PayPal Use It or Get Out Imbroglio

By Peter Bernstein February 13, 2014

There is an old American idiom created during World War II by the War Advertising Council that was subsequently used on posters (see below) by the United States Office of War Information, “Loose lips sink ships.”  In this day and age where everything communicated electronically seems to be fair game for public broadcasting, including internal company memos and emails, one would expect that C-levels would be circumspect in how they address their troops. The latest example as to why this is important comes in the raging point/counter-point going on regarding VentureBeat’s posting of PayPal president David Marcus’ email to employees at the company’s San Jose, CA headquarters.       

Marcus had a lot to say.  The grabber was:

“It’s been brought to my attention that when testing paying with mobile at Cafe 17 last week, some of you refused to install the PayPal app (!!?!?!!), and others didn’t even remember their PayPal password. That’s unacceptable to me, and the rest of my team, everyone at PayPal should use our products where available. That’s the only way we can make them better, and better…”

He concluded with: “In closing, if you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere.”  In short, a few other choice words we in the U.S. tend to favor for such things come to mind including versions of “get with the program or get lost,” and “use it or lose it” (in this case your job).

The blogosphere is abuzz with comments on the article which split between those applauding Mr. Marcus and those excoriating him.  Both sides are certainly are passionate in their beliefs.

Defenders of the Marcus position have agreed with the proposition that if you don’t use your company’s products or services how can you know how to improve them? Plus, everyone who works for an enterprise either implicitly or explicitly is a brand ambassador. The argument is that Marcus defenders think it is difficult to discern how one can be a great brand ambassador if you are not a passionate user. They believe the Marcus admonition about constantly improving the product is a powerful one, and put aside some of his less temperate remarks.  

Those who are not fans of the email take the view that there are lots of valid reasons why employees choose to use alternatives. More importantly they say that evaluation of any of us as employees should be based on our performance and that unflinching adherence to drinking the company’s Kool Aid should not be part of the equation.

For example, let’s say that I work at Starbucks but until recently did not like the bitterness of the product. In addition, I have an hour-long commute. There is no Starbucks on my route to work, but there is a Dunkin Donuts which is a brand I have supported for decades.  Will I be fired if there is a Dunkin container found at my desk?  What if I work at Budweiser but either don’t like beer or develop an allergy to it but am the top sales producer?  Again, would Mr. Marcus if he were head of Budweiser feel my failure to drink up is grounds for termination?

I know each of us from personal experience can cite circumstances have put us in a position to use something other than our company’s products and services.

Where I come down on this is that how I spend (in this case not spend) my time and money is my business. The only place I happen to agree with Marcus is that if I have an account, and I absolutely should, being able to access the account so I can demonstrate it and do so with proficiency should be an employment requirement, and not knowing the password may not be grounds for unemployment but is ridiculous for obvious reasons.

The language that is likely to be the spin provided if this continues to be a contentious item and troublesome for PayPal’s brand, is “should use our products where available.”  It will be the typical, “I was taken out of context.”  This is always a reasoned reaction, especially since this was an email and not a video.  For instance, how the word “should” can be interpreted is subject to question.  Is this an order or a suggestion?  However, the words about product use where available is almost comical.  Where is PayPal not available if I have a smart device?

The part of the article I have not cited yet, putting aside the Marcus disgust with HQ’s lead generation capabilities, calls into question his being a role model for CEOs.  He  brags about PayPal employee zealots who hack Coke machines. Yikes!  I don’t think vending machine owners or Coca Cola executives are going to find this amusing.  And, as VentureBeat caustically points out, this advocacy of hacking comes from a guy who just the day before was complaining about his credit card being hacked on Twitter.  This is certainly an odd twist on “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

There are a couple of other things worth discussing on the subject of PayPal and why not just employees but others might be cautious about using it where it is available. 

First, I don’t know about you but I probably get “phished” by bad actors more about PayPal than any other site.  In fact, I will admit that some of the rogue sites have a good look and feel and seem authenticate.  This is why I never click on links in any email from any financial institution.

Second, I would be curious when the last time Mr. Marcus used PayPal support and/or how often he has to use it.  There is no mention, damning or laudatory, as to how good or bad PayPal’s support is compared to competitors. Their business is as much about customer retention as it is about lead generation, and the quality of their customer interactions for support is more than germane in evaluating employee performance and valuing the brand.  A good leader would should inspire and not just castigate. It makes you wonder. Maybe we all just have not seen that email. 

I bring the topic up since Mr. Macus opens the door by asking employees to use the product or else.  I once asked an AT&T consumer services executive if they or anyone on their staff paid phone service.  The answer was no. I then asked about procedures when this person or their staff had problems. Did they call the company customer service desk? I was informed they had a special number to call.  I also asked this person if they had tried MCI or Sprint services, the major alternatives at the time, including interacting with their call centers. I was told they’d check and get back to me. They never did.

I would love to see the PayPal customer sat numbers and meantime to resolution ones. In fact, it would be helpful if Mr. Marcus could outline how much time and attention is being devoted to improving that part of the customer experience.  It would also be interesting to hear from eBay executives how they feel about this.  Is making employees purchase things only on eBay going to be a condition of employment?  I wonder if they think such an approach is good for morale and for attracting and keeping high-performing people in the hotly contested Silicon Valley employment market.

I guess that will just be an article for another email (or series of them) and another day. For the moment, I will give my PayPal account a rest.  In fact, given all of the headlines about data breaches it looks like cash is going to return as king.

 Memo to Mr. Marcus, I will use alternative ways to pay, pal! It appears from reactions online that I will be far from alone.  

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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