I just finished a grueling 76-minute phone call with eBay customer service, which followed a 24-minute conversation with PayPal customer service. My goal in speaking with representatives from both companies was to resolve a recent issue, yet resolution was clearly not within their capabilities. In fact, after speaking with supervisors from eBay and PayPal, I learned that there is no customer service available at either company. What I did receive in lieu of reason, logic and understanding were scripts and come-back jargon aimed at getting me to hang up the phone.
The Back Story
I came into the office this morning and discovered emails from both companies stating that my PayPal funds will be held for 21 days and that I am expected to ship all items sold on eBay immediately. I was surprised by the emails which stated that, "While you establish a successful eBay sales history, you may not have access to your money for up to 21 days" and that "Your seller performance is below standard".
Why would I be surprised? Because we have been selling on ebay for 12 years with very high ratings the entire time. Harrelson Trumpets has only twice in that time had less than a 100% feedback rating, both times were due to non-English speaking customers misunderstanding an item description. Customer service has been a priority at HT since the very beginning and this is clearly reflected in the small percentage of our overall sales completed through ebay. According to ebay's own statistics, we currently have a 100% feedback rating and almost perfect seller ratings in all categories.
Understanding Ebay's expectations
So I called up PayPal and after a 10-minute hold, I explained my concerns to the customer service representative. I simply wanted to know why my PayPal account funds were on hold as I have been an upstanding customer for many years. My requests were met with someone who could barely speak English. She could, however, read from a script and proceeded to read verbatim the text in the emails I had received. I stopped her and asked for a supervisor hoping someone would examine the circumstances and then take reasonable needed action. The supervisor started in on the script and I stopped her to explain my situation. Then she skipped down the script a few paragraphs and proceeded to read. I stopped her again and told her I had read the email, which was the same as her script. She promptly put me on hold. Another ten minutes later, someone said, "Hello, eBay customer service...". I explained my situation and was again met with the script-reading technique. I thought to myself, how nice that paid professionals are reading to me this morning :)
When I finally had an ebay supervisor on the phone, I tried something new...
"Hello Racquel, this is Jason Harrelson. I am one of your valued customers and having sold on ebay for around twelve years, I have paid $xx,xxx in commissions and fees using your company's services. My problem today is that I have already spoken with three other customer service representatives and they have all been reading from the same script rather than addressing my issues.
Let me explain my situation... I received notification this morning that I am being punished by ebay for some unknown reason and that my paypal funds will not be available for 21 days. The script and emails all state that I have somehow fallen below the minimum ebay performance standard and that this is grounds for holding my funds. Yet, your company also expects me to ship items I sell on ebay immediately even though I will go unpaid for three weeks.
I live in the United States of America where it is generally accepted that businesses and sellers of goods may determine the terms of payment and in my case, I require full payment in advance of shipping an item to a customer. I do this for very good reasons. You see, a few years ago, I sold one of my handmade trumpets to a gentleman and he paid via paypal. After he received the trumpet, he posted photos online of himself playing the trumpet on tour. A few weeks later, I received a chargeback through paypal for the entire purchase price plus shipping. The buyer claimed he had never received the trumpet. I lost a valuable trumpet and almost $4000 that day. In that one year alone, I lost even more trumpets and over $14,000 in fraudulent claims by ebay and paypal users. This problem persists regardless of ebay's policies, which are designed to protect the buyer only. This is why I require payment in advance, but even then your company can (and will) take my funds back to issue refunds regardless of the authenticity of the claims. I have never once in my life sold a trumpet that was not in turn fully insured and shipped in good faith to the buyer. However, I have been the victim of tens of thousands of dollars in unfair refunds as the ebay system puts the seller at the mercy of the buyer's intent.
How can you expect me to accept the sudden and unreasonable terms of your company's policies after hearing my situation?"
Ebay Performance Standards?
Racquel responded by explaining that it is ebay's policy to hold funds when a seller falls below the recommended performance standards outlined on the Seller Dashboard on my account. She made a point to tell me numerous times that my performance was below ebay standards as if I was a third-rate ebay citizen. She then showed me how to access this page on the website, whereupon I discovered the number that had apparently upset the ebay system. There is was, glaring me in the face like a tarnished set of bottom caps on a new Bach Strad. It was hard to miss considering they had highlighted the "problem" with a bright red exclamation mark in a danger triangle! Don't take my word for it, see the screen shot below...I've clearly been a very irresponsible seller within the ebay marketplace.
Racquel continued by explaining that two of my customers within the past 12 months had clicked through a number of rating questions while leaving feedback for their transactions with my company. It is likely that these customers were leaving feedback on multiple items from various sellers at one time as the process is tedious in my opinion. I have left feedback thousands of times on ebay and the current system requires the buyer to rate the transaction in at least four categories rating from 1 to 5. Leaving a 1 or 2 rating flags an alert within the ebay computer system.
