Pro Bono

Excuse me for feeling privileged, or entitled, as some like to say.

I believe businesses that deal with consumers, or individual customers like me, reserve their choicest services for my exclusive use.

OK I exaggerate. Exclusive is a little over the top.

My recent experience with Payoneer, that describes itself as a “financial services company that provides online money transfer, digital payment services and …” has only served to confirm my suspicions.

There is some business consulting and freelance writing work I do with a couple of overseas businesses. When you work on a commercial basis, there is a financial angle that becomes a part of the deal. A European client prefers to remit the money to me through Payoneer, one of the many ‘fintech’ companies that have emerged in the last few years, giving a run for their money, pun unintended, to the seemingly change-resistant big old banks.

Being in India, which is an exchange-controlled environment, where one cannot freely buy and sell foreign currency, receipt of foreign currency requires some regulatory compliance. The one that I daringly got involved with Payoneer for is the obtention of the Foreign Inward Remittance Certificate (FIRC). In simple terms, once you have an FIRC mentioning you as the beneficiary, it is certified that you were responsible for the receipt of that amount in foreign currency, resulting in boosting the foreign exchange reserves of the nation. You also become eligible for certain relaxations, like Goods and Services Tax (GST) compliance for such receipts.

The saga commences with my email of 27th June to Payoneer, after a reasonably fruitless phone conversation that yielded no results.

27th June – My email

Hi, I have not received FIRCs for the last 3 months.
Can you please make them available.

30th June – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. My name is Adrian from Payoneer Customer Care.

We apologize for the delayed response.

We are aware that it might be long for you, and we would like to reassure you that we do everything we can to improve our timeframe.

We have taken note of your request and we are delighted to assist you.

After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.

Please check the notification emails sent to download the documents, or you can contact your bank to provide them to you.

Thanking you for your understanding and cooperation.

For any further information, do not hesitate to contact us.

Silly me. He is right. For payments listed on my Payoneer account I have the FIRCs. My issue is the payments not listed on my account. Going back with a response on his ability to confirm what I have received and what I have not received will need to wait.

1st July – My email

Thank you for your response. I will disagree. 

Sharing an example: I have received the following message yesterday re. a transfer:

(payment message enclosed)

I confirm the credit in my account. However, this transaction is not reflecting on my Payoneer account. Neither is the FIRC. There are many other transactions not reflecting.

Can u help.

5th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. 

Your request is not clear as you keep providing us in this case with different information. 

The screenshot you provided us does not match your request for the FIRC, as the email you are referring to is not regarding FIRC but when the withdrawal should arrive to your account. 

Once you clarified the request we can review is and assist accordingly. 

Have a nice day!

Silly me again and even more. How dare I confuse them.

5th July – My email

Sorry that you found it confusing. Here is a clarification:

In your message dated 30th June you stated: “After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.”

In my message dated 1st July I disagreed with the above statement. I provided your message dated 30th June as an example to challenge your statement. I meant to say that my account is not showing all payments sent to me through Payoneer.

The question, once again, is: Please tell me why the payment of Euro XXX, as per your message enclosed with my response on 1st July, is not reflecting on my Payoneer account.

Call me impatient. Call me foolish. Not receiving a response for 4 days induced me to open up another front in the battle. Imagine one of the parties in a battle locked in a hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, suddenly finds that the same person is coming at them with a raised sword from the left. Would you not be unnerved? To their eternal credit, Payoneer remained unfazed and responded with an email which still gave no evidence of trying understand or solve my issue.  

9th July – Chat transcript (Pleasantries have been deleted)

Ankur Mithal: I have received an email from Payoneer for a transfer
Ankur Mithal: I have received the funds in my bank account in India. However, the transaction does not show in my Transaction History on Payoneer.
Paulo: Hello, how are you?
Ankur Mithal: Payoneer mail dated 1st July
Ankur Mithal: Amount Euro XXX

Paulo: Thank you.Please stay on the line while I investigate this case on your account
‘The file Payoneer email of 1 July.docx (232.09KB) was received.’
Ankur Mithal: Sure. I have sent you a screen print of the email from Payoneer on 1st July.
Paulo: As long as you received the payment, then there is nothing to worry about

Ankur Mithal: OK. So here is the problem. I need an FIRC certificate for the payments I receive in any foreign currency. For payments listed on my Payoneer account, Payoneer has made an FIRC available that I can download. For money received after February, remitted through Payoneer but not showing on my Payoneer account, how do I get the FIRC certificate? 
Paulo: Hold on
Paulo: I will forward this matter to our support team for your request. Kindly wait within 24-48 hours for updates via email
Ankur Mithal: All right. Thanks for your help.
Paulo: You are welcome
Paulo: Anything else I may help you with today?
Ankur Mithal: For the moment this is all. Depending on the response I get there could be other queries. Thanks.


9th July – Email from Payoneer

Hello, this is Maia, Payoneer’s Supervisor. I hope this email finds you well.

Please find the attached FIRC documents per your request.

Thank you for your patience and have a good day.

The FIRCs turned out to be for the payments till February. I had already received these FIRCs. But at least they promoted me. I am now getting an email from the supervisor.

9th July – My email

Thank you for your message.

Why exactly am I being sent these two FIRC documents? Did I ask for them? Would you be kind enough to please share my request asking for these two FIRC documents please.

16th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting Payoneer, this is Jes one of the representative from Customer Care. I will be more than happy to assist you. 

Our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and for not getting back to you sooner. We are trying our very best to answer all of these the soonest we can.

I understand that you have inquiries regarding the FIRC document. Rest assured that I will do my best to assist your concern.

Upon reviewing the account, it appears that we have sent you the FIRC document as per your request. 

