David Amerland

What a Violent Shooting Game can Teach us About Customer Service

A violent, online multiplayer, shooting game can actually teach us quite a lot about delivering great customer service.

When bullets are flying, hand-grenades are exploding and your team mates are dying around you the last thing you might have on your mind are the edicts of great customer service. Uncharted 3: Amongst Thieves, clocked up on its first year 125 million matches and 10,500 man-years of online playing time, which makes me feel a little guilty to confessing I escape in its multiplayer universe whenever I need a little downtime.

Playing the game I often use the time to think about work (which probably makes me a liability to my team mates) so it’s perhaps fitting to use the game to draw a few lessons about quality customer service. For those of you not familiar with it, it’s necessary to contextualise it a little. Essentially the game puts 10 players into two teams of five in a number of multi-dimensional environments (it means you can climb, hide as well as stay at ground level) with a number of weapons you can use, and a high degree of interaction. The goal is (when playing elimination) for the winning team to reach 50 kills first.

The game is a perfect example of what economists call game theory and psychologists call the theory of social situations. Playing within it you are in a constantly varying environment of complex relationships between you and your team mates and the opposing team. Because you get an individual score you want to kill more times than you get killed, depending on how much team-orientated you may be you also may choose to sometimes sacrifice yourself so your team can get a few kills. The game becomes even more emotionally charged as you can see who has killed you and you may want to hunt them down when you resurrect. It is addictive, it can also teach a lot.

The close-up environment makes each interaction with the opposing team personal. The atmosphere is always emotionally charged and even when I am at my most distracted (and fighting my worst) I can end up feeling frustrated or elated depending on whether I keep getting killed (there is a lot of luck involved as you may find yourself in front of an enemy when you least expect it) or end up killing.

The context of the game is not unlike that of a sales team or a small business. There, also you are engaged in a ‘war’, against a clock (in business time is always against you), with opponents (competitors or customers) who you can ‘win’ or ‘lose’ against. If we take a smooth sale as a win then a complicated one where the customer demands something and begins to create a heavier workload can be seen as a loss. Add to this the fact that in a business your ego is also invested, you want to be a team player and not let the team down but you also want to be the best you can be and feel great about yourself. It can suddenly feel a lot like Uncharted 2, without the fun element.

What prompted all this of course was the thought that both teams enter the game map with the same purpose in mind: to win (which makes it a zero-sum game as the other team needs to lose). I have often seen players yell at each other or get into swearing matches (they can communicate online using mics) or start grudge matches, because they can’t separate the heat of the moment and the emotional response it elicits from the fun the game is supposed Yet this is not a life-or-death situation, it is supposed to be fun.

Business is often like that and so is the sharp-end of customer service. Because a tremendous amount of effort goes into delivering a product or a service there is undeniable emotional investment in anything which has to do with work and it is this which often creates a confrontational response.

If you are ever on a customer service team or run a small business with close customer interaction here are some guidelines to help make the process easier:

01. Keep emotion out of it. When it comes to customer interaction remember you will provide a better service if you keep your emotions in check. You are there to do a job and do it perfectly. How you feel about the customer or their approach to it is irrelevant.

02. Remember customers have rights. While a smooth sale is great and a troublesome one is not that is only your point of view. From a customer’s perspective what they ask which causes you hassles may be perfectly reasonable.

03. You have a common goal. Although it may not feel like it always, you both want the same thing. You want to sell something and the customer wants to buy it. It’s to both of your interests to make this go as smoothly as possible. Establish this common ground and then work to make it happen for each of you.

04. Selling is no zero-sum game. While Uncharted 2 can have winners and losers, selling cannot. It is essentially a cooperative activity where you use each customer interaction to create a dialogue which then helps you gain more sales. Make the customer feel like they ‘lost’ and you have won yourself a lot of bad publicity and a possible, damaging grudge.

05. Remember the rules. I have seen Uncharted 2 matches go south in a matter of minutes when new players come in and simply do not know what they can or cannot do or, more importantly, what they should do in a particular situation. Selling is like that. It’s not an infinite field with no limits. Make sure you and your customers both know where those limits lie.

06. End on a high note. The best games I have ever played where ones where the opposing team was so good in their approach that win or lose it was simply fun. A customer who is left feeling deflated, tired and drained after having dealt with you is unlikely to ever recommend your business. This is particularly important given the prevalence of social media and review sites.

I know that selling and business environments are not quite like online shooting games. The emotions we take with us however are often identical in both situations and the relationships we create in virtual and offline worlds are frequently the same. Learn to control the dynamics which can make you lose control and you will end up having a better time in any environment.


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