Coronavirus: Is it the new 'excuse' for poor customer service?

I was thinking recently about just how many bad customer service experiences I've had over the last few months. In fact only yesterday I had a terrible customer service experience involving a well-known chain of pubs which is currently being investigated. I will write more about this particular experience once the investigation has been completed.

It is interesting just how many companies are using the Coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for poor customer service. Fair enough, many companies have experienced difficulties regarding staffing - for example absences due to employees socially isolating. But even allowing for these difficulties, I can't help but think that many companies are using the current pandemic as an excuse for their poor customer service.

So I was very interested to spot an excellent article by Victoria Bischoff in the Daily Mail this month, that was saying exactly the same thing that I have been thinking. I have reproduced this article below and I acknowledge their ownership of the copyright in this article.

Coronavirus: the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' Card 

With so many people still working from home, I often receive phone calls from numbers I don't recognise.

So when what looked like a mobile phone number flashed up on my iPhone at around 10am on a Tuesday, I assumed it was a work-related call.

But there was a man with an American accent on the line, claiming to work for PayPal.

He said three payments had been marked as fraud on my account, listing a $99.99 Gameshop purchase, $27.99 Target shop and $750 friends and family transfer.

All were supposedly made that morning. 'Did you authorise any of these transactions?' 'No,' I replied, in surprise.

'OK, I understand. We can refund the money to the card that initiated the transactions,' he reassured me. 'We just need to take some personal details.'

Just as I was about to ask what he needed, my brain finally kicked into gear and I told him I wasn't comfortable giving out my details to someone who had called out of the blue.

'One second please,' he said. This was followed by a suspicious silence. 'Miss Bischoff, I understand your opinion but we will have to put a hold on your account to get these cleared, if you understand?'

'That's fine as I don't really use it,' I said. 'And surely you would need to freeze the account while you dealt with this anyway?'

'One second,' he said again. Another silence. 'OK, we will send you an email with the centre's contact details. Have a good day.'

Now I was confused. Was this a tactic to make me more trusting if he called again? When I logged into my PayPal account everything seemed normal, and I didn't receive an email. I called the mobile number back but there was no answer.

Now sure my instinct was correct, it was a good reminder of just how easy it is to get caught out by scammers when your mind is on something else.

What was more worrying was how difficult it was to report the attempted fraud to PayPal.

There didn't appear to be a fraud helpline, so I tried to explain what happened in an online chat box.

A 'PayPal Assistant' responded: 'It looks like you want to report an unauthorised transaction, is that correct?' No, that's not what I said. But before I could try again, another message popped up.

'I found some articles in our Help Centre that might help you. Check them out! If you need more help, please type 'Need more help'.'

None of the suggested articles were close to being relevant, so I typed 'Need more help'.

'All our agents are currently offline. Please try again during business hours,' was the response. It was 6.30pm and PayPal's ' messaging support' was supposedly available until 8pm on weekdays. Why was no one there?

'Our customer service staffing is limited due to coronavirus safety precautions,' the message added.

Ah, of course. The new go-to excuse for why businesses can't possibly provide consumers with basic customer service.

PayPal is a digital payment provider. Surely it has had enough time to work out how to staff a simple online help-centre by now? Firms need to stop treating the pandemic as if it's some sort of 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card.

Victoria Bischoff