We appreciate your patience and cooperation in this case.

Should you have any questions, please let us know. Feel free to reply to this e-mail, or contact us via phone or chat so we can continue to assist you. We value your business and we make sure to support you in any way possible.

Thank you for doing business with Payoneer. Have a great day.

16th July – My email

Thank you once again for responding without bothering to understand the issue.

Can you please share with me a copy of MY REQUEST where I asked for THESE FIRCs. I have asked the same query in my earlier email as well but it appears the query has been ignored or not understood.

Two requests:

Once again, please share with me a copy of my request based on which you sent me the two FIRC documents (refer Maia’s email of 9th July in this email trail). If it was sent randomly, without my asking for it, you can just say it was an error and maybe even apologize.

The FIRC I DO WANT is for the payment of Euro XXX on 1st July. For your reference and ease, a copy of Payoneer’s email advising me of the payment is attached. 

I do hope this email will reach someone who can bother to read and make an effort to understand a customer’s issue BEFORE responding.


The wait begins once more.

Will they read my email?

Will they read AND understand my email?

Will they read, understand AND provide a coherent response?

Will I get the FIRCs that I am looking for?

And, most importantly, if a client offers to pay through Payoneer, should I offer to work pro bono?

Customer Loyalty

While trying to clean up my mailbox, I came across an email from an airline that I had, apparently, left in my inbox without any action, like Delete, which I often resort to in haste and sometimes repent later at leisure. The subject line of that email is the title of this post.

This airline had come into being with a lot of fanfare several years earlier, promoted by a flamboyant liquor baron. I used it occasionally, circa 2010, around the time of this email. For the record, this airline is now out of business, apparently on account of its inability to pay mounting debts.

I now recollect that when I had received this email, I was more than a little confused and of the view that the subject line did not do justice to the content, or perhaps the content did not do justice to the subject line. In my confusion I left the email parked in the Inbox, to be read and disposed of in a more relaxed frame of mind. It came to my attention today when I was trying to clean-up my Inbox. And it confused me all over again.

From the subject line of the email, I gathered that the email was sent with the objective of building loyalty amongst its customers, like me. But after reading through the email several times, I was not at all sure. But it could just be me and my sceptical outlook. You judge for yourself.

Presented below is the complete email, with my interpretation of a particular section in parentheses, in green italics, immediately after that section. If you delete the content within parentheses, it becomes the complete original email received by me. To avoid ruffling feathers more than need to be ruffled, we will call is ABC Airlines.

The Email, then:

Dear Sir, As one of our most valued guests, I share with you our commitment to building a stronger ABC Airlines.

(We have not been able to do it in the several years of our existence. However, we assure you that now we are committed to doing it. Of course, we are informing you because we believe our building a stronger airline will be of tremendous interest to you, as it will make all of us at the airline, richer, and make no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

Since inception, ABC Airlines has stood for the best in air travel in the Indian skies. As we navigate through one of the most turbulent times, we remain strong, committed and driven.

(Even if you had not come to know of it from other sources, we want to ensure that you, our loyal customer, is aware that we are navigating through turbulent times, so that you can think twice before giving us your business, which might give us the opportunity to navigate through even more difficult times, and allow us to remain stronger, more committed and more driven. Especially as it makes no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

We will emerge, stronger than ever before. Our key mission remains, placing your experience at the heart of our operation. We are committed and expect to continue to:

• Provide safe and reliable service. I assure you that we have full confidence in our aircraft fleet, and will not fly an aircraft unless we are completely sure that it is safe to operate.

(Though in the past we have not had full confidence on our fleet, and have flown aircraft without being completely sure that it was safe to fly, we assure you we will not do the same again. Promise.)

• Operate our flight as per schedule and on-time.

(Now we are going to. As stated earlier – Promise.)

• Provide competitive fares across cabin classes and markets.

(We thought the in-flight video of our boss asking in-flight stewards to treat you as a guest in his house would be enough to charge you a premium. We may even have got away with it on occasion. But now that we know that the premium service of the boss’ video has turned out to be inadequate, we will offer competitive rates.)

• Ensure that our guests continue to earn and retain their elite tier status and that the Frequent Flier Miles earned by our guests remain secure and intact with Frequent Flier Club.

(We had planned to wilfully downgrade the tier status of guests, and also to arbitrarily reduce the miles already earned and accumulated. But we will defer this plan to a more appropriate time in the future.)

• Enjoy benefits with the Frequent Flier Club which is at par, if not more advantageous than what is on offer. Our schedule along with best fares is available at http://www.abc.com With your continued faith and our nerves of steel, we are confident in restoring our position of excellence in the Indian sky.

(We have confused even ourselves with our first statement here. We think what we are trying to say is that you will get benefits with the Frequent Flier Club, which you are already getting. And that is a great privilege which is why we need to call this out in our email to you. Further, we have understood from our experience that the one key attribute required to succeed is “nerves of steel”. Not knowledge, not experience, not customer service, not operating excellence, but “nerves of steel”. We have got all employees grafted with this key attribute. So now, as a logical conclusion, we are bound to restore our position of excellence in the sky. Which we have never held in the past. You may also need them (nerves of steel) if you fly with us, we might add.)

My team joins me in thanking you once again for your loyalty and patience.

Unquote

After having read through the email section by section, I feel bad for the investors and management of the company.

Is this a sincere but misguided effort at building customer loyalty?

Or is this a planned and meticulously worded effort at eroding whatever little customer loyalty remained?

Or is this an email which actually helps in enhancing customer loyalty, which I suspect was the original purpose of the email?

What do you think? This could be used as a case-study in customer communication.