27 February, 2007
Matt Mihaly posted a blog entry about poor CS on an airline. The airline basically screwed over a vacation he was looking forward to because the airline couldn’t find a crew for the flight he had signed up for. Matt took the opportunity to opine about how CS should be more important than it is. Even a little thing like extending some common courtesy over his plight would have helped.
Of course, I had to be the wet blanket and tell everyone that customer service doesn’t matter.
Of course, I sympathize with Matt completely. I’ve been in a similar situation where the airline, United, screwed up and I was stuck in the airport for half a day because a flight just didn’t happen. I was on my way to a conference with my better half when this happened. We had stayed up late to catch an early fight out and get to the conference a day early. We’d be able to relax a bit, catch up on sleep, and finish up a bit of work she needed to do in order to present her artwork at the conference. Unfortunately, the delay ruined all those plans. In the end we got in after midnight instead of about noon and had to stay up most of the night cutting mat board for her artwork. She went to hang her artwork early in the morning and we slept through the first day of Gen Con. :( We received almost no compensation for our trouble short of a $100 certificate towards purchasing another flight. Like I wanted to fly with United again soon after that!
So, here’s the first problem with expecting good CS from an industry like the airlines: no airline gives truly exceptional service anymore. Every airline has cut service to a bare minimum in order to cut costs. (Boy, was I cranky the first time I flew Midwest Express after learning that they were no longer offering their exceptional meals.) Companies have to deal with the new reality: that most travelers could care less about customer service and will simply find the cheapest fare online and buy it. (Until, of course, they realize they need the good CS to resolve their problem….) People have said they care only about price, not about any other issue, and the airlines have listened.
There is the exception to the rule: if you fly first class I imagine you get a bit better service. But, that’s what you get when you spend 2-3 times as much on your ticket as the peasants in the back. As always, money changes the rules.
So, what does this have to do with Shadowb…er, online games? Well, you can draw the obvious parallels: people don’t really care about CS, they care about price. If CS were really that vital, people would be happy to pay more for better service. But, people seem pretty vocal about not wanting to pay more for online games. $15 is a princely sum, thanks, and I doubt a game charging $100/month but offering top-level CS would be very successful. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to risk to prove this assertion, but I will happily look on anyone else that does. ;)
Further, most people don’t care about CS. As I posted in a comment on Matt’s blog:
People generally fall into three categories for CS: 1. They require none, 2. They require a little, 3. They require almost constant hand-holding.
For people in category 1 above, your CS doesn’t matter at all. I could have cared less about CS when I was playing DAoC back in the day, because I didn’t need much help; the problems I did have I fixed myself using in-game resources. Most people actually fall into this category from my experience and the data I’ve seen.
Category 3 above are likewise small, but they aren’t really using CS as CS. They’re often lonely people that just want to hear someone’s voice. Even if you had the absolute best CS in the world, these people would still call up because your CS members can’t provide the help they actually need. (And, if they do, that’s generally grounds for being fired! ;) These people are, frankly, unprofitable given the amount of resources they chew up. Honestly, it’s often better to refuse service to these people while recommending they seek professional help.
That leaves category 2 above. This is, likewise, a small group. This is the group where CS matters, but not as much as you might think. I fell into this category in WoW when I screwed up using the game interface [and sold some items I meant to repair. A CSR eventually got back to me and gave me back items that weren't exactly what I had lost]. However, note that I didn’t quit after my poor experience; so poor CS did not affect how much money I gave to Blizzard. No, it was when my friends left the game that I left the game myself.
So, in reality, we only need good CS to deal with a small group of people. Categories 1 and 3 above don’t really care about the quality of CS. And, people in category 2 tend to be very forgiving. As I admit myself, even when I needed the CS I didn’t quit over poor service. I continued to play the game for months afterward, even!
What’s really telling is how people react when I say that CS doesn’t matter. They usually say, as Andrew Crystall commented on the same thread:
Anyway, if I get repeated bad service, I simply won’t use that company again. And I’m prepared to go to what some people would see as an amazing amount of trouble to do that. For things like internet buying, 1 bad experience means no more dealing with that company. And I can hold a grudge for a loong time in these cases.
Not to pick on Andrew because he’s a generally good guy, but he does make my point: he doesn’t say that he rewards companies with good CS with repeat business. Instead, he says he’ll punish a company with bad CS by withdrawing his business. So, really, all a company has to do is provide the minimum level of CS he doesn’t consider “bad” and they’ll keep him as a customer and derive a maximum amount of profit. Of course, most people (including me!) are this way as well. So, there are many other issues that are more important to CS to retain us in games.
In the end, CS does not matter as much as some people think it should. I’m not happy about this, but it’s the reality of the situation.
Additional Note: I figure I should add some words of explanation here in case someone stumbles across this in the future. As I point out in that last sentence, I don’t really like the fact that CS isn’t important. I also point out in the blog post linked above that the majority of Meridian 59‘s expenses go to paying our few CSRs; in fact, they are currently making money whereas I am not taking a paycheck from the company. Also, in the current project I’m working on, my boss has publicly disagreed with my assertions; I have only very minor influence in how the CS team will be set up. So, when the CS in a future project invariably has some aspects that someone doesn’t like, this post should not be used as a vector of attack. (Oh, but I know it will.)