Customer service is an area of focus for many companies today, and for good reason. Thanks to the rise of social media, when a company pisses a customer off, they have the ability to tell the world.
That's precisely what Andy McMillan did when he found himself in "Paypal hell."
With £40k in funds being held in an account that PayPal had restricted his access to, McMillan tried every customer service avenue he could think of, and then he turned to Twitter.
Just when he was about to give up, he received an email from David Marcus, who took over as the president of PayPal several months ago.
Not surprisingly, the fact that Marcus personally intervened to make things right with McMillan has created a lot of buzz. And it's providing some lessons for executives who are often multiple layers removed from the customers their companies serve on a daily basis. Here are five of the most important.
1. It pays to pay attention
Had David Marcus not been listening, it's likely that Andy McMillan's nightmare experience would have gone unnoticed by somebody with the ability to do something about it.
So while top executives may, for obvious reasons, not be the most active participants in social channels, they shouldn't have their ears to the ground.
2. Your employees can be doing what they're supposed to be doing, and the company can still fail
By all appearances, Andy McMillan's nightmare experience with PayPal wasn't the result of lazy or disinterested employees. Instead, it was a result of customer-unfriendly policies worth a second look.
Yet at many, if not most, companies, employees on the front lines have little ability to circumvent policy, or to get them changed quickly enough to rectify a bad situation to a customer's satisfaction.
This serves as a powerful reminder to executives: it takes leadership to ensure that when your employees do their jobs, they're also doing what's right for the customer.
3. Access helps built trust
At startups, it's not uncommon to see founders and CEOs make themselves available to their customers. In fact, many post their email addresses and phone numbers publicly. For obvious reasons, it's hard for top executives at larger companies to do the same. But that doesn't mean that executives should isolate themselves from customers.
In giving Andy McMillan his email address and mobile number, David Marcus took a powerful first step toward building trust with an aggrieved customer. That may not mend the relationship between McMillan and PayPal immediately, but it's a good start.
4. Don't worry about criticism
When executives intervene in bad situations -- particularly those that were publicized -- it's not surprising that some will suggest that action is a PR stunt. For some executives, this makes stepping in personally and doing the right thing an uncomfortable course of action.
It shouldn't, however. Do what's right and let the skeptics snipe all they want because at the end of the day, they're going to anyway.
5. Caring isn't optional
It's clear from David Marcus' email to McMillan and a previous comment on Hacker News that he's serious about fixing what's broken at PayPal. Can he pull it off? That remains to be seen. But it's important not to discount the importance of caring.
Executives who don't care are far less likely to have the motivation to solve big problems -- and to stay committed to solving them when the road gets bumpy along the way.
So if you're an executive and you don't care, the greatest service you can do for your company is to leave so that somebody who does can step in.