“No-Reply” is the same as “No-Respect”

Ever had to deal with an asshole customer? Ugh! They can really ruin your day. I’ve had to deal with my fair share, so I should know better than to be one myself. But I was just an asshole customer.

Normally I am pretty darn polite, but it turns out there’s an easy formula to turn polite people into assholes. The formula is easy:

  • customer has problem with your game or product
  • customer submits a ticket
  • customer receives a useless, generic email reply
  • customer emails back more information
  • customer waits impatiently for days
  • customer gets an automated email saying “We didn’t hear back from you, so I guess the case is closed, buh-bye”
  • customer gets irate

My email reply was thrown away (not even bounced back to me) because it was sent to a “noreply@company.com” email address. The email didn’t specifically tell me not to reply via email… apparently I was just supposed to scrutinize the email address before sending a reply. I’m used to modern ticketing systems that let you reply via email, so I didn’t think twice about it. But their ticket system, like far too many, was designed for a previous era.

Back in 2002, ticketing systems were pretty cool. They were like magic! You enter a ticket on the website, and then it gets copied to your email so you know when it’s updated! WOW!

It’s not 2002 anymore. Ticketing systems are not cool, and logging into a website to send a follow-up response is really annoying. I often check my email on my phone, where logging into games or websites is difficult or impossible. Fortunately, the phone’s email program has this neat “Reply” button. So I should be able to use it.

Not Just For Stupid Morons

“But Eric, you’re just a stupid moron!” I hear you say. “Everybody knows you can’t reply to automated emails!” Wrong! But your misconception is quite common.

The FlashGameLicense.com website sends tons of automated emails. Sometimes, we expect a reply from the developer, and we got to wondering how often people were replying to our “no-reply” email address. So we created an actual email account for it, and that account suddenly started getting tons of replies. A large percentage of our HIGHLY-technically-skilled user base replied to our no-reply email address. The emails said not to do that, but they did it anyway. It’s almost as if they’re stupid morons… orrrrr…. mayyyyyybeeeee they don’t have time to read every detail of the email, so they gloss over the pedantic instructions, and use the big shiny Reply button in their email app to dash off a response.

So we made that Reply button work. It wasn’t hard. Now automated emails that expect a reply can get a reply from email. It’s automatically associated with the right ticket and everything. How hard was it? Including the time needed to make sure it was relatively secure, the whole implementation took maybe 16 hours of development time.

When I Make Email Mistakes, I Get Angry… At YOU

The thing is, I do feel stupid after making a mistake like this. Of course I should have read the fine print on your antique, sub-standard ticketing system. But I didn’t, and it cost me time and possibly money. I feel stupid.

But guess what? I don’t respond by apologizing. No no no. I’m taking it out on you. You let me stew in my annoyance for days, and then told me that it was my fault you weren’t talking to me due to a technical hurdle I didn’t notice. My annoyance doesn’t go down. It goes up. That makes me feel bad, and makes your customer service staff feel bad when I yell at them, and nobody wins. Now it’s that much harder to have a happy customer.

Don’t let the customer get irate if you can help it. And you can help it here.

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4 Responses to “No-Reply” is the same as “No-Respect”

  1. JasonM says:

    As a person who has been on both sides of this on MMOs (customer service was my door into the industry, but i had been playing mmos before that), you are absolutely right. Automated systems, canned responses, poor systems that don’t let you reply to emails, multi-day waits and automatic closing of tickets, all stink from a customer’s point of view. And yea, you take it out on the company because it does reflect badly on them. They aren’t taking the time to properly handle your situation.

    Now, from the other side. Let me say that a) very few companies even think about their support systems until near the end, b) very few people at these companies have any actual experience in customer support, c) the ones who do often have the experience aren’t the ones making the decisions (from a technical standpoint or a financial one), d) the support staff is often overworked, understaffed, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tickets. Most are being paid low wages and are learning the game(s) and the system at the same time as they are attempting to help people.

    Some, like Earth & Beyond, aren’t even located in the country they are supporting the game to. Yes, E&B had an Indian support staff. Go EA!

    Whats the solution? Companies (developers and publishers) need to realize that a real support system isn’t something you can throw together overnight. You can’t just throw bodies at it either. You have to approach it like other industries do, getting real software solutions, getting real training for your people, establishing good ratios for volume to man-hours worked, and a focus from the top-down (management down to the bottom run employee) on serving your customers.

    Afterall, with an online game as soon as you release it you are no longer JUST a game development company, you are now a service provider and you had better begin acting like one.

    RE: Your example. Setting up a ticket reply system to accept emailed responses isn’t hard. I’ve worked at companies that did it, I’ve had tickets open with companies that did it (APC being the most recent). Just requires someone to take the initiative and set it up, or have management tell them to do it that way. Stinks you had that sort of issue.

    RE: Canned responses. These are, unfortunately, needed. But, you could do something like have the CSR add a little to each one. At the very least, “have a great weekend!” and type their name would be better than nothing.

    One final thing I always like is follow-up surveys. A random sampling of tickets get emailed N number of days after their ticket is closed asking for feedback on their issue is a good way to catch some of these unhappy customers and potentially try to address it on the backend.

  2. Stabs says:

    @Eric good for you. I like battles against the corporates, I’ve just been advising my mother on a similar battle.

    From a business point of view it’s crazy to not provide decent customer service since resentments don’t merely lose you money on this title they’re likely to last years and lose you money on future titles.

    @JasonM “Some, like Earth & Beyond, aren’t even located in the country they are supporting the game to. Yes, E&B had an Indian support staff. Go EA!”

    I don’t actually see anything wrong with this in principle. If it were an Indian MMO with a support team in the US would that be unacceptable?

    Of course in practice Indian customer service centres have tended to be cheap and terrible. The issue however is that they’re terrible customer service centres and they would not magically become great ones if the MMO were based in India.

  3. JasonM says:

    @Stabs: You are correct, in general there isn’t anything wrong with the practice of having a call center in India or in Ireland or anywhere else that isn’t in the country you are calling from. However, in practice as you stated it has a high tendency to not work out so well. In my case in particular, I was attempting to cancel my E&B subscription. That was, to put it bluntly, a nightmare. First and foremost, you could only cancel over the phone. Secondly, they did everything they could to not let you cancel by repeatedly asking you to verify information and acknowledge you did wish to cancel. Thirdly, the language barrier was a problem. Yes, they speak English. No, they don’t speak American. There is a difference. And I had difficulty with the accent (and maybe they with mine since I am from the south and tend to put Georgia into my voice when I get tired or upset).

  4. Gustavef says:

    I will concur with the trials of canceling E&B back in the day. You would have thought that being so hard to unsubscribe that would have retained more customers who gave up trying to unsubscribe. :)

    As for customer service. Setting the reply-to: field to “noreply@foo.bar” for a ticketing system is bad. Really I can find no excuse other than “Make it hard form them to contact us so we need to do less.” (Though a good strategy for sane CS reps, but for your external reputation)

    Then again at least you did not have to go in to the sub-basement with a burnt out bulb though a door labeled “Warning Tiger!” to file your request.