PayPal, A Customer Service Nightmare

by Andy Polaine on January 25, 2008

Companies like PayPal are basically all service and no product, so it makes sense that they should spend a lot of their time on it as do First Direct. Sadly, they don’t.

Like ISPs and telecoms companies, everything is fine until it goes wrong – only then do you really find out what they’re made of. If you have followed any of Iain’s rants about Virgin Media you’ll know what I’m talking about.

What follows is a highly abbreviated version of the utter incompetence of PayPal’s customer service staff. I don’t really want it to fill the main page here, so click if you want to read more (some of it is entertaining in its horror).

The basic story here is that I have lived in three different countries – the UK, Australia and now Germany – and still have bank accounts in all of them. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to pay in the local currency of the account I want to debit. For example, if I have money in my UK bank account it makes sense to pay with my UK VISA card.

PayPal has a policy that the billing address of the card must be the same as the home address of the PayPal account. That makes sense to me and all mine are registered to my address in Germany.

At some point I let the details of my UK credit card expire – that is, the card expired and I forgot to update my PayPal account. As far as I know I never tried to buy anything via the expired account but PayPal disabled the use of this card.

Okay, so I thought, fine, I’ll enter in the new details of the new card. No go.

I phone my bank, no problems there. The real entertainment came when I tried to contact PayPal. Here’s roughly how the 13 e-mail and one phone call conversation played out. Bear in mind that every single time I spoke to a different person.

1. ME: Hi, my card has been disabled in PayPal because it had expired. Can you help me enter in the new details because it’s still rejected?

2. PP: It’s not possible to add a credit card from another country.

3. ME: Yes it is, I already have one from Australia added. The billing address is in Germany, my home country.

4. PP: Your credit card expired, please change the expiration date.

5. ME: Yes, I tried that, it’s still disabled and won’t let me enter the new expiry date.

6. PP: Please contact by telephone so we can verify you and re-enable your card.

At this point I saw a faint glimmer of hope. A real person, not a form mail, might do something for me, albeit at 14c/min (that’s euro cents alright?)

7. ME on the phone (in German): Hi, I’ve been told to phone and verify my details so my card can be enabled.

8. PP: Your card has expired.

9. ME: Yes, I know, that’s why I’m phoning, etc., etc. (lengthy explanation citing PayPal e-mails).

10. PP: Your card has been disabled forever.

11. ME: Forever? I was just told it could be re-enabled if I phoned.

12. PP (with attitude): No.

13. ME: So, imagine someone stole my details and tried to use my card and then my bank issued another, the account number would be the same. Are you saying that it would be still barred?

14. PP (with more surly attitude – the guy was pretty rude): Yes. It’s a technical thing. You’re card is barred. Forever.

15. ME: I’m finding your attitude pretty impolite and unhelpful, can I speak to your supervisor please?

16. PP: He’s not here, he’s in a meeting.

17. ME: I’ll wait, or is there anyone else I can speak to?

18. PP: No.

19. ME: Okay, then can I have your name so I can complain?

20. PP: Max Meyer, but it won’t make any difference. You card is barred. Forever.

(He might as well have said his name was Joe Bloggs – Max Meyer is about as common).At this point I got extremely fed up with this classic case of cold, unhelpful German customer service I hung up on him and wrote to PayPal telling them about the situation all over again, the rubbish customer service and asking for the details of who I need to complain to.

21. PP: It is our goal to offer you excellent service and thus your feedback is highly appreciated. We have recorded your email and ensure you that your feedback will be used to improve our customer service.

You are able to send a letter to the following address and complain about our service:

PayPal Customer Service Postfach 750263 60532 Frankfurt/Main

A letter? To PayPal? When did we suddenly go all paper-based? Maybe the address should be:

PayPal Customer Service A dustbin somwhere. 60532 Who Cares

So, I soldiered on.

22. ME: Thanks for that address, but what about all the other questions regarding my credit card being disabled? Could you actually read the other mails and not send me a form mail please?

23. PP: I re-enabled your credit card, so please try to add your credit card again.

I nearly wept with joy at this point. I went online, tried to enter the details. It didn’t work.

23. ME: It didn’t work, the credit card is still disabled.

24. PP: Since PayPal is a non face-to-face transaction provider, our process for accepting cards is more stringent and complicated. In instances where a good card fails these checks, we suggest you try another card in the system.

25. ME: Complicated how? Do you guys actually bother to read the rest of the previous
conversation or are you just paid to send out form e-mails as fast as possible? HERE’S THE QUESTION TO RESPOND TO – I have been told three times that my card can be and/or has been re-enabled and twice that it can’t be re-enabled, which is the correct answer?

Lastly, why not prove you’re actually a human reading this and tell me the answer to this question: What colour are oranges?

26. PP: The credit card that you are trying to add to your PayPal account has been permanently disabled for the use on PayPal. P.S. The colour of oranges is orange.

