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I don’t often call out specific brands about their poor customer service, but in the past week I’ve faced an experience that I find hard to believe exists in 2015 – because the brands involved are so well known.

I have been a user of Skype for many years. Initially just for the outgoing calls, but more recently I’ve found it to be a useful app that integrates well between my laptop, phone, and allows me to offer my clients a London phone number that rings anywhere I am.

But I’ve been having a problem with my London phone number recently. First, I couldn’t get Skype to accept my bill payment for the annual subscription. Then the support team assured me that I could let the subscription expire, then reinstate the phone number, which is what I have tried to do a couple of times now – it seemed this was easier than fixing the actual problem.

It hasn’t worked, so a couple of days ago I clicked on support. The system warned me that they were quite busy on their click-to-chat support channel, but I proceeded to go ahead anyway. Then there was an alert telling me that I needed to wait 35 minutes before an agent would be available to chat with me.

A thirty-five minute wait just to be answered on a support call? Is that acceptable in 2015? I don’t think so, it just shows that the support operation is very poorly planned.

Microsoft has owned Skype for four years now so it’s not like this is a small company that might be struggling to get their support team organised. Clearly Microsoft and Skype feel that a 35-minute wait just to even get an answer from a member of the support team is acceptable.

This was not a one-off experience. I have tried several times over the past few days and never once has my attempt to ask the Skype support team a question been answered in less than 30 minutes.

In the end I dug around and found the problem. I had paid by PayPal without having any cash in my PayPal account, so PayPal needed to transfer the balance from my bank account. In all my years using PayPal, this was always an immediate and automatic action. But in this case they sent a refund for the amount paid and an alert saying that I need to wait “about three days” for the balance to be transferred from my bank account to PayPal.

But this is all news to me. I’ve used PayPal for years and never experienced this problem before. And since when did it take “several days” to swap money between accounts anyway?

So I went to PayPal support and found that their support page is infuriating and designed to force the customer to do anything except ask a question. I have a very specific question about a specific transaction and I have the reference number. Let me ping the text to a real person not wade through pages of FAQs.

I haven’t managed to reach PayPal support. I tweeted them a question about how I can get in touch with them about 12 hours ago, but nobody has responded.

For those of us with an interest in helping brands make life easier for customers this is extremely frustrating. I love working with companies that make communication easy, this increases my satisfaction as a customer, but all I can see in this recent experience – both with Microsoft and PayPal – are attempts to ensure I do not get in touch and delaying tactics to make the wait unacceptably long when I find how I can connect.

If this is how these global brands behave then should we even expect better from lesser-known companies? I believe so. My experience with both Skype and PayPal is bad enough for me to already be considering alternatives. Neither company owns such a strong monopoly that they are impossible to live without.

But it’s a shame to have to consider this. I like their products. I’ve been a customer for years. To see that I’m prepared to abandon such brands just because their approach to customer service is so bad feels more than a little sad. It feels like the past all over again, as if these brands have not learned any customer experience lessons in all their years of trading.

BLOG squad: Mark Hillary

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