The MMO Customer Service Problem

The difference between "customer service" and "customer support": Are MMO publishers falling short?

In late July, a number of World of Warcraft subscribers tried logging into the game, only to discover that their accounts had been suspended. You might remember reading our coverage of the Blizzard "chargeback mess;" a story that circled that blogosphere, mainly as second-page news. Since then, there's been some progress made in untangling the situation—or, at least, a revised statement from Blizzard, finally. The story had the unintentional side-effect of bringing the issue of Blizzard's customer support out of the shadows once again for its semi-annual, public flogging.

The concept of "MMO customer service" is one that's always perplexed me. Obviously, it's something I think about when I encounter my own problems, whether it's an in-game or billing issue. Beyond my personal experience, I've read countless scathing testimonies and damning articles about customer service in the MMO industry, or more appropriately, the lack thereof.

In fact, there's only one industry that comes to mind when I try to think of something worse: the cell phone market. Does "customer service" even exist in the world of MMOs, or has the concept actually devolved into what we know as "customer support"? These days, I feel a heck of a lot more like a "subscriber" than a "customer" in the eyes of my game publishers. And maybe that's a big part of the problem.

"Subscriber" and "customer;" what's the difference, anyway? Technically, there is none—it's just semantics, I suppose. But ideologically, I think there's a big difference; and it's one of the main reasons why MMO publishers—especially the larger ones—are falling short.

Last spring, WoW.com featured an article that exposed Blizzard Entertainment's "F" rating by the Los Angeles division of the Better Business Bureau, a widely-known non-profit agency developed to monitor and report on the business practices of companies:

[…] our favorite game developer has earned an F. The BBB says that they've been given this rating "for reasons such as that they have failed to respond to complaints, their advertising is grossly misleading, they are not in compliance with the law's licensing or registration requirements, their complaints contain especially serious allegations, or the company's industry is known for its fraudulent business practices." Ouch.

Since then, Blizzard's rating has reached a "B;" an accomplishment that was probably influenced by the publicity that surrounded the old rating. But, on the other hand, you can just as easily argue that the reason its score lowered to an "F" last spring was because of an uneven ratio of reporting parties. After all, people usually don't seek out the BBB to submit a report when they're happy with a company's service.

At the time, I didn't find the story surprising. While I realize that a few thousand complaints don't  represent even one percent of WoW's subscriber base, I still found Blizzard's BBB rating indicative—on the micro level, at least—of a growing trend in MMO customer dissatisfaction. Generally, this would be the point at which I'd link a few forum testimonials or customer rants as proof, but c'mon…do you really need them? We've all seen it, dozens of times, scattered throughout a publisher's official forums or on fansites; pages of QQ,(What is QQ?) diatribes of frustration and players atop virtual soapboxes explaining how a "real" company should treat its customers.

The real issue isn't the BBB score back in April, nor is it exclusive to Blizzard and World of Warcraft. Blizzard just happens to be the easiest to target because it owns the lion's share of the market. The truth is that any game company can be guilty of providing shoddy customer service to its player base, no matter how small or large.

The problem is the difference between "customer service" and "customer support." There's a reason why many companies with under-staffed, under-trained or under-funded customer service departments slap the term "customer support" on a box or website; it doesn't imply the same entitlements. If there's a single adage that comes to mind when you think of customer service, it's most likely "The customer is always right."

Whether or not you were raised in a family or culture that taught you that ideal is irrelevant. As a subscriber of "MMO X", we are customers of the company that develops and publishes it. But far too often, I get the feeling that many of our favorite MMO companies have the notion that we're somehow privileged to play their products. While it's true that playing an MMO isn't an inherent "right" that we have, I think the industry has grown complacent from the success it's enjoyed throughout the past decade.

And we're all partly to blame for that. It's a product that usually provides us more fun than we're willing to part with, despite the problems we encounter. I don't think I'd be wrong if I guessed that many of us would keep playing, and paying for, an MMO even if an in-game CSR told us to go screw ourselves. Sure, we would probably complain—perhaps even demand that some sort of amends be made. But would the majority of players quit the game? Probably not; and that's something many of the big MMO companies have come to realize throughout the years. We will get angry, we will sometimes scream and yell…but, most of the time, we will come back for more.