(Aha, at least she read the mail).

27. ME: (I explain the hypothetical about a stolen card being re-issued again). Why did two PayPal e-mails say the card had be re-enabled? I’m afraid PayPal has been a huge disappointment. Obviously it’s time to move from PayPal to Google Checkout.

28. PP: Thank you for contacting PayPal, etc., etc. PayPal does not allow members to add credit cards that are issued outside of the country from which their PayPal account is registered.

29. ME: That’s not true, I already have a card registered with PayPal from a bank in Australia. It’s billing address is my *home country. That wasn’t my question anyway, try reading the previous e-mails.*

30. PP: Thank you for contacting, etc. Since you have registered your PayPal account under Germany, the only credit card you will be able to add are a German account. I understand your frustration regarding this matter and regret any inconvenience it might have caused you.

31. ME: READ THE CONVERSATION. I just told you what you just told me and it’s wrong anyway. (I explain about the whole situation all over again). You don’t understand my frustrations at all otherwise you’d spend more than 30 seconds reading the f****ing e-mails.

32. PP: Thank you for contacting, etc., etc. In order to best assist you, we recommend that you contact us by telephone. Please call, etc., etc..

33. ME: I tried that about six e-mails ago, which led to me making a complaint about the incompetent employee I got through to. Forget it. I’ll close my PayPal accounts and blog the whole miserable experience.

34. PP: Thank you for contacting, etc., etc. In order to best assist you, we recommend that you contact us by telephone. Please call, etc., etc..

If I had hair, I would have torn it out.

So, I’ve given up. PayPal’s customer service most certainly does suck, which is a shame because all it has going for it is that it is a service and when it works it’s pretty good. If you’re concentrating on making widgets and forget about customer service, that’s stupid, but sort of understandable. If all you are is service, bad service means the entire product is flawed.

Clearly a company in dire need of service designers and resting on its laurels because it has a monopoly in the marketplace. But that can change very quickly indeed and I hope Google, whilst not perfect, give them a run for their money.

If you’ve read this far, you have way too much time on your hands but I thank you for hearing my moaning.

By the way, if you got here by Googling PayPal sucks and came across the PayPalSucks website or PayPalWarning, be warned, there have been several accounts that it is at best marketing for another merchant system and at worst a scam.

[tags]paypal, sucks, customer service, service design[/tags]

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Morgan February 2, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Yes paypal makes the phone company lookk like a pleasant phone call. They are the worst of the worst, no worse cust service if you had to find it, unless maybe ebay. It’s a shame they dont allow survey companies to survey there service and make it public, im sure there’s shares would plumet the next day. Paypal + Ebay very scary, once you have a problem, your usually finished. I dont hate lots of thing, maybe Hitler, Tojo, Taliban and that’s it, but now i add PYPL customer service to the short list.

2 Shanti Braford February 4, 2008 at 11:46 am

I’ve had PayPal balances as high as $15k and never had a problem.

If concerned about them confiscating your account balance, a Merchant Account would surely be the best bet.

3 Andy Polaine February 4, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I don’t really worry about them confiscating my account. My issue was simply trying to add a valid credit card and that their customer service was absolutely terrible.

The thing is that, like many services, it’s not when things go well that tells you the quality of the company. It’s when things go wrong that you find that out.

Compare PayPal to a problem I was having with Go Daddy (also terrible customer support) and the way that Dreamhost, my webhost, handled it. Bear in mind that the problem I was having wasn’t even Dreamhost’s fault, but they were trying to help out:

“Well, if things don’t work out with Go Daddy, give me a rundown of what is going on (and what still isn’t working) and I’ll do my best to help
you get this resolved. I want to make sure you get the help that you
need – and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that you get it. After
all, that is what I’m here for, isn’t it?”

The personal response by someone who had bothered to read the previous exchanges makes all the difference.

4 Nedly February 28, 2008 at 5:31 am

I’m having the exact same problem. I called their support line, and they give me a line about it being something to do with the CC company. So I contacted my credit card company, and they know nothing. Have you had any more luck since this post?

5 Andy Polaine February 28, 2008 at 10:02 am

No, I basically gave up on it. I use the credit card they won’t allow in their system for PayPal purchases anyway, I just don’t log-in to my PayPal account to make the payment, which goes to show how absurd it is.

Obviously that only works if the merchant is accepting PayPal payments by credit card though.

I really think the staff at PayPal are probably underpaid and under-trained minions. I don’t think it’s worth even calling frankly. I’ll be happy when Google give them a run for their money.

6 lisa December 16, 2009 at 10:53 am

I am having the same experience. I just wish ebay had more payment options.

7 Dan January 8, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I am going through the same process right now. Card had expired, I want to update my details, nope.

I’m about at stage 10 and already ready to kill someone, I don’t know if I can make another 24 steps before giving up.

Surely cards expired all the time (every couple of years?). What the hell kind of idea is that?

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