Customer Service in the 21st Century

Customer Service in the 21st Century

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 in Editorial

Customer-Service-WordcloudI beg the pardon of those who’ve heard me go on about this for a few days now, but I’d like to talk about customer service and expectations in the Internet Age.

For those of you old enough to remember, customer service was limited to a sales associate, someone at the returns counter, or someone on the other end of the 1-800 number listed in the manual. If you ever had a problem with a good or a service, your options were limited by the amount of time you could spend with someone who might be able to help you. If you wanted to find an item, the sales associate could help. If you wanted to return something, the person at the service desk could help. If you needed to order a missing part of straighten out an account, the 1-800 number representative could help. The biggest issue with this setup was that if you couldn’t get your issue straightened out while you were talking with the customer service person, there was very little additional recourse. There was no escalation, and because everything was done face-to-face (or face-to-telephone-receiver), there was practically no paper trail to refer to for your experience.

The best — and worst — part of the 21st century Internet culture is that customer service has become a stand-alone industry. If you’re selling something, then customer service should be standing shoulder to shoulder with consideration on how to handle distribution and delivery, manufacturing, and compensation for employees. We’ve got an unprecedented level of consumer-producer interaction through websites and social media. “Off-shoring” allows any company to set up service centers around the globe so that customer service is a 24 hour gig now, and sub-industries exist strictly to create and support “customer relation management” (CRM) software that helps producers foster better, quicker, and more reliable relationships with their patrons.

All of this wonderful power has made us expectant, though. We’ve come to assume that the “always on” economy means that we should never have to wait longer than an average attention span for feedback on our customer service requests. Email is instant. Posting a ticket to a support website takes no time at all. Social media is practically in real time. Consumers want satisfaction when they have issues, and while the Internet can provide the cannon from which rapid responses can be fired, companies aren’t always up to the challenge of being able to light the fuse.

*   *   *

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I’m really enjoying Skyforge. I figured that since I spent money on ArcheAge and didn’t care for it, buying into SF was a no-brainer.

On Tuesday morning I purchased the “Wardens of the Wasteland” collector’s edition from their website. That night, I logged into the game, ready to take advantage of the boosts that came with the purchase. However, I didn’t see any CE applied to my account. I went to the website to check the store page, because when I had made the purchase earlier, the “Buy” button had turned to an “Acquired” label. This time, however, the button only said “Buy”. I had the PayPal receipt so I know the transaction went through…where was my product? I filed a ticket through’s support site, and continued to investigate on my own, searching through the forums and their anemic self-serve support site.

It dawned on me that I had once logged into the site and the game two different ways. The first — how I had been playing SF — was using an email address-based login for a account. The other method had been to log in using my Twitter account. Everything I had been investigating was done under the account, so I logged out, logged back in with Twitter, and re-traced my steps. Sure enough, the store page said “Acquired” on the CE details page. I had made the purchase under the wrong account.

I updated my ticket with this information, and asked if there was any way I could get the CE switched to my “proper” account, or if not, could I be issued a refund so I could make the purchase on the proper account?

Here it is on Thursday morning, and I have yet to receive a response.

*   *   *

Is it wrong for me to expect a resolution in the span of two days? I’m generally an easy-going guy when it comes to turning these kinds of wheels. I understand that a ticket system available to thousands or millions of users is going to get swamped for all kinds of reasons, and the only recourse is to wait patiently for my name to be called. Ordinarily I’d be content to just play the game and hope I get a response in a timely manner. So expecting a resolution? I think it’s fair to allow time for a resolution. A response, however? Yes, I would expected to have received a response long before now, even just a “we’re looking into it” canned response would suffice.

There’s two factors at play here. The first is that I’m “burning daylight”, so to speak. The CE comes with 60 days of “premium time”, which boosts the loot rate needed to advance characters. The second is more ephemeral, and that’s comparing this experience to past experiences I’ve had with other companies.

Generally, my customer service experiences with game service companies have been positive. I’ve had responses in a matter of hours, even when I expected significant longer lead times (Wildstar, World of Warcraft). I’ve had dire situations where I was almost banned from a game, but had the decision reversed and all marks against me expunged when I explained my situation (Defiance and streaming through EA’s Origin client). In most cases I steel myself for a wait of several days, or to have my requests denied, but almost every time I’ve been giddy with surprise. When I want to sit down and play but can’t because of some situation that requires customer service intervention, it’s pleasant to know that companies are standing by to make sure that my lock-out-time is as short as possible, are reasonable, and flexible on the information (not always comprehensive) that I can provide.

Is it fair to compare how one company performs to the past performances of other companies? Absolutely. These companies do not operate in a vacuum. They are all basically small cogs in a universal machine of online gaming. Consumers are spoiled in many respects in that we have an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to choosing which game or games we want to play; we can be as picky as we like and not worry that we’ll check-box ourselves out of options.

That includes customer service experiences. Ideally, we’d never have to use customer service, and most of the time customer service plays no part in our enjoyment of a game. When we do need to use it, however, I suspect everyone’s experience starts out the same: we gird ourselves for battle with intractable representatives who put the company ahead of the consumer and make our lives difficult in the hopes we’ll go away without costing the company anything. Most of the time it’s not that bad, I’d wager, and we’re at least satisfied with our outcome if not entirely with our experience.

But the best experiences don’t just solve our problems; they make us into repeat customers. Companies live and die based on repeat customers. Loyal customers who like the product can be loyal because of the product, but you never know how loyal until they have to use the customer service system. The experience that a person has with a representative or a process can erode even the most stalwart fan of a company. Just one bad experience can sour a person on a company for a long time, possibly even forever. Since we’ve been trained to not expect a good experience when we have to engage support, we’re so much more receptive to good or great support when we get it. Conversely, we’re also more willing to hold a company in contempt when we feel that we’re getting the run-around, if we get anything at all.

That also sets a bar, and this is where the question of fairness comes into play. Should all companies be judged by a “gold standard” of customer support? Again, absolutely. We’ve got choices, and when we feel like we’re not being taken care of, when we feel that a company is lax in responding to our problems with their product or service, then we as consumers have the right and possibly the obligation to help the industry “normalize” it’s relationship structure with consumers by supporting companies that value their consumers, and taking business from companies which have systems or cultures that allow customer issues to fall through the cracks. I’m purposefully trying to be diplomatic here: I do not believe we should default to “punish all transgressions” in a show of verbal violence. I’d rather companies that cannot keep up be made aware that better care is expected of them, and one way to do that is to take business to companies that can be held up as examples.

I’m hoping that responds to my ticket before the end of the week. I suspect I have three options in this situation. The first and best is that responds to my ticket soon, moves the CE to the proper account, or refunds me the cost. For that I could forgive a delay, and would gladly re-purchase the CE. The second and less palatable option would be to have to abandon my progress on my main account and start over on the secondary account. I’d still play, but I would be less than happy about it and would hope that I’d never have to contact their customer service department again. The third and most painful option would be to seek restitution through PayPal, shut down my SF accounts (if possible), and stop playing in protest. That I would rather not do. I accept that with my modus operandi SF will not be on my radar forever; I had hoped to get at least 60 days of enjoyable, stress free Premium gameplay from this purchase, but the longer this process takes, the less likely that is to happen.