Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Customer Service

I have had several experiences over the last few months for which I would very much like to call out some of the excellent customer service I have received.

It's funny - customer service is something that we usually don't think about until something goes wrong. In gaming, that means misprints and damaged/defective/missing components.  When I order a product and it arrives in a reasonable time, it never occurs to me to even think about the customer service I've received, even though it was there.

The gaming industry is small enough that the publishers try very hard not to get a reputation for bad (or even mediocre) customer service.

So how do you ask for help when you want and/or need it?

Before you ask, do your homework - find out who their point of contact is. It doesn't do me any good to ask Atlas Games' web designer for help if I'm missing a pawn from my copy of Recess.

Here are a few simple rules:

Rule One: Be honest, polite, and respectful.

A few months back, my wife purchased for me (as a gift) most of Dominion. She bought it second-hand from a co-worker. There are now only two sets I lack, in fact. At the time she purchased it, there was a question as to whether the included sets were complete or not. So I sent a quick message to Jay of Rio Grande Games.

"My wife purchased (second-hand) a bundle of Dominion along with the expansions. Several pieces may be missing - is it possible to purchase single cards or other components directly through you, as needed to complete the set?"

It was only a few hours before Jay got back to me, asking what I was missing.  As it turns out, the sets were complete - but I am confident that he would have sent me any missing parts (possibly for a small fee, but that's only appropriate when I purchased second-hand).

And it probably goes without saying, but do your homework and ask the right person. Check the company's website to see if they have a customer service contact. If I ask the webmaster for a PDF, it won't do much good. Sometimes, you need to start your e-mail with, "I'm not sure if I have the correct person for this - if you are not the correct person, can you please forward this to the appropriate party?"

Rule Two: Don't be afraid to ask.

The worst thing a publisher can do is turn you down or ignore you. If this happens, you're out the ten minutes or so it took to type the e-mail.

As you may recall, I'm a big fan of the Bits and Mortar program. Now, I was browsing their site, and I realized that I have books from several of these publishers where I don't have the PDF versions. So I sent off some e-mails.

One publisher I contacted is not a current participant in the program, but their game had been distributed by another publisher who was a part of the program.

"I realize," I asked him, "that you aren't listed as a participant in the program, but I was wondering if you were considering membership or if you provide a discount code for DriveThru for people who have purchased print copies of your books."

I got the PDF. For free. It was accompanied by a brief note, "We are not currently running the bits and mortar program. However, as a gesture of goodwill and to say thanks for buying the game, I have sent you a Drivethru link to allow you to download a free copy."

If I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have received the PDF.

Rule Three: Be prepared to back it up.

The publisher may ask for some proof if you're asking for something for free that isn't a broken/missing/defective piece. Sometimes, they may ask for proof of defective or broken pieces.

I asked both Pelgrane Press and Mongoose Publishing for a variety of PDF files. Both are Bits and Mortar participants. In the case of Pelgrane, I'd had some of the books since before the program existed - and I told them that in my e-mail (Rule One). I didn't have receipts for any of these products.

Both publishers responded within a day or two. Both requested photos of the products to prove that I had them. This was easily done.

I had the PDF files within a day of sending in the photos.

Rule Four: Be as clear as possible.

Your e-mail should spell out what you have, then what you want.  Most of the letters I sent boiled down to: "I have X. I would like Y. What steps do I need to take?"

If you send an e-mail to a publisher that says, "I bought a book. Can I get the PDF?" The first thing they'll do is ask you "Which book?"  Or "I bought a game and it was missing a piece," they need to know which game and which piece.

If it's a missing promo, then it gets a bit stickier. Sometimes. This happened to me at GenCon a few years ago:  "I bought Mutant Chronicles at GenCon. It was my understanding that I was supposed to get a promo figure with that purchase - when I got home, I didn't see it in my packaging. Is this piece still available? If so, how do I go about getting one?"

An hour later, I had an e-mail from Fantasy Flight asking for my shipping address.

Some people will say, "I'm missing X, please ship replacements to:"  This is perfectly acceptable - just be polite. And remember that some publishers have a set procedure for replacement that they have to follow.  It's not the publisher's fault things were broken in shipping or misprinted or mispacked at the factory. Sometimes they have these procedures to they can figure out where the screw-up occurred (and prevent the mistake in the future).

I don't always get what I want, but I've found that - by following these four simple rules - I am successful more often than not.


  1. I didn't know about Bits and Mortar - and as an Aussie online gamer, it sounds like a great thing. Bundle purchases cost too much in shipping from the US, and I'm always buying PDFs (need that copy and paste) over paper books, despite really wanting a paper copy too. I just can't pay twice for every book though, and paper books are already expensive here.

    So I've sent a few mails out to our local stores in Melbourne to see if they might consider participating in the scheme. Hopefully one might say yes - then I can get back to owning paper materials which I miss, without breaking the bank, and also throwing more money at my FLGS.

  2. Anonymous6:32 PM

    FFG is curently moving their customer service department, which leaves me in the middle of an unresolved problem, but I'm content to wait, I'm sure they'll send me replacements for the SH:DA cards that were mis-printed in the game I recently bought new. In fact, they had replied saying they would, and that they just needed my address (since they already knew which cards I needed) so I sent the address.

    about 11-12 days after that I get an email saying their customer service dept is moving, which may delay whatever they were helping me with. So it's just business, companies do move, expand, whatever, and it's not like I'm gonna die if it takes two months to resolve my problem. It sounds like 2 months would be an unusual time frame for FFG, it's already gettin' on four weeks from first email.

    Like I say, though, I know it takes time to get stuff up and running, so if anyone else out there is awaiting FFG customer service, that's what's up.