Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Importance of Customer Service in Board Games

Before I begin, this is not a rant on bad experiences nor a glorified article on good ones. Or at least I don't want it to transgress into that state. What I do want to put in the spotlight is the importance of customer service; that it exists, and that it should not be an afterthought.

For any company to believe their product will arrive to each consumer without error is foolish. Nothing is 100% consistent, and that goes for component quality. A person will unsuspectingly get a bad printing of cards, or have a some missing meeples, or generally get the one "bad apple" of the bushel. It's something any company should anticipate for, and something they should be well prepared to handle. That includes giving prompt responses to customer emails and having extra components for replacement. As merely a point of reference, I offer you 3 experiences I've had with customer service in board games.

Example #1 - Firefly: The Board Game - Mis-aligned Cards

I'm a little OCD when it counts, and it counts when I'm going through cards in board games - whether the color is slightly off, or if the size is not consistent. In this case, some of the card were mis-aligned when they were cut, creating a unique back that, I thought, was intentional and artsy. When I found that they were not, I took to the Boardgamegeek forums and see if anyone had similar experiences. With nothing to go on, I went and created a post myself, hoping someone from the community with a similar situation would confirm my suspicions. In addition, I went ahead and sent an email to Gale Force Nine with the same pictures and post.

Imagine my surprise when I found a direct message to me in BGG from a "Gale Force Nine." Apparently, they frequent the forums enough to response directly with my issue! Not long after the direct message, I also got an email response from the customer service email I sent as well! After a lot of back-and-forth and confirmation, I finally got the replacement cards in a relatively short time. Overall, I was impressed to have gotten so much attention in a relatively short amount of time!

Example #2 - Super Dungeon Explore - Warped Dice and Figure

For months, I've had this game in my possession and haven't had the chance to play it. I have played a friend's copy in the past, which made me obtain a copy for myself. Recently, however, I've been actively painting the models. Everything was going fine until I realized two things - some of my dice were badly skewed, and my dragon model was impossible to assemble.

It turned out my dice looked like they were slightly warped, to the point where they were more rhombus-like that square. One of them even had a horrible growth coming off of it. And my dragon figure was worse - when put together, certain parts didn't line up at all.

Out went the emails to Cool Mini or Not. The first one was for the dice, and the second one went out a couple of weeks later (since the two incidents were discovered at different times). Over the span of about a month and a half, both issues were fully resolved, with replacements at no charge. While the ticket had exchanged hands midway, never were they not aware of the full situation, and the customer service as a whole was more like talking with good friends.

Example #3 - Freedom: The Underground Railroad - Ripped Card

This was a case of unfortunate mishap. While the game never got any play yet, I found one card with a distinct tear into it. I never really found out the reason, whether it was an error from the production line or me accidentally ripping the card myself. It was this same reasoning I presented in the email to customer service as well. (I'm a very honest person) With the email sent early in the week, I waited patiently for an email response, but none came. Instead, I suddenly had the founder of Academy Games, Uwe Eickert, add me to his Google+ circles, and that's it.

By the end of the week, I started wondering if my email was even read when I get an envelope in the mail addressed to me from Academy Games. In it, I found the replacement card wrapped in a flyer! Perhaps the most cryptic customer service yet, but still very welcome!

"The Customer Always HAS the Right"

As important as it is that companies handle customer service, it's even more important to the customer that the door is open. It's silly to neglect sending inquiries to companies for faulty products, because it's even sillier for companies to ignore such customer concerns. I follow the motto "it never hurts to ask," and it doesn't. Worst case is, they will not comply with the replacement, and that is very rarely the case. Board game companies, despite the recent boom in customers, still are a small blip against all other forms of games. It's important for them to retain what customers bought their game for, and most of the time they're in the car WITH us (like in example #1 with the Boardgamegeek forums).
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