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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Aggro Service

"I prithee, remember I have done thee worthy service,
told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, serv’d
without grudge or grumblings."

-Ariel, The Tempest, Act I Scene II, William Shakespeare

This post is just about MMO customer service in general and is not by any means EQII-specific. To be honest, I've never contacted customer service in any game so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. With that glowing intro, read on!

The Present

Do you ever get a non-macro form letter response from a GM? Do you ever get any actual human interaction whatsoever? Have you ever gotten an actual positive result to a petition or other query?

Getting a polite but generic response with no resolution only serves to make people angry. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little to make a point but my view on current customer service in MMO's is that it's just a complete waste of money. It serves very little purpose and it likely costs quite a bit.

The way I see it you have two roads to go down:

Route A

Spend a ton more money on CS. Bring back personal interaction and employ skilled and knowledgeable GM's who have the tools and ability to react to actual specific situations. Have them converse with players in non-macro responses and resolve issues. Surprise players with fantastic service.


Route B

Spend a ton less money on CS. Sound crazy? Maybe so, but what if you automate everything? I've been trying to think of typical CS issues.

Improper names: Could be sent to a giant list that one person could go through once a week or more frequently. Does not require actual interaction.

Improper language or harassment issues: Could be sent to a list that one person could go through. This person would have to review chat logs and make a determination so it would take a lot more time. But again, does not require actual interaction.

Stuck Characters: Could be completely automated with a /stuck command of some kind that had several measures to prevent exploiting of said command.

"I lent such-and-such item to so-and-so and now they won't give it back": This is never going to be resolved in your favor anyway so there's no point answering it.

Quest Issues (i.e. problems with the wording of a quest or steps which are bugged in certain situations): A GM is never going to help you with this so the forums are probably a better place for it anyway.

Farmers & Exploiters: Automated tools which raise red flags based on certain parameters and allow for batch bannings seem to be the wave of the future rather than just going after individuals based on a player's report. And they're probably far more effective.

"The server crashed when I was about to kill X" : You're not going to get resolution to this currently anyway.

I'm sure there are a ton more I'm missing but you get the idea. Wipe out as many customer service issues as possible on the design end and then automate the rest.

Now, in a vacuum, I would probably choose A. Who wouldn't? But what if I said you could only have half as much new content due to budgetary restrictions if you chose A? Would you still want it? What if I told you that you could have fifty percent more new content if you chose option B? Would you go for that? Or would you prefer the current system?

Of course, there is no way to say that companies which minimize CS spending are going to put that money back into the game. And maybe we're already at System B and everything is as automated as possible.

A combination could be good, if you were able to automate as much as possible and then use the money to hire highly skilled GM's with proper tools. Maybe that's the way it works already. I really don't know. I only formed my opinion on this by reading various game forums and obviously forum posters are going to be far more inclined to post negative outcomes.

I do know that expectations and opinions about customer service in many games seem quite low. Maybe that will always be the case and there's no point trying. Or maybe people will gravitate to games which have terrific customer service. I just don't know how important it is to people. Is it a luxury or a necessity? A strong selling point or an added bonus? Any ideas?

I'm guessing there's a tipping point of sorts at which customer service is so terrible that people will avoid that company entirely. And conversely, there is also a tipping point where customer service is so great that it will actually increase new subscriptions and retention. I'd say you want to either be just above the negative outcome or just above the positive one and not blandly sit in the middle. But perhaps it's more an issue of degrees.

And perhaps those tipping points can be mitigated by other factors such as a very well run forum, articulate and honest devs and a fantastic community (which EQII, for example, has). Or by an in-game help system which actually helps players (which EQII does not have - it's perfect technically but substantively lacking).

It does seem like customer service in the so-called "real world" has gone downhill in the past few years based on my personal dealings with companies like Dell or Verizon. Will MMO's follow this trend or buck it? Or am I just being nostalgic for some "golden age" of customer service which never really existed?

And let me pause here to say that MMO customer service sounds like a tough and thankless job. You probably deal with a lot of repetition and a lot of argumentative and, let's be fair, flat-out idiotic people. So perhaps retaining the kind of highly skilled and motivated employees needed for Route A is simply impossible. And while I've been knocking form letter responses, they do provide consistency, which is an important part of the customer service picture.

As of now, customer service has never really been a factor as to my decision about whether to play a game or not or how much I enjoy it. But it's one of those things where if you do need it, you really want it to be there. And be effective.

For me, it's a very tough issue. I guess I should /petition it.

Edit: Good news - the terrific audio tradeskill segments on EQ2-Daily by Vaddir I mentioned yesterday are now available as a single file. They contain excellent information presented in a clear and entertaining manner and you can listen to them while you're harvesting. So check them out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

SOE, at least with EQ2, seems to be heading more down the path of Route A, believe it or not. At Fan Faire the devs mentioned that there is a dedicated team that receives economy and other info about the servers on an hourly basis, which allows them to detect and deal with farmers much more rapidly and effectively than before.

There was also an announcement on the forums that with LU24 GMs would have the ability to reset instanced zone timers, for those cases when a crash or other bug dumped a group/raid out of a zone and the timer is now set to five days.

One of my guildies was on a raid the other day, and the master chest that dropped from the final mob was stuck in a wall, and they couldn't get to it. They /petitioned, not really expecting much help. The GM answered after the chest had decayed, and had no way to find out what had been in the chest. My guildy asked if the GM could create a master chest. After the GM confirmed that everyone who had been on the raid was still there and in the raid, he appeared in game and generated a new chest for them.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Aggro Me said...

Great info, thanks for the comment.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

I work in customer service myself (not game related--I work for a major publisher of children's books) and I have been on both sides of the fence with regards to customer service. It can be a tricky business. There are some things customers can do to help insure that their problems are resolved.

First, don't call when you are angry. Anger tends to make things more difficult for the customer service representative and only makes resolving the issue that much more difficult. Second, keep in mind that it isn't personal. Companies do not target customers just to mistreat them or give them a hard time. Quite simply, mistakes happen and when they do most companies will try to resolve the issue. Above all else, the customer service rep is most likely not responsible for the problem and is there to try to help you with it. Third, be prepared. Outline the problem in as much depth as you can and concisely as you can. Keeping these three things in mind, one can make his or her experience with customer service that much easeir.

At any rate, I do think there are a lot of companies that could do a lot better at customer service. I remember a few years back that a friend had to contact Dell Customer Service. It wasn't a pleasant experience. I've just been lucky in that the companies that I do business with have fairly good customer service (Napster is excellent).

3:35 PM  
Blogger E. Swartz said...

C) [GM]Dave

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should take a look at Anarchy Online. Funcom, being Norwegian, is able to have volunteer customer service like EQ and UO used to. Instead of 20-30 GMs, you've got about 200-300 volunteers, most of whom are very friendly.

As with anything else, there's the bad eggs, but by and large, the customer service team in AO is one of the game's largest strengths.

11:50 PM  
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