in my opinion) 'Unwelcome' campaign. It was sent to my boss, and passed to me as I'm responsible for our ecommerce strategy. And they've missed the target somewhat; in the interests of full disclosure, I will now admit that I f**king hate PayPal.

Why? Because they represent to me exactly what this 'Unwelcome' doormat is meant to represent; appalling customer service, insecurity, and fraud.

And because they have the sheer tenacity to suggest to me that I let them walk over my customers like they have me, I'm having this little rant; and if I know marketing people, they'll find this in Google in a few days and find out exactly what I feel. If there is any justice in this world, other people will link to this page, and it will make others think twice about adopting PayPal for a respectable business.

Unwelcome mat from PayPalUnwelcome mat from PayPal

(Note on the photo on the right: The leaflet is 50% recycled. How thoughtful of them! How environmental! Never mind the bloody great doormat that they've shipped to me for a one-line joke)

It is a little ironic that the doormat came to me, when I am personally banned from PayPal. I cannot use my email address, postal address or bank details there. Why, did I commit fraud? No, quite the opposite; I was the victim of fraud on PayPal.

I sold a mobile phone on eBay, PayPal's domineering adoptive father, for £300. The buyer paid using PayPal; I had no reason for suspicion. I happily packed off the phone* and withdrew the money to my bank account. But a few days later, PayPal told me out of the blue that I had a negative balance of £300. It seems the buyer had used stolen credit card details, and the rightful owner had instructed the bank to make a chargeback. Fair enough for whoever was victim of identity theft, but PayPal saw fit to charge me for this, and let the buyer get off scot free.

*Addendum: Someone told me it was my fault for not using recorded delivery. I did, actually - even got a copy of the signature from Royal Mail - fat lot of good it did.

Maybe there was more I could have done to recognise the fraud; if I was familiar with PayPal terminology I would have known that an 'unconfirmed address' is a bad sign, but a 'verified account' means sod all.

Regardless of that, though, the lack of customer support I then received from PayPal was frankly astonishing. Repeated phone calls and increasingly pleading emails fell on deaf, computerised ears - it took me a week before I got a response from an actual human. And that was no help - all they said was that I owed them £300, full stop. And when I refused to pay, they banned my account and referred the debt to a collection agency.

I tried my best to refer the case to the police, but PayPal were not interested in helping; they didn't even stop the buyer from defrauding several other people, despite my warnings.

Unwelcome mat from PayPal - not even the cat likes it

So what could I do? I paid them £300 of my own money, which at the time I could really not afford (I had sold the phone to raise living funds), and vowed that due to the complete lack of support (or even sympathy) from PayPal customer service, I would do my best to give them negative advertising. Ever since, I have warned my friends off PayPal.

Unwelcome mat from PayPal, outside my back door

I was going to take a Stanley knife to it and cut off the 'UN' to make a conventional Welcome mat for my doorstep. But no; I've left it be, and put it outside my back door. And whenever I walk over it, I will remind myself that PayPal is unwelcome at any business or website that I manage.