I wrote last year about the new Paypal Working Capital offering and how – owing to their technical failing – I had to speak to someone to find out more about the service and how hard I found it to get hold of anyone in Paypal. I recall taking a screenshot of my phone showing the 20-minute call duration while I unsuccessfully waited on hold to speak to someone.
Paypal got in touch after the article was published to explain that it wasn’t their normal levels of customer service and they were usually much better. I took this apology at face value and I’ve subsequently taken an experimental working capital loan which I’ll write-up once it’s done and include a full calculation of the cost. As a spoiler, however, the process and website are seriously good.
However, as with all ecommerce companies, the problem is rarely the new shiny tech they have just built: it is the old legacy technology that creaks and breaks in unexpected ways. In this case, a simple resolution centre case (how these arise for linked eBay transactions, I fail to understand). Fairly straightforward – the buyer isn’t happy, and we’re delighted to accept a return even outside the usual returns window. But when I click the button to accept the return, Paypal throws an error. An agent will later tell me that this is because I use Chrome and I should use Mozilla or Internet Explorer to use Paypal. According to the UK Government, 44.5% of visitors to .gov.uk sites use Chrome, the most popular browser by far.
These things happen – and the real test of the company is how it builds support systems around the technology to fix things when they go wrong. Anyone who has used eBay’s concierge service in 2017 will realise how good this can be when it’s done well – unfortunately this shows up how poor Paypal’s offering is. We normally have account management to call, but they go home at 5:30 on a Friday when ecommerce stops for the weekend. Outside these hours we have to do battle with the Paypal Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. If – as Paypal founder Elon Musk fears – there will emerge a malevolent AI which seeks to make humanity extinct, then it will certainly choose the condescending tones of the Paypal IVR to be its voice.
It’s like playing some sort of dystopian choose-your-own-adventure game. The first trap to avoid is letting it know who you are. As soon as it has a whiff of your account details, it will try to escalate you to account management – who have gone home for the weekend – and so hang up telling you that the offices are closed. After being tricked four or five times like this, I tried just saying agent over and over again (“I’ll just need a few more details”, it enticed). I wonder if it will escalate me if I just stay silent. It does not. I resort to bareface lies. No I don’t have an account. No I’ve never bought anything. Yes, I have a question about an unidentified charge. I found myself uttering that most unusual of prayers: Please God, just let me talk to the Philippines.
Eventually – after 24 mins on my first round of calls to get to an agent who can’t help, and another half an hour to speak with an agent who can, the faulty button is clicked and the buyer offered his return. That’s nearly an hour of my time to click a button. I enquire whether I can leave some feedback about the IVR. It’s the “usual concern of our callers”, the agent confirms, but it’s necessary for verification purposes: something which is clearly nonsense since it was only by avoiding any information at all that I was able to speak to her. She promises to pass my comments on to “senior team members” – but she can’t forward my call and she doesn’t need my number as they won’t be calling me back.
I’m left with the distinct impression that Paypal is fine if your transaction happens to go ok – as the vast majority of transactions do – but they are terrified of their own scale. With so many people on the planet wanting to call, they have to make it virtually impossible to get through to them so the guardian robot is there to stop you bothering them rather than to help fix the problems. A technology organisation that is stubbornly blind to its technical failings is on a slippery slope indeed.