Despite the name of this post, and the stories I’ll share with you below, I’m not here to say that Star Wars: The Old Republic is a bad company that hates their customers.

I think I’ll be able to prove that I have a completely different point by the end of the post.

I’ve been hearing stories since SW:TOR was released of players having problems getting issues resolved through customer support channels. I haven’t paid too much attention to it, for a number of reasons.

In short, every game has issues, there are a ridiculous number of computer hardware and software platforms out there people expect to work just spiffy right out the gate, and, well, a lot of people out there seem to feel entitled to have any big company bend over and drop trou for a royal ass humping if the customer perceives their expectations were not properly met in the right length of time. I expect to hear people whine about customer service. Always.

Doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

In the last week,  a great blogger brought her experience with SW:TOR customer service front and center. She put a face on it, patiently went over the entire situation, and right from the start her experience has been just, well, it was complete fucking bullshit.

I’m not going to summarize her story. You’re all capable of navigating links, so here is the one to her site, where the entire story is now up in three sections and, thankfully, has a resolution that eventually completed it to Battlechicken’s satisfaction.

http://battlechicken.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/swtor-my-unexplained-ban-a-cautionary-tale/

Like I said, I’m not going to rehash the entire story, Battlechicken already related everything in fine style.

The main point I’m carrying away from what happened, is that Bioware has a process to find people violating their terms of service. Their system found Battlechicken to be in violation, and they closed her account for a week and sent her an email to say what they did, and why, but not what the actual offending issue was.

They used an automated process to find people guilty of things they don’t like, and when names were provided by this system, they banned them as a warning as well as a notification.

Battlechicken was presumed guilty until and unless SHE could prove her innocence to THEM… but they wouldn’t tell her what she was guilty OF.

It has now been resolved, and they are so very, very sorry.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe for a second, after the number of automated responses Battlechicken received telling her that the ban was investigated and confirmed as correct and proper and she was at fault, that this would have been resolved properly if Battlechicken didn’t have a blog, was eloquent in describing in detail what had happened, and that the story spread like wildfire.

This story has now been repeated back to me by people I swear don’t even know what blogs are. “Did you hear about the player Bioware banned and they won’t even tell her why, even after she begged them to give her any clue? Dude, how fucked up is that? Oh yeah, you violated our TOS, here’s week ban. Don’t do it again or we’ll permaban you. What did you do? I won’t tell you, just don’t do it again. Man, that’s some fucked up shit.”

That was a statement I actually heard said on vent last night, from someone in guild that brought the topic up completely on their own. This story has legs.

It’s nice they came back after the fact, and investigated, and oh yeah, we actually were in error, oops, sorry about that.

Would it have been nice if, when she emailed the first time pleading for some hint as to what she did wrong, somebody actuqally checked? Yes, of course. Either they didn’t check, indicating laziness, or they did check and didn’t do it WELL, indicating incompetence. Either way, yay.

I think it would have been best if, after the automated system threw up names of people in violation, a living person used their judgment to vet the responses before telling a paying customer “you are not welcome here, and I won’t tell you why.”

But that is an isolated incident, right?

How about this one, from the SW:TOR forums. I put a link, but in case it gets deleted from their forums, I’m also adding screenshots;

http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=465256

This really says it all, in short form. A Bioware GM was reportedly harassing players engaged in world PvP on a PvP server.

The 11th and last page of the thread is where those three Customer Service replies all come in, in sequence, I did not edit them.

It supports my greatest objection to what happened to Battlechicken. A problem happened that hurt a customer, the customer reported it, and the very first official response is to say “We have investigated it, and proven you were in the wrong, but we don’t have to show our proof because we are professionals and would never lie or do a half assed job, so trust us.”

I really have a problem with the sequence of events here. To assume the player is guilty, take or threaten action against the player, be very quick to support being right by claiming to have investigated the complaint and found nothing wrong, and then shutting down the conversation until so many other people take up the cry for deeper investigation that it becomes a stink to clear away.

If I have one message to offer Bioware Customer Support, it is this; Trust has to be earned.

If you take action against a paying customer of your product, you are perfectly in the right to do so. But if that customer asks for specifics as to what they did wrong to validate your denying them the service they are paying for, you cannot simply say “We checked, you were wrong, trust us” and expect anyone to buy that unless you have established a consistent record over time of being accurate and honest.

Bioware, you have so far failed to establish that relationship of trust based on competence and reliability.

You have been shown, and admitted publicly, that you have jumped to conclusions without having first established and verified all the facts concerning reported customer complaints. That is, um, not good.

There is a positive side to this. There is room for improvement, and if Bioware commits itself to learning from these issues and improves all these preocesses and how it handles customer complaints and investigations, the players will be forgiving… and will also forget.