All the meanwhile, product issues and problems that would never be tolerated in many other industries are overlooked and allowed to persist.

You don't have to look too far and wide to find instances of retailer neglect on the part of MMO publishers, whether it's innocent players caught in the crossfire by blanket bans, accidental and fraud-worthy billing problems or just plain old indifference on the company's part. But if you've never experienced a problem playing an MMO that required assistance from a CSR, you're not necessarily in the minority. Some people can play for years without even opening a single in-game support ticket, let alone dealing with the nightmare scenarios you read about online.

It's about the problems that do come up, though—or more specifically, how an MMO company chooses to confront the problem, as well as the customer. By now, you might be thinking that I have a major grudge against MMO companies, or a personal axe to grind. I promise you; I don't. I've dealt with my share of "hiccups" throughout the years, but for the most part, my own MMO gaming history has been relatively stress-free.

It's the complacency that bothers me; this whole new trend of MMO companies leaning further toward customer resolution than customer satisfaction. The fact that a successful MMO company might have to deal with thousands of "support" issues on a daily basis shouldn't excuse that company from treating every player like a customer, instead of a subscriber ID.

Comments

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Be honest
# Aug 19 2009 at 6:19 PM Rating: Decent
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1,121 posts
While I do agree that the disintegration of customer service is as much related to whining and the unrealistic demands of a selfish society, I also feel that customer service as a whole does all of us a disservice by simply not being straight with us. They give us a pat, canned answer and say "Is there anything else I can help you with?" or "Have I answered all of your questions today?" No, you have not, but unfortunately, that's all I'm going to get from you.

Now, as with the person who wrote the article, I have to say that I also have never had a bad experience with Blizzard's Customer Service/Support. They have always been nice, helpful and honestly wanted to solve my problem. Of course, I was nice to them, so it sets the tone. If you are nasty right off the bad... well, having worked in Customer Service, I can tell you that takes the care right out of them. It's really hard to want to help someone who's calling you names and demanding you "Fix my problem now!"

Where I do have a problem is with lack of communication. Most of the time I see this on the forums. The trends I've noticed:

- Reported a problem that I felt didn't warrant a ticket because it wasn't "urgent" only to have fall into a dark hole.
- Multiple people report a problem and a Blue responds with "thank you for bringing this to our attention, we'll look into it" only to have it fall into a dark hole.
- Tell you they are aware of it and working on a solution but never tell you what that might be or when it might occur.
- They tell you what's wrong with your system and what to do to fix the problem on your end.

This last one is the worse, in my opinion. I'm fairly computer literate, but I'd be willing to be that the average player can barely find the on switch. Don't tell them to go in and monkey with settings. Don't tell them to disable their anti-virus software (if they even have any). If more than one person has reported the problem, it's the company's problem, not the customer. Find a solution, tell people what you are going to do about it, and do it.
____________________________
emmitsvenson wrote:
Blizzard IT people don't get paid $50k a month (or whatever) to make sure one guy in Bumblehump, Nebraska can kick a Murloc on Tuesday morning.
great article
# Aug 19 2009 at 11:02 AM Rating: Decent
1 post
Great article! And, by the way, QQ = crying eyes
Someone needs to tell the author about SE's customer service
# Aug 19 2009 at 9:58 AM Rating: Good
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1,615 posts
Theres also Square-Enix's less than stellar customer service to take into account.

Why yes we CAN and WILL ban you without cause and not listen to any reasoning that you may give as to why you're not an RMT. Our banning program is working as intended.
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Support Experience
# Aug 19 2009 at 6:34 AM Rating: Good
45 posts
I can actually attest to the quality of Blizzard support. Right after the refer-a-friend program came out, I managed to convince a friend to start playing again. (They'd been on a 10-day trial about a month before and never converted to paying.) Got them logged in, added the game time card (a little gift from moi), looked for the rewards...

