Friday, May 27, 2016

Customer (Dis-)Service?

What makes "good" customer service (CS)?  Is it just getting the issue resolved, quickly?  What if that's not possible?

Cryptic's "Neverwinter" (NWO) has a lot of events.  Typically, about one every 2 weeks, or so, 'something' outside of regular game-play is going on.  Some, like the initial launch event, are a "one time only" deal.  About a year and a half ago, NWO launched their "Tyranny of Dragons" expansion.  As part of the launch, a special "Siege of Neverwinter" (SoN) event was released.  As part of the event, there was a special "Siege Defense Effort" (SDE) profession where you could hire a Siege-master, buy a wheelbarrow, and then complete 'off-line'* tasks for rewards that could be used in the SoN event.

NWO also has an off-line way of interacting with your various characters called "the Gateway".  You access the gateway through any (supported) web-browser, without having to launch the game.  Inside the gateway, you can check/write in-game mail (and although you can send items through the mail in-game, there does not appear to be a way to send items in the mail from the gateway), look at your character sheet, check you inventory and discard or sell items (well, sell-able items, anyway), access the ZEN market (natch'), access the auction house and buy or sell items from your inventory (which I find a bit odd - you can sell items on the AH through the gateway, but not send items through the mail), access guild info (funny, but the gateway actually shows how long it's been since certain characters have logged in, but this feature is not available in-game). access the astral diamond (AD) exchange (a way of converting AD to ZEN and vice versa), play "Sword Coast Adventures" **, and access/manage your profession tasks.

Each profession starts out at level zero and your first task is to hire a (level 1) person who is needed to complete subsequent tasks.  Hiring the first level 1 person usually takes about 5 seconds.  Sometimes, you are also required to buy an asset to perform certain tasks.

So back to the SoN - it was implied that this would be a "one-and-done" event, just like the initial launch event was.  For whatever reason, instead of launching the game and accessing the professions normally, I went ahead and started the 'hire siege-master' task through the gateway.  That turned out to be a big mistake.

So the reward for completing and collecting the task is that you get a level 1 person and enough profession XP to advance to the next level (i.e. level 1).  Except, when I collected my reward through the gateway (as the task only took about 5 seconds to complete), I did get my person and I did get the XP, but the profession never advanced to the next level - I was 'stuck' at level zero, with no level zero tasks as there is only the one (level zero tasks) and once it is completed, it cannot be accessed again.

Great.  A time-limited portion of the game just became completely unavailable to me***.

So, I filed out both an in-game ticket and a customer service ticket.  The response to the in-game ticket was (not too surprisingly) roughly "You found an unknown bug - there's nothing we can do in-game.  Please file a bug report with CS."  Also not surprisingly, the response to the CS report was roughly "You found an unknown bug - there is nothing we can do at this time, but we'll let the devs know.  Unfortunately, we don't have a time-line of when this bug may be fixed.  Sorry."  Both responses were fairly polite and sympathetic, but of absolutely no help.  And with the short time frame of the event, I was doubtful going in that it would be fixed.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago and what do you suppose I saw?  Yep - the SoN was back, along with the SDE profession - and I was still stuck at level zero.

So I dug-up my old ticket e-mail (what?  Doesn't everyone keep every communication they receive from on-line game developers whose titles they play?) and tried replying directly with it, only to get a bounce-back of "destination unknown".  So I fill-out a new ticket, attaching the HTML file of the old e-mail as reference, and stating that it had been over 600-days (according to the data from the in-game ticket, which is still unresolved and in my queue) and I'm still stuck and that this is unacceptable.  Which it is.

Can you guess the response?

Now, even though they were still "oh, sorry, but we have no control over which bugs get fixed when" with their response, they were at least polite, empathetic, sympathetic, and apologetic.  Which to me is still "good" customer service.  Would I have preferred that they would actually do something to get me un-stuck, even if the actual bug wasn't fixed?  Absolutely.  And honestly, it should be a relatively simple fix.

I know, I know - all gamers think that.  And while I do not know anything about the actual platform or code used in the game, I am, myself, an experienced industrial programmer (with over 20 years of programming experience) and I know how state advancement works.  And yes, states can and do get stuck for no apparent reason (even though there is always a reason), but when my code gets stuck, I can go into it and advance the states manually.  So if the original programmer was stupid enough to not have a way to manually advance a stuck state, well, then they aren't much of a programmer, as far as I'm concerned.  But I digress...

