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.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 September, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)


Charles Alvis

I find it encouraging that the Paypal executive is personally getting involved in this dispute. For every high profile complaint against Paypal there are 10s of thousands more that have been unjustly limited by Paypal. I was with Paypal since the very beginning and one day I find that my Paypal account was limited with a substantial amount of cash because of 1 product that was sold on one of our websites was against Paypal's TOS. We elected to remove Paypal as a payment method until we could modify the website to reject Paypal on that particular product. (we were told that was acceptable to Paypal) In the meantime customers would order over the phone other products (not the product that Paypal had a problem with) and we would send them a Paypal request (our other Paypal account was working). Apparently they did not like that so they permanently limited both Paypal accounts without due process. This severely affected our business. We were unable to pay contract workers or affiliates. In addition Paypal egregiously prevents us from using valid credit cards to pay for Ebay auctions and when someone sends a payment request. The only way we are able to pay for an Ebay auction is via Bill me Later which is stupid because we always our pay credit cards and lines of credit off each month. In my opinion Ebay should not be able to blacklist valid credit card numbers if they are displaying the MasterCard and Visa card logo. We are a legitimate law biding, tax paying, business but Ebay classifies us as a criminal entity which is grossly unfair. I long for the day that I can have a fair evaluation on my Paypal account.

almost 6 years ago


Buy Steroids UK

so paypal is finally going to stop stealing users money by freezing their accounts for no good reason.

almost 6 years ago


Philip Cohen

And, the reality of the clunky PayPal, et al ...

almost 6 years ago



Great article, Patricio and your final sentence really says it all. More companies need to follow this advice.

almost 6 years ago

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