Customer service and the online world

Regular readers of this space likely have heard me mention online selling site eBay on more than one occasion.

Regular readers of this space likely have heard me mention online selling site eBay on more than one occasion. As a lifelong bargain hunter, eBay quickly became a part of my life many years ago. Not only am I a buyer (best quality, best priced motorcycle gear is available there), I’ve also recently become a seller. That is, I’m clearing out my packed storage room by selling stuff on eBay.

Selling online can be fraught with fraud, so not long after eBay became a big deal, the site created its own guaranteed internet payment service with quickly became the standard for online transactions: Paypal. Paypal, in essence, acts as an escrow for Internet transactions. You open a Paypal account and link it to a certified payment systems such as a credit card or chequing account, and when you purchase an item Paypal holds the money in trust until the buyer receives their goods or services, and signals satisfaction with them.

As an eBay buyer and seller, you must follow Paypal’s rules if you use their service. For example, a seller doesn’t receive their money until the buyer has their goods and has gone on the record stating their satisfaction. But in my case, I didn’t get even after that happened, and Paypal apparently doesn’t know why.

Last fall I sold a rare video game on eBay for about $200; I shipped the item the same day and the buyer received it in about a week. By Paypal’s rules, I was supposed to get my $200 a few days after the item was delivered. However,, about a week after the item was deliver, I still hadn’t been paid. I contacted Paypal by phone, and they suggested the problem was with eBay, not Paypal. Anyhoo, the Paypal person said she’d straighten it out and I’d get paid quickly. I didn’t. It still took about two to three weeks to get my money, even though I followed Paypal’s rules to the letter.

This past week, the same thing was shaping up again. A critical piece of information (the estimated date I’d get paid) was missing from an eBay sale I made. So like a good little robot I called Paypal again Oct. 14, and the conversation went almost exactly like the one I had in September with them. They didn’t know why the information was missing and suggested I just wait a few days to see if I get paid on schedule. If my money was missing, I should just call them back (again) to straighten it out.

So I asked if there was some kind of reference number I needed to jot down, so I didn’t have to repeat myself a third time about the same problem cropping up. The Paypal person almost seemed to laugh and said something along the lines of “This isn’t important enough to make any record of.”

Maybe from Paypal’s point of view, that’s true. What do they care if, by following the rules they require, I end up behind the 8-ball? Sadly, this problem is likely happening to lots of people and in my opinion a concern brought forward by a paying customer should be taken seriously. The issue could be one they didn’t even know about and is costing them money.

The entire situation was really no different than what I call “online hang-up” customer service. Anyone who’s ever had to call a 1-800 help number knows what I mean. First, you get stuck in an endless loop of “Please press a number for the proper department,” followed by someone answering your call after 30 minutes who A) doesn’t know what you’re talking about and B) Doesn’t seem to care either. You get the impression that as soon as the so-called “customer service rep” takes your call, they’re trying to find a way to hang up on you.

In the world of online transactions, there really is no alternative to Paypal, they’re like the phone company 30 years ago. You have to deal with them.

Which I’m reminded of every time I open my overstuffed storage room, and everything spills out onto the carpet.

Stu Salkeld is a lifelong bargain hunter who rarely pays full price for anything; he writes a regular column for The Pipestone Flyer.