Still, the CS people are often not programmers or have any way of actually accessing the code, so what they can do is limited.  I understand that (no, really - I do).  I'm not happy about it, but I understand it.

But wait - there's more.

So, part of the CS response was a suggestion to go and post my issue on the PC feedback forum "to discuss with the Moderators and QA" and "[o]ur Development Team and Community Teams" check them often as well.  So, OK, maybe some possibility of getting some help from someone.  So I do just that.

I get one suggestion from another player - try deleting the level 1 person and re-hiring them and/or request an undelete.  I'm skeptical, but I don't suppose I could be any more stuck than I already am, so why not?  I delete the person and, as I feared, nothing changed - the level zero task of "hire person" does not reappear.  So, I run through the gauntlet that is supposedly "ask GM for assistance"† only to find out that GMs can no longer assist with undeleting things, except for ZEN items.


So, back to CS I go to file another ticket.  Since it is related to - but completely different from - my original ticket, I reference the original ticket number in my new ticket.  This seems to have been a mistake.  I get a response of "This seems to be a duplicate ticket and will be deleted from our system.  Please don't send in multiple tickets."  I reply, trying to explain that this is NOT a duplicate ticket - my original ticket has to do with a 'stuck' profession, while THIS ticket has to do with trying to get a deleted asset UN-deleted.  The second response?  An exact, word-for-word (that is what "exact" means, right?), no deviation from, no new information added, parroting for the same, canned response that was first sent.

Which pissed me off.

And THAT is anything BUT good customer service.  No empathy, no sympathy, no apology (well, OK, maybe an apology, but only because it comes standard in the canned response), and no explanation as to why this CS person thinks it is a duplicate ticket.  The duplicate, parroted response was, in my opinion, rude and condescending to say the least.

It is my belief (though I cannot prove it) that as soon as they saw the other ticket number I reference, they stopped reading and issued the canned 'duplicate ticket' response.  And when I replied, they completely ignored what was written in my reply (it is my belief that they didn't even read it, but - again, I cannot prove it) and re-sent the same,, darned canned response, without so much as changing one letter.

Shortly thereafter, I received an e-mail from Cryptic with a link to a survey wanting me to rate my recent CS experience.  The CS person handling my original ticket was good.  Yes, my issue is still unresolved; no, I'm not happy about that, but they at least took the time to actual read what I had written and responded in a respectful, empathetic, sympathetic, and apologetic manner.  The other person is an idiot and appears to have a comprehension problem.  I used the survey to lambaste my second CS experience putting in the 'free discussion' area that instead of a parroting of the 'duplicate ticket' response, they should have at least tried to explain WHY they felt it was duplicate ticket and maybe even go so far to suggest a course of action on how I might actually get my issue resolved.

Not every issue can be solved - I get that.  Which is why even though a quick, positive resolution may still be considered "good" CS, it should not be the only criteria for judging "good" CS.  Conversely, neither should an ongoing, unresolved issue be the only criteria for judging "bad" CS.  To me, whether the actual issue is positively resolved or not, "good" CS can be boiled down to:  be respectful, empathetic, sympathetic, and apologetic in dealing with customers.

But, yeah, get the issue positively resolved as soon as you can, too.

* I suppose it's more accurate to state the tasks are outside of regular game-play.  You start the various tasks and then you go about playing.  When the tasks are completed, you are notified.  The tasks are run in real-time, so you can start a tasks that might take 8 (or more) hours, log-off, log-in 8 hours later and it's complete.

** "Sword Coasts Adventures" is a mini-game where you use your companions and roll dice to complete tasks (and win rewards).  You can check out the info here, if your interested.

*** Well, that one character, anyway.  My other characters were unaffected.

† There are (6) sub-categories under the "ask GM for assistance" button  So far, for each appropriate category I have tried to actually contact a GM in-game when needed, there has been several other sub-buttons and suggestions to try first.  When I finally got to one that I thought would send in an in-game ticket, I waited two hours before logging out, only to find out that what I did may not have been to file an in-game ticket, but an in-game bug report which does not alert GMs that someone needs help.  It seems nigh impossible to actually get a hold of a GM in-game in NWO.  In the fora (sorry, "forums") some will say that's because NWO is a free-to-play game and that they have few GMs and you should not expect GM in-game help in a free-to-play game.  But that is a cop-out and who knows if the people posting such things really know what they are talking about.  I suspect they're just talking out of their, um, posterior, because other free-to-play games I play do have in-game GM support.  I've never seen anything officially stating that they don't have in-game GM support, but I suppose only Cryptic/NWO know for sure.

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