The Ewww Factor: PayPal’s Too-Friendly Customer Service E-Mail

Am I a hypocrite or a grouch? I’ve spent many years exhorting customer service staff to write friendly, upbeat e-mails to customers. Using a friendly tone builds rapport and reduces customer angst. But the customer service e-mail I received from PayPal is so friendly, it’s actually giving me the creeps.

Here’s what I wrote:

Subject:  How do I remove an e-mail address from my account? 

Dear PayPal,
I want to remove the e-mail address JaneDoe@ABC-XYZ.com from receiving notifications when someone purchases a book from me.  I can’t find this e-mail address anywhere in My Profile or Settings, so I can’t figure out how to remove it. Can you find it and remove it for me? Thanks.

Here’s the reply I received from PayPal

Subject: Re: MyAccount (Routing Code: A123-B000-C12345-A111-B100100)  (CCC1234567D12345EfGH):jkl9

Hello Leslie O’Flahavan,

My name is Jonathan with PayPal Consumer Support.  I hope you have enjoyed your day! I too have confirmed that this email address is not registered to your PayPal account. In this case, you will want to check with any 3rd party shopping carts integrated with PayPal that you have worked with in the past. It is likely that you have registered this email with them. It will need to be removed from their settings.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to process your payments here at PayPal. I hope you have a wonderful week!

Sincerely,
Jonathan

Aside from the tone, PayPal earns good marks on this e-mail for:

  • Promptness. I received the response in about 11 hours.
  • Personalization. Jonathan addressed me by name. But more importantly, he checked my account for the e-mail address I couldn’t find. 
  • Problem-solving. Though he can’t solve it for me, Jonathan suggests how I should solve my problem.
  • Correctness. The e-mail is well written. It’s free of grammar and punctuation errors.

But the tone is so Yeah! that the e-mail sounds insincere. Though the e-mail’s only eight sentences long, three of the sentences are:

  • I hope you have enjoyed your day! 
  • Thank you for giving us the opportunity to process your payments here at PayPal.
  • I hope you have a wonderful week!

In all writing, your tone must always support your message. Jonathan’s thank-you statement is polite and professional. It would have been enough. His weird urgency regarding how much pleasure I find in my days and weeks puts me off. And, by the way, his subject line is awful.

Hmmm … there’s my answer. I guess I am a grouch. What do you think about the tone of this e-mail? Let me know.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Comments

I must be a grouch, too. If I want "friendly," I'll go see a friend. When I deal with service professionals--and remember, most of us would rather not--I want "courteous." At least he didn't mention a picture of your daughter or anything, so you can at least *imagine* he didn't Google you or look you up on Facebook. Creepy.

Posted by: David Kay | November 2, 2010 at 10:33:02am

In an age when form letters are so prevalent I am not as offended by his email as you seem to be. While informal I find an email such as that a bit refreshing. KUDOS to Paypal for allowing their Customer Service Agents the leeway to personalize their emails.

Posted by: OnlySarah | November 11, 2010 at 03:41:13pm

hmmm, do I start this 'hi Leslie' :) I'm in the UK and over here the whole 'have a nice day' approach usually goes down like a lead balloon - probably because we don't do it very well. I think the PayPal dialogue which is most problematic is the 'I hope you have enjoyed your day!' line. Anyone who has sent in any kind of problem/query is likely to shout at the computer 'of course I haven't ... I've still not sorted out the problem I've contacted you about.' That said, I prefer this to the 'techie' reply that talks in a different language or the reply which doesn't actually tell you anything. Footnote: I'm being picky, but the syntax of 'I hope you have enjoyed your day' seems wrong. 'I hope you are enjoying your day' or 'I hope you enjoyed your day' sound better. Or is that just a Brit thing?

Posted by: Alan Charlesworth | November 11, 2010 at 05:50:50pm

Thanks for your comments, David, OnlySarah, and Alan. If I am keeping score, it's three grouches (David, Alan, and Leslie), to one generous, open-hearted person, OnlySarah, who's congratulating PayPal for giving agents leeway to personalize. OnlySarah, you're right. PayPal does demonstrate trust. Now they just need to give agents feedback on their writing choices. The company may like this over-eager tone. Either way, the agent should know. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I hope you have wonderful days and weeks! (Smiling, not smirking...)

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | November 16, 2010 at 02:37:37pm

Posted, with his permission, on behalf of John Razzano: "I understand what you mean by offhanded insincerity. When people ask how you are, they don't expect or desire a response other than, 'Fine.' And perhaps he was a bit too perky, but I would hardly call his tone 'creepy.' When I read your blurb, I was all set for something dripping with Vincent Price-like phoniness and was disappointed when all I got was Wal-Mart associate speak. Lighten up there grouchy."

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | November 16, 2010 at 03:00:07pm

Hi there, I think you're absolutely entitled to your opinion regarding this guy's email - however, as you point out, you believe companies should be more friendly, however when they HAVE been friendly in this email, you think it's too much. Again, your own valid opinion. What this post misses is what YOU would have replaced those offending statements with - i.e. what do you consider to be the appropriate level of 'friendly'? Personally, while unimaginative, at least the friendliness is there. In this day and age, I think you've got to recognise when a company is at least making an effort instead of sending cold, standard autoresponders - now THEY are annoying!

Posted by: Camilla | July 6, 2012 at 12:52:19am

Hi, Camilla - Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you about cold, standard auto responders. And your comments made me wish I had offered a friendly-enough rewrite. So, here are my thoughts. If Jonathan had omitted his comments about enjoying my day and my week, I think the tone would have been perfect. Because he's done such a good job of personalizing the e-mail with pronouns and offering specific, practical advice, I think the tone would have been just right without the two sentences I've mentioned. In reflection, my post seems rather cranky. Let's just "have a nice day," and let this one go!

Posted by: Leslie O'Flahavan | July 6, 2012 at 06:21:51pm

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