...waited...

...waited...

Two days later, I finally contacted support. As it turned out, it wasn't enough to start /paying/ after the program started, the referral had to take place after the program started. We were out the game purchase, 2 months of game time, and the wasted days.

Just kidding!

The support folks were great. They told us that, while they couldn't fix the existing account, they'd be glad to move the game key and game time to a new account. All we had to do was send a new referral, create the new account, and hand over the two usernames. They had it fixed less than 24 hours later.

Sure, I wish they'd been clearer in the FAQ of the program, so we could have done the new referral to begin with. But that's a different group altogether. The support team was both polite, understanding, and supportive in bringing us to a happy conclusion.
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d'Jang'ai'alarion
That was a bit misleading
# Aug 19 2009 at 5:14 AM Rating: Good
Scholar
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777 posts
Blizzard historically had a consistant B rating with the BBB.

The incident involving the F rating was after Blizzard made a sweeping ban of Botters inmasse. Over in one of the major botting forums, they decided to do an organized attack on the BBB (lol?), which lead Blizzard to temporarially drop to an F rating, and several hundred complaints were lodged within 1-2 days.

Blizzard's score was reverted back to a B rating after the BBB acknowledged the attack, and all of those fake negative reports were thrown out.

So Blizzard has never been considered by the BBB to be a bad company.
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Unfortunate realities
# Aug 18 2009 at 4:17 PM Rating: Excellent
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104 posts
"Customer Satisfaction" is a nice goal. It comes from a time when customers were willing to be "satisfied" - as opposed to insisting that their every wish and whim be provided. Since it is impossible for Blizz (or any other company) to 'satisfy' 10+ Million people with conflicting whims, I think "Customer support" is a realistic goal.

I have never been 'ignored' by Blizz. I treat them with respect and humor, they treat me likewise. I don't always like the answer - sometimes, neither do they. They do what they are reasonably able. I have, on several occasions, reported issues/bugs just to provide the info, with a note specifying that I do not require GM contact - and still receive a whisper or an e-mail acknowledging the communciation and letting me know that it has been received and will be examined.

- Do I think that the concept of customer service has changed? Absolutely.
- Do I think that only the companies are responsible for that? Not a chance. Whinging, self-centered, foul-mouthed, abusive customers have a role in that shift as well.
- Do I think it is worse with MMOs than in some other areas? Yes - but not because the companies take a diffferent approach. Rather, because the user base seems to be a bit more self-centered, incapable of thinking of anything but their own interests, and unhappy with anything but instant gratification.
- Do I think Blizz does a bad job of it? I can find 1,000 horror stories - which, out of 10+ million is a pretty small percentage, and still leaves Blizz a good grade. Certainly I have never experienced one of those horror stories. I have used the in and out of game support systems multiple times without ever having a bad experience. I am respectful and realistic - and so are they. I read the descriptions of those '1,000' and I have to wonder how much of the 'miserable' experience has to do with the customer support, and how much to do with the customer - their approach, their "request", their manner, and their ability to work with realistic expectations.