I gots proof. :)

Let’s step back in time to 2007, shall we?

These days, I see Biowares customer service compared to Blizzard, and coming up short.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Blizzard customer support flat out sucked in EXACTLY the same manner as what we’re seeing from Bioware.

If you doubt me and think Blizzard has always loved and cared for it’s customers, let me slap that blinkered bullshit aside with a reminder of my own personal experience from back in the early says of World of Warcraft.

Here is a post I wrote in October of 2007, my own personal tale of woe about the time my account was hacked, my characters stripped and all my gear disenchanted, ALL WHILE I WAS PLAYING, and all on Christmas Eve of 2006;

http://thebigbearbutt.com/2007/10/22/apathy-inc-and-blizzard-customer-service/

If you read that account of what happened to me, you’ll see how I tried to resolve it at the time, how much info I had just waiting to provide, and what kind of responses I was getting at the time. Look at how long it took to get any kind of recovered gear, and oh, WHAT gear!

The main things that are interesting to note in how Blizzard treated me as someone who was hacked compared to Bioware, is that I posted my problem on the forums, and when I went back to see what the response was, I found my post was deleted. I was not allowed to have a voice that others could see. I camped the forums for a while, clearly having no life and obsessed with some kind of fascination with just how shitty Blizzard CS could be to their customers, and watched others post their stories of being hacked, pleading for help, only to refresh my screen and see them deleted as well.

Think about that. Blizzard was not only ignoring those of us reporting being hacked, they were actively seeking out the posts and deleting them so it LOOKED like there were no problems with hacking in their game.

So what is my point?

My point is, Blizzard’s customer service was far shittier to me than Bioware is being now, but in the years since those days they refined their processes, changed their focus to actively HELP people, and have done so with such quality and consistency over the years that i bet half the people who would read that old post of mine would think that I either made the whole thing up, would think that it was an isolated case, or think that I asked for it somehow. Blizzard has turned the entire thing around, so now people hold them up as a shining beacon of communication and customer service.

So when you look at Bioware now, don’t see them as what they are, and judge them forever based on it like I was doing to Blizzard back in 2007.

Bioware has every opportunity to see what they are doing, to face it, and to accept that they have to change for the better. If they do, if they don’t try to hide it but instead work on improving the way Blizzard did, this could change for them too.

But there is one thing I’d like to point out.

Bioware are openly admitting fault. Blizzard never, ever did that.

There is a reason why. It’s Public Relations in the world of the eternal internet.

If you screw up, and you do not acknowledge it in words but simply fix the problem silently, admit nothing and move on, people will bitch, but there will be no active proof that what somebody claims happened really happened.

If you put in words on the internet admitting that you fucked up, those words will live forever, and 10 years from now somebody will post an out of context screenshot just to use it to prove some point that had nothing to do with it except that a big company admitted they had once screwed up.

Bioware is being honorable after the fact. They are admitting in public, “Sorry man, we fucked up.” It’s nice, but it’s a bad move. They need to turn it around and be honorable BEFORE they ban people or threaten them.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. Start with taking reports seriously, don’t assume the customer is a lying, cheating weasel, investigate reports, remain open to the concept that you too are human and might have made a mistake, and even with all of the automated hands free money and salary saving systems in the world, backstop it with somebody with a few brain cells to rub together to doublecheck for accidents.

That accident? That was a customer.  Oops?

14 Responses to “Customer Service – Admit Nothing, Deny Everything”
  1. Grimmtooth says:

    One point I want to emphasize is that while we’re saying “guilty until proven innocent”, the reality is that you never get a CHANCE to prove the innocence! This is entirely true of Blizz CS at this very moment, by the way. They’ve improved in some areas, gotten worse in others. But they still have that damnable “we have investigated this and determined we are right so pack sand you cheating bastard.”

    EA/Bioware is in no wise alone in this sort of shabby excuse of customer service response.

    My question is this: how many people have also been improperly accused and penalized, that don’t have blogs on which to complain as loudly?

    • This is my biggest concern, and I told the SWTOR rep that repeatedly. I tried to hammer it at every point I could in the blog, comments, and Twitter. I don’t know that it will be enough, but I hope it’s something. No customer deserves to be treated badly; to be found guilty and have no voice to try to rectify it. I have seen a few people today say that they also experienced overturns, so I’m hoping maybe that’s a start.

      Also, this is a great point to make, uh, Mr. Butt (may I call you Mr. Butt? :-P). I don’t honestly like to make comparisons between WoW and SWTOR–or any other game for that matter–because the fact is that WoW has had 7 years to get it right (or, as Grimm pointed out, better in some areas). Granted, some things that Blizz learned, BioWare could learn from, but I’m sure they don’t sit around chatting about their customer service models. (Or maybe they do, after a few margaritas…)

      I honestly appreciate that they apologized. While re-checking my information was, without a doubt, coerced by the community, I felt like the apology I received today was genuine. It’s a start.

