PayPal is a big company. Founded in the mid-90’s, PayPal has emerged as a leader in online commerce in particular. Their value prop is offering speed and convenience to online consumers by allowing a quicker checkout process. In theory, that’s great. You can finish your purchase quicker and not have to provide your personal information (credit card numbers in particular) to the third-part merchant every time you buy something.
Well, that’s if everything works as it’s supposed to. What happens if someone uses your credit card without your permission to fund their own account? What happens if a merchant sells something and the payment never comes through or is otherwise invalid? What happens if you pay for a product online and then you never receive the item? Frankly, what happens if you have a question about your account and want to have the privilege of speaking to a live human being in customer service?
These are basic questions that get to the heart of PayPal’s business. Unfortunately, anyone who faces the smallest of glitches with their account in any way is in for a nightmare. Whether it’s any of the situations described above – or, PayPal just arbitrarily shutting down your account – you are always at the mercy of PayPal’s inconsistent and often irrational whims. After surviving my own experience with them as I’m about to describe, I discovered I wasn’t the first to abandon PayPal after enduring horrible service one too many times.
It turns out there are entire websites devoted to hating PayPal and spreading the word on their not-exactly-best practices. One of them – www.PayPalSucks.com – even has a “Horror Story of the Month” (this month’s is about a guy who’s account was suddenly frozen without warning with over 5 grand in it) section, along with various “insider accounts” of the pernicious and incompetent culture that runs through PayPal’s operation. But here’s my own humble story:
When I recently tried to update my personal information on PayPal’s website, I encountered monumental obstacles at every turn. It’s like they want you to get fed up and stop using their service. I don’t use PayPal frequently because of the fees and the complexity of their service, but I do occasionally for buying things online. But I moved recently and so my address and phone number were out-dated. Also, they had a very old e-mail address for me on file. So all I wanted to do was update that info. Simple enough? Guess again.
I ended up jumping through so many hoops over the next hour+ that I tried to accomplish this task that I can’t even recall them all. First, they made me answer all the security questions I made when I first signed up. Reasonable, I suppose. I didn’t remember the answers though since I signed up many years ago. Then, I wanted to change e-mail addresses and my physical address. To do that, they insist on confirming the change by calling your house phone number. Now, keep in mind that I don’t live at that house anymore. So I tried to change my phone number to my cell phone – which is all I have (do landlines still exist?) – but PayPal refused to let me do that.
When I failed, PayPal had a few options asking if the information was outdated. “Oh finally!” I though. Wrong. Clicking that option simply took me back to my PayPal profile with the old info and a terse message instructing me to call their customer service number if I wanted to change anything.
Now, all I wanted to do was update my information, and not even my financial info! I wasn’t trying to fund the account, change the credit card on record, buy something or transfer funds. I was just updating my address, etc. But, I was determined to succeed in this simple task. So, begrudgingly, I picked up my (cell) phone and called the number I was given. That’s when it got… fun. Well more like painful.
The first guy I (tried) to speak with was just about as helpful as PayPal’s website. First he wanted to confirm who I was, which is reasonable. But, he did so with all my old info. I knew most of it, but not some like the credit card number they had on file. Finally, I suggested giving him my social to verify my identity. You’d think he might have come up with that solution on his own. At last, he believed I was me. Great.
After explaining the situation, he asked to put me on hold. Fine. 4 minutes later he comes back and says I can do this all online. I explained why I could not do it all online. He had trouble understanding that it was even possible that anyone could have trouble using their website. Clearly frustrated with me, Rep #1 hung up on me.
So I called back kind of pissed off. This time, I decided that enough was enough and that if it was taking me this long to perform literally the simplest operation on PayPal’s site, then it was just not worth it to even be a customer. So as soon as the second rep answered the phone I told him I wanted to cancel my account. He, too, sounded bewildered at such a thought. Clearly unhappy with me, Rep #2 curtly asked for me to please hold while he accessed my account. Either he then went on a lengthy coffee break at 4:00 in the afternoon, or PayPal has the slowest computers in North America. Eventually, Rep #2 came back on the line and tried to sell me into staying. He didn’t ask about my issues or try to help me resolve them. He just droaned on combatively about why PayPal was God’s gift to humanity.
And finally, I politely interrupted Rep #2 and asked once again to cancel my account permanently. And quite anti-climatically, he did so. And then I hung up, bizarrely satisfied that their horrible customer service had lost them a long-time user. Capitalism works.