Poor ebay communications
My tarnish was within the rating for "Communications" which is not surprising to me. Communicating through the ebay system is complex to say the least. In fact, I would venture to guess at least 20% of all messages sent through the ebay system are either not sent or received. There are numerous words that cannot be included in an ebay message to prevent unauthorized sales outside of ebay. Here's the problem with this silly rule, sometimes customers really do need to talk to me on the phone to understand the details of a trumpet before making a purchase on ebay. Would you want to spend $2000-$5000 on a trumpet sold on ebay without being reassured that specific horn would be right for you? This is why I encourage customers to contact me directly via telephone. The other major problem is the logistics of IT at ebay. You see, we can reply to ebay messages within our email account and the responses are sometimes received. But sometimes we find these messages have been returned, but the original message has been deleted in the notification. This then requires us to go into our ebay account to respond. But guess what? The original message is no longer there either, so what can we do?
In my humble opinion, tarnishing my ebay record over two low ratings for Communications is a complete slap in the face. I am happy to talk to any of my customers, answer their questions and resolve problems if they arise. Just ask any of my customers, I will bend over backwards to ensure we both find a reasonable and rewarding solution throughout the purchase process. This is why people call every day and order custom horns, because I always deliver more than expected!
95% + 100% feedback is a problem!
How tarnished is my ebay record? Looking at the screen shot one more time, you will see that I have scored an average of 4.76 out of 5 in all categories. This is equal to a 95.2% rating overall and a 100% feedback rating through the normal star system. These numbers are pretty damning considering the extreme action that ebay and paypal have taken.
But then I received a phone call this morning and this put everything into perspective. The caller had placed an ebay bid on a CG Benge trumpet we were selling yesterday and wanted to discuss his situation with me. He stated that he was on the phone with ebay for an hour last night trying to resolve his problem to no avail. To understand how screwed up ebay is today and why he was having a problem, you'll need the back story on the ridiculous circumstances of this Benge auction.
Jen was listing some of our recent trumpet trades on ebay, which is one way we move products that are not within the Harrelson line. The process involves noting the condition of the item, taking quality photos, filling out pages of auction details, scheduling, pricing and promoting. All of this relies on the ebay IT system to work properly or you may have to start from the beginning losing all of your work, which is a problem more often than not. She listed the Benge on ebay on Wednesday as a one day auction closing yesterday.
When we came into the office yesterday, there were numerous messages (some of them unpleasant) from ebay users requesting more photos of the horn as there was suspicion that it was a copy, fake or damaged. I read the description, which was very simple and copied below to better understand the confusion.
"This Used Claude Gordon Benge was a recent trade towards a new Harrelson Trumpet. Made in Los Angeles, California Overall very good condition. Looks like it has been completely restored at one point. No dings or dents. Benge Hardside Case is available for an extra $100 if the winner so chooses. Good compression in slides and valves- see photos. Serial #120xx .470 Bore"
This listing description sounds very straight forward to me, yet I recall selling a different CG Benge a couple months ago and having the same reaction from bidders. Is there a company selling knock-offs of Benge trumpets today? If so, I haven't heard of this problem, but regardless we stand behind everything we sell. I noticed that the photos of the bell stamping which would verify the legitimacy of the horn were missing from the listing. It is likely that the ebay photo system lost the photos as this happens all too often and Jen proceeded to add the photos back into the listing. However, ebay's system would not allow her to add any photos today. In fact, it would not allow her to add to the description either and these two facts have always been a major problem with ebay. When customers express concern with a product listing, we want to respond in an appropriate helpful way. Adding photos and more to the description would benefit the bidders greatly in this instance, yet the option was no longer available. To be clear, it is usually an option to add to the description on ebay auctions.
Standing in the way of customer service
So Jen called ebay to resolve the problem. The woman was less than helpful and then rude exclaiming to Jen, "We're not God, we're only ebay and I cannot help you!". I remember this happening as I was at my desk when I heard Jen exclaim, "I know you're not God!". Seriously, this is what the world has come to when dealing with simple problems. Rather than working with the customer (us) to resolve the situation in a reasonable and appropriate manner, customer service reps are either reading from scripts or resorting to emotional outbursts? There are so many personal, attentive, productive actions that could take place within business relationships and yet big corporations treat their customers like cattle. Move here, consume this, now accept these changes on our terms, do this, do that... At what point does the mass consumer of a product or service stand up and say, "Enough is enough!"?
Enough is enough!
Well, I believe I've had enough with ebay and their ridiculous terms, conditions, policies and negligent interactions with their customers. It is now my goal to move my business as far from ebay sales as possible while enlightening my customers and readers on the pitfalls in doing business with large corporate entities aimed to please stockholders. Rather than selling on ebay, Harrelson Trumpets will now utilize this resource as a form of advertising, selling off miscellaneous second hand parts here and there while promoting our website. In fact, we are pricing our ebay items higher than our website to encourage customers to shop with us personally through our website or via phone, email or in person. Websites and web stores have become so impersonal while the Harrelson reality is that we are here to work with you individually in a kind, helpful, respectful and positive way.
