Free Dessert

Think for a minute about the worst customer service you’ve ever received.

For me, it was a restaurant. Our party did not receive a bite to eat – not even complimentary bread, which our food was allegedly meant to come with – for over half an hour. The waitress came out, once, to say things were running a bit behind, and then promptly vanished again. Ten minutes later, the food began to arrive, slowly and unevenly. By the time one end of the table had been served, the other end had either nearly finished, or else let their food grow cold. One diner’s meal had been omitted entirely, and would not receive anything to eat for yet another 15 minutes. My check was even incorrect upon arrival.

This final grievance prompted me to seek out the manager, and upon hearing my list of complaints, his immediate response was a hapless shrug and a rhetorical “What can I do?”

Customer service is partly about avoiding the kind of situation described above, and as a business – gaming or otherwise – it’s your job to try and make sure things run smoothly. However, it’s also about knowing how to deal with things when they go wrong, because they will. Accidents, bad luck, and good old human error are unavoidable: waiters will forget orders. Packages will arrive with tears and dents. Seats will be double-booked.

The hero of your game will clip through the floor, corrupt the saves, and crash to desktop. When this happens, be ready with more than just a shrug.

Now, think of customer service that has impressed you. Specifically, think of a business which has regained your goodwill in the face of adversity.

Often, it’s as simple as a minor freebie by way of apology. A compensated drink or dessert will usually smooth over a botched order, just like a handful of virtual goods can make up for some unexpected downtime. Being stranded on the runway is always a smoother time with extra peanuts, and a delayed DLC schedule is a little easier to swallow if one of the installments suddenly becomes free. Sometimes you needn’t even buy or spend anything, if the apology is genuine enough and your customers are the understanding sort.

Most importantly, a successful apology is preemptive. I am not an unreasonable consumer, nor am I impossible to please. An up-front acknowledgement of the error or shortfall and an immediate offer to resolve or improve the situation will always gain more ground with me than a seemingly forced gesture.

Microsoft, during the latter portion of its Red Ring debacle, was kind enough to offer customers a free month of Xbox Live to make up for the time they had to spend apart from their consoles… but this was after they had spent several months denying and dodging the problem to begin with. The restaurant described in the initial scenario ultimately made a full apology to our party, but this was after I had to spend several minutes explaining why the service had been unacceptable.

Timing and attitude are the difference between free dessert as a successful apology and as a farewell gift.