The other night I was watching Game of Thrones on HBO Now through my Apple TV (yes, how many products can I mention in one sentence?). Up until now, Apple TV and HBO Now has been a great service where I’ve really enjoyed the shows and the quality used to bring them to me. However, on this evening (and the following week), I discovered that the sound for Game of Thrones is horrible, to the point where I couldn’t hear the dialogue at all. I ended up turning up the sound on my television to practically maximum and still couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. When the show ended, the sound kicked back in and nearly blew out the speakers in my TV. Both weeks, I’ve been unable to hear the sound on this one show. I can hear it fine on every other show, both on and off the HBO Now service.
So, I sent an email to the customer support people at HBO Now and received one of those “we thank you for contacting us but we’ll have a real person get back to you later” responses. A day later, I received the most generic response ever, indicating that NO ONE read the email, but it was filtered through some program that must have caught the word “sound” or “volume” and then told me to go through the FAQ they have about how to handle problems with adjusting the volume with an Apple TV. Really? In other words, no human is EVER going to deal with the issue. In other words, having a customer support system is a joke and an insult to anyone who may ever feel the need to use it.
If this was just a one-off situation, I’d just chalk it up to that sort of thing. But no, I’m starting to run across this ALL THE TIME. An example: Electronic Arts, the company that is constantly competing with Comcast for the worst customer service on the planet. Some years back, back when the Internet was young, I used to play Star Wars: The Old Republic. And then I quit. A couple of years later, I decided to play it again. Except there was a problem. Let me explain.
When I first played Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), it was owned by Electronic Arts, but it was billed by its subsidiary company Origin. Sometime during that period when I was no longer playing the game, someone breached Electronic Arts’s servers and stole a bunch of accