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October 10, 2007
The Mystery of Customer Care
 

By Donna Desborough

There was a time when customer were treated with courtesy and care. They were talked to with some respect and treated like intelligent people. Unfortunately in our fast moving times of instant coffee and high speed internet connections customer care has been left by the wayside.

One place in particular the customer care has begun to seriously fall apart is with online games. In an environment where most interaction is done by email or live chat many seem to have lost the ability to communicate in respectful and courteous tones.

In many MMOs bad customer and in game support has become so common place that it's almost expected. One company that seems to be rubbing players the wrong way a lot in recent months is Codemasters and their rather bad handling of the players of Lord of the Rings Online.

With a company as big and well established as Codemasters one would expect that their customer service would actually be very good. Unfortunately this is often untrue. Responses to emails to the CS department are replied to with canned answers. Rarely are prewritten canned answers of any actual help. It is understandable that they deal with a fair amount of email in a day, but it is their job to be there for the customer. They are put into their jobs to help the players enjoy their experience and to make any problems they have to be as painless as possible. A little care goes a long way and it seems that Codemaster's customer service is lacking.

When you join a large game like Lord of the Rings Online you expect a large and diverse community. To help this community gel a bit better you usually have a community manager with a team to make this happen. LOTRO does have a community manager and team to help it along, but often it causes as much harm as help.

Of course at times the community manager can't tell the players everything they know. It's possible that they too may be just as in the dark about the current situation. The problem comes when the community management stops talking to the players. Keeping quiet and saying nothing can do more harm than good. On the same token, giving answers that are full of double speak and don't actually say anything is just as bad as silence, if not sometimes worse.

These are things that Codemasters should already know. Several times now when players have asked for information about a problem or situation they have been greeted with silence or answers that were mostly double talk.

A good example of this communication problem is the business with the EU Collector's Edition of LOTRO. There have been several mishaps with the CE version of the game and unfortunately Codemasters was often slow in communicating what the situation was with the players. Many changes were made to the contents of the CE version after purchases were made. Codemasters did change the description on their webpage, which was good. The problem arose from the fact the many had already bought it prior to that change. There was no news or forum announcement about the change to the contents.

When players began to complain about the changes, of which one was the cloth map which also affected Special Edition purchasers, the information about the change wasn't immediately forthcoming. During the whole debacle with the Special and Collectors Editions it felt like Codemasters was constantly fire fighting and not being pro-active in their problem solving and communication to the players. During this time there was an apology and admittance of handling the situation incorrectly posted on the forums.

The problems with the Collector's Edition is still ongoing. Many CE owners are now so fed up they have threatened anything from law suit to reporting CM to Trading Standards. Whether any will follow through is yet to be seen, but it shows the level of frustration. The earlier problems that Codemasters had previously apologized for are being repeated, making it all feel like lip service.

Codemasters aren't the developers of Lord of the Rings Online, that is Turbine. So the problems with the code and patches have some reasonable problems. There have been big and small problems with patches and larger content updates, but that is one area that they generally do okay with. To me that actually says more for their technical staff's communication though.

Speaking of the technical side, I have to mention at least that Codemasters doesn't actually provide the in-game support for LotRO. Instead they have hired a Canadian company to do the support for a set of countries several thousand miles away, at least 5 hours of time difference and a rather different gaming culture. The support given my Alchemic Dream is inconsistent and often ill-informed. The reason I mention this though is because it is Codemasters' responsibility to make sure that all of their customer support is good. Something that many feel they have failed to do.

In the end the point of me writing this is to highlight the kind of support gamers are often getting when they subscribe to a game. Codemasters is merely an example They are not alone in their lacking treatment of the players. Too often is poor support given to what is essentially a captive audience. As subscribers to these games we don't have an option to hire someone else. Outside of the MMO world people usually have an choice. Outside the MMO world though this kind of support wouldn't be tolerated.

This has to stop. Players are paying customers. It's time that companies remembered that and returned to giving the best they can and not just skating by on average service.

 
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