The only bad experiences I have had - have been with other players.
Unfortunate realities
# Aug 18 2009 at 7:52 PM Rating: Decent
Sage
*
77 posts
yea sounds about right, most people think they always know best even when it comes to the complicated in depth systems that blizzard runs how many times have you seen people saying "just upgrade your system" in reply to the issue about the instance cap when really it is nowhere near that simple. In reality you cant satisfy everyone...as much as im sure they wish they could i dont even think it is really that much worse in mmo's its more a matter of how many other places have millions of customers to satisfy? the few that do would be able to at least change it for each area but wow is in essence the same game around the world (with the exception of china) so it makes it very difficult to keep everyone satisfied then there is the "hardcore vs casual" rift which is growing ever further as well as "pvp vs pve" yet another rift growing further it makes it very difficult to keep everyone happy and to treat it all fairly so i think blizzard do a very good job with limited resources (dont even try to say they should employ more staff...they would spend a fortune on maintaining the servers and staff already not to mention upgrades plus diablo 3 and starcraft 2)
Thank you
# Aug 18 2009 at 2:56 PM Rating: Good
Scholar
44 posts
Thank you for reporting this issue to us. Upon investigation, however, we find that our customer support is working as intended. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. We will be sure to send you this same exact response again.
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agree
# Aug 18 2009 at 2:40 PM Rating: Decent
Sage
*
77 posts
although i have to agree with a lot of what is said i also agree with jakerp and i also would like to point out that those "nightmare scenarios" actually arent that common, its just because of how bad they are that they are so prominent, a lot of the people that talk about it say that it happened to a friend which usually means "i read about it somewhere". Whenever i have submitted a ticket in WoW its always been answered quickly (or at least as quickly as you can expect with a player base so big), easily and kindly. they have always been very polite and nice and tried to help me as much as they can. at least its real people actually trying to help you and not minding a bit of joking around. as long as you are polite to them they will be polite back but if you start to swear at them if they cant help you (because they dont feel like losing a job) then you are gonna expect a little less politeness.
Customer Support
# Aug 18 2009 at 2:24 PM Rating: Good
42 posts
Sad to say that WoW customer service is still one of the best in the MMO industry. Many other MMO game customer service do not even answer I still have many of my characters at the Age of Conan that fall trough textures are stuck permanently totally stopping my ability to play AoC and Eidos customer service never answered to me not even after 5-6 complains and after I waited weeks in real time logging in every day just to check if they have unstuck my characters.

What comes to EVE online customer service and developers they have got caught playing their own game and giving best blue prints to their favorite corporations and they banned peoples who reported this issue to their subscribers and censorship all discussion about in their forum and it is their corporate policy not to answer to any petitions about it.

At least Blizzard customer service answers and tries to do something from EVE online I have got auto replies that they have just closed my petition without ever even explaining why they don’t handle my issues or what they did to my issue. It is just very irritating to get auto reply that petition is closed it looks that they don’t care or won’t do anything. This kinds of things never happened in WoW. This is probably why I have closed all my other MMO subscriptions and continued playing WoW.

Customer Support
# Aug 19 2009 at 6:09 PM Rating: Decent
***
1,121 posts
While I do agree that the disintegration of customer service is as much related to whining and the unrealistic demands of a selfish society, I also feel that customer service as a whole does all of us a disservice by simply not being straight with us. They give us a pat, canned answer and say "Is there anything else I can help you with?" or "Have I answered all of your questions today?" No, you have not, but unfortunately, that's all I'm going to get from you.

Now, as with the person who wrote the article, I have to say that I also have never had a bad experience with Blizzard's Customer Service/Support. They have always been nice, helpful and honestly wanted to solve my problem. Of course, I was nice to them, so it sets the tone. If you are nasty right off the bad... well, having worked in Customer Service, I can tell you that takes the care right out of them. It's really hard to want to help someone who's calling you names and demanding you "Fix my problem now!"

Where I do have a problem is with lack of communication. Most of the time I see this on the forums. The trends I've noticed:

- Reported a problem that I felt didn't warrant a ticket because it wasn't "urgent" only to have fall into a dark hole.
- Multiple people report a problem and a Blue responds with "thank you for bringing this to our attention, we'll look into it" only to have it fall into a dark hole.
- Tell you they are aware of it and working on a solution but never tell you what that might be or when it might occur.
- They tell you what's wrong with your system and what to do to fix the problem on your end.

This last one is the worse, in my opinion. I'm fairly computer literate, but I'd be willing to be that the average player can barely find the on switch. Don't tell them to go in and monkey with settings. Don't tell them to disable their anti-virus software (if they even have any). If more than one person has reported the problem, it's the company's problem, not the customer. Find a solution, tell people what you are going to do about it, and do it.

The customer isn't always right. But they are the customer.
____________________________
emmitsvenson wrote:
Blizzard IT people don't get paid $50k a month (or whatever) to make sure one guy in Bumblehump, Nebraska can kick a Murloc on Tuesday morning.
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