      “That accident? That was a customer. Oops?”
      ^ The one thing that really gave me hope that he wasn’t full of hot air was the statement he made about remembering that there are people behind the numbers. That’s the perspective they need.

  2. I think a problem here is that bioware have a very good reason not to give out any information about how they catch people. Coming at this from a IT sec point of view its a very reasonably action to take. However this makes proving innocence very hard.

    Its not a easy problem, help out your legitimate customers by talking to them at the expense of also helping the bad guys out? In the long run I feel that would hurt players a lot more than it would help them. While its easy to side on the side of helping the small guy when you look at a bad case, but what about the hundred of other times when someone who was guilty was caught, and then tried to get more information out of bioware/blizzard/etc?

    Granted this doesn’t mean you have to be a ass about it. People and programs make mistakes.

  3. sam says:

    The problem is that customer service people like everyone else are wired with the survival subroutine that requires you to remember the bad far easier than the good. So if you deal with 500 great customers a day and 20 stressed out screaming customers or people trying to cheat the system then those become the only ones you remember.
    Then a very normal but sick cycle starts, first you try to stop all the bad guys, then because your brain focuses on those people, you start thinking everyone is a bad guy, (because those jerks are the ones you are always thinking of), then you begin to believe that all people are bad if given the chance, then you start trying to stop everyone from screwing up your system.

    Then you have the normal customer support system that is set up to prevent the customer from screwing the system and it begins to hurt your company.

  4. Rizamp says:

    I have zero problems with Blizz’s CS these days. In Wrath one of my friends was in Iraq and got hacked. His account info was changed, his charactor had its name changed and was farming in Icecrown everyday. When I noticed, I emailed my buddy, he was able to get it fixed just over email from the sandbox. That was fairly amazingly good CS, and is one of the reasons I’m still a customer. While I don’t doubt that they used to be bad, at least they learned from their mistakes and fixed the problem.

  5. obscurefox says:

    I remember when Blizzard dealt with hacked accounts badly, when they did give my account back my main’s ( a priest) gear was gone and instead of the exact replacements of items, there was an assortment of random greens from the GM in the mailbox mostly of the whale and of the falcon, umm thanks, better then nothing I guess! My hunters, they never even got anything. ( although I did invent a fun form of self entertainment pretending they had been robbed and stranded , killing stuff and collecting gear from naked to get their lives back and stuff , I still will strand some unused alt, vender their gear and play this game with myself.) But one weird benefit was a 30 something druid with a regular mount and an epic mount in her bags, (couldn’t even ride them yet) oddly not naked that I hadn’t made on a server I didn’t play on sitting in Tanaris?! (level 40 plus zone) .

    So I certainly believe you about how it was. Blizzard had improved greatly I have no complaints lately I’m really glad Battlechicken got their incident resolved , one can feel pretty distressed and frustrated in that kind of situation.

  6. Matty says:

    Maybe the apology comes in the form of change? Kind of like a lie by omission, this is an attempt to reconcile by omission? Interesting philosophical debate. Maybe Blizz subscribes to my mother’s mission statement, never apologize, never explain (but loves us anyway)?

  7. Grimmtooth says:

    Really, readers of blogs like Consumerist are familiar with such trite phrases as “we’re taking this seriously” ad nauseum. What it comes down to is that talk is cheap. Unless EA/Bioware (and Activision/Blizz, and so forth) act on these trite talking points, it’s all smoke and mirrors. I genuinely hope that such episodes lead to actual change in a company’s policies and culture. Seeing first hand how hard it is to change a bad tech culture, that’s a daunting challenge! NOT insurmountable, however.

  8. Rowtan says:

    I had a remarkably similar problem with Curse, after they took over http://www.wowstead.com/- which is where, at the time, we had our guild website. Wowstead had been a lovely host – Curse just turned customer service around completely. Even when I pointed out they had accidentally released details of ALL of their customers in their standard website control panel, I got nothing. When I complained about other problems with their sites (in bug fix forums, etc, simply looking for work-arounds), my posts got deleted. When I asked why, I got banned from their forums; when I asked why I was banned from their forums they said I had posted against their ToU, yet refused to tell me how. They then banned me from my own guild website (luckily, by then, I’d managed to transfer most of it to another host) and from their ticketing system. To this day I still don’t know why I was banned. I’m pretty damned certain I did nothing against their rules – I was excessively polite, I had spent hours on their forums helping other customers – several times I received harrassing messages from their customer service team, only to receive apologies from another member afterwards.