More standing in the way of customer service
Getting back to the Benge trumpet auction, we tried to end the auction so we could then add the correct photos and start a new auction immediately. Now it is ebay's policy that you cannot end an auction under any circumstances. What if the item was lost, stolen or sold before the auction end? According to the ebay rep, these are not valid reasons to end an auction. And if there is an error in the listing that ebay will not allow us to correct? Tough luck buddy. In fact, if I were to list an auction for a Bach trumpet and show photos of a Schilke by mistake, I am not allowed to correct the description, the photos or any mistakes AND when the auction closes I will be on the hook for whichever instrument the buyer chooses. If I do not comply, the buyer could keep the instrument and receive a full refund! Um, Houston...we may have a problem.
Then we noticed a button we had never seen before, "End auction and sell to the high bidder". This option was new to me so I pressed the button to learn more, which in ebay fashion results in pages of pressing buttons to get anything done. Much to my surprise, the auction ended immediately and a message flashed on the screen, "Congratulations, you just sold your $2000 trumpet for next to nothing by mistake!". Okay, it didn't say that exactly, but that's what Jen and I were thinking! Never in the history of ebay has it been so easy to do anything.
Angry, entitled and manipulative...
With one click, we created a major headache all because ebay has taken away all of our customer service tools. Now we had to deal with a customer who may think he's buying a $2000 Benge trumpet for $500 several hours before the auction was scheduled to end. We sent him a message explaining the situation and told him about the new (identical) auction we had just posted with the corrected photos. What was his response? A quite unpleasant phone message late last night followed by an email accusing us of dishonesty. And what did he have to say on the phone today? Believe it or not, he launched into a conversation about how he is in the midst of suing his employer for unfair employment practices and how he got screwed on ebay by another seller in the past. Then he mentioned that he originally thought his luck had changed and finally things were going his way now that he mysteriously won this Benge trumpet earlier than the scheduled end time at an extremely low price. And how he soon realized things weren't so great as we were cancelling the transaction to re-list the item with a fair and accurate description. To top it off, he admitted to writing a nasty email in hopes that I would feel bad and offer him a cash deal outside of ebay to keep him from complaining. I doubt many of us wake up in the morning thinking that the person you wronged is going to call you out in a blog post, but that's exactly what I'm doing.
No good dead goes unpunished
And who is then punished by ebay? The man who wholeheartedly attempted to do right by his customers by correcting a mistake and selling within the confines of the ebay system. The final straw was when he mentioned that he had been on the phone with an ebay rep for an hour last night complaining about my unfair business practices. So this guy is likely the cause of all of my headaches today? Or rather, ebay's one-sided approach to resolution and automatic siding with the buyer is the problem. No one from ebay called to discuss the problem with the listing in an attempt to gain facts or encourage amicable resolution. Either way, this bidder and the system by which the bidding occurred is clearly not in the interest of anyone except those who stand to gain from the fees and commissions associated by the transactions.
It is clear to me that ebay's sole incentive is to complete as many transactions as possible, thus earning more profits regardless of any code of ethics. It is also apparent that the ebay community of bidders also suffers, in some part, from the same lack of morality. The business world is filled with great people who are motivated by innovation, kindness, mutual respect, a win-win attitude and so on. And there are those who lack integrity both as individuals and entire organizations. Those who will take when others are not looking. Those who would choose to deceive rather than look in the mirror and admit their own mistakes. Those who bring humanity down to the level of pop culture shallowness and irresponsibility that so many elders have complained about for eons.
It is up to each of us as individuals to first determine what is acceptable and not acceptable, what is right and what is wrong, what is valid and what is invalid, what is logical or insane. Every person on this planet may consciously choose to be good to others, responsible for their actions and thoughtful to plan a course of action in light of circumstance. Life is our opportunity to actively create positive change in our world. This planet is our shared space in which we must interact from birth until death, either successfully in happiness or otherwise, but this is always a choice.
After everything, the ebay and paypal policies and punishment, the ridiculous efforts by ebay to stand between Harrelson Trumpets and our customers, ebay's numerous IT problems and the self-serving manipulative bidder, what is my next move? I offered the upset bidder a free set of bottom caps at the end of our phone conversation and sincerely apologized for inconveniencing him. I have resolved to write this blog entry revealing how and why we see ebay as a very poor business model, hopefully discouraging commerce there. And Jen and I are re-building our online store to include our stock of trade trumpets allowing us to better serve all customers.
In Jen's own words, "it seems that throughout our history (of Harrelson Trumpets), we have worked so hard with thoughtful well-intended action only to be slapped in the face again and again...and this has made us a stronger, more caring company, but we deserve better". That just about sums it up. We are good people taking positive action to better the world and we do in fact deserve better. But in reality, sometimes you simply have to wade through the bs to get to the other side!
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