    I realise this is slightly OT – but it is a horrible feeling. You start doubting yourself, you get very stressed and paranoid, you start wondering if you are a horrible, nasty, poisonous individual as they have suggested. It affects your online life, personal life and even work life.

    Customer Service people should understand that they are there for that purpose – to provide a service to the customer. If they can’t do that, then they’re in the wrong job.

    • Grimmtooth says:

      Culturally speaking, Curse offers up a whole new level of FUD (re the competing addon installer that I can’t quite remember), to the point that when they WERE unjustly accused of something (hosting viruses on the site), they crippled themselves with their bass-ackward attitude. They’re ridiculous.

      • Rowtan says:

        Yeah .. I can’t remember the name of the other addon installer now – I do remember that I preferred it though, especially to begin with because in the early days the Curse installer really buggered up my addons a few times. Now, of course, the fact that we can’t remember the name of the competition speaks volumes, and they have it right (although I wasn’t happy about the way it completely took over my computer to do an upgrade, earlier today).

        But looking at their wowstead forums, they still don’t appear to have a particularly thriving customer base – there aren’t a lot of posts on there, and you can inevitably find someone complaining about a problem they have brushed under the carpet for months. Their CS guys main weapon of choice is the locking of threads (when they don’t delete), which is really not the way to go – especially when they seem to wield that power with such gusto.

        Personally, I’m glad I bit the bullet and moved on (luckily just before I was pushed) – I just feel really sorry for the guys who hung on in there. I’m tempted sometimes to go and tell them there is an alternative, but I know that would be inviting more aggravation from the Curse/Wowstead guys, so just have to hope they work it out for themselves, in time.

  9. Bristal says:

    I do not disagree in spirit with how poorly these customer service debacles were handled, and how upsetting that can be. I was also hacked and banned in WoW, and it took multiple e-mails and phone calls over 5 days to resolve. What I do disagree with is the assumption that customers have a right to innocence until proven guilty. Absolutely not so.

    Businesses have a right to deny service for nearly any reason short of government imposed discrimination laws. Your constitutional rights do not follow you into Azeroth or Tattooine.

    Customer service is an operating expense to a business. A very expensive one. When future profits are uncertain, customer service is going to be cut.

    Poor customer service sucks and can sink a business. Remember that the next item you go to several electronics stores, pumping their paid staff for demos and information, then ordering the equipment from an internet clearing house to save 10 bucks. We reap what we sow.

    • Herr Drache says:

      Bristal,

      I understand your point when shopping – and I agree, you should buy where you got the best service or information. Don’t use the floor-techs/sales-reps and buy at acme.com ;)

      However, Azeroth or Tattooine, they’re in the customer service market. The game is their service, as is their support. It’s not as if I pay money for the CDs/DVDs, I pay money to get a service, and the provided service is the game. If I have problems with the game, then the support staff is supposed to help me, because, well, if I can’t get their service (play the game), then I’ll stop paying, I might rant, and odds are that at least one other person will stop being their customer as well.

      I understand that a lot (most?) complaints at that level are from “real” shady people who just want to see how far they can abuse the game. The problem are the “real” conned people who really are clueless about why they got banned etc. Tech support, customer support, end-user support, they’re all extremely frustrating and challenging areas (see Sam’s comment) – and trust me, I know first hand – including changing jobs because of the stress. The trick is how to handle those incidents. That’s what sets companies apart, and in the end, makes or breaks a customer-service oriented business.

      On another note, one of the most successful “sweep problems under the carpet” businesses would probably be Rolls Royce. From what I understand, there are no confirmable incidents on publicly accessible records of any Rolls ever having any kind of trouble or malfunction ;) Rumors say, though, that in the illusionary event that there may have been a hiccup, equally illusionary help arrived extremely quickly and effectively, so fast as if things never happened :)

  10. Xew says:

    Having been subject to (just a couple weeks ago with a hotmail account) hacking, I don’t understand the companies side of things. For instance, my hotmail account had a secondary account attached to it from China. Did the guy at MSN who got the request to change my password and associate the account with another from China not stop and go ‘hmm, this seems fishy.’ I know for damn sure when I tried to get it back, it was a bloody nightmare proving I was who I said I was.

    I can only assume either hackers have a lot more information about me than I give them credit for, or the first time someone requests a change of password is smooth sailing, and only when you want it back does it go to hell.

    I think, if I were in charge of cyber security at a gaming firm, and someone changed their password, and associated the account with something foreign, and then within 24 hours a request was submitted to change it back – I’d be lenient – it’s far more likely the original request was a hack, rather than being a jerk and say ‘are you sure you didn’t move to China? come on, prove you didn’t.’

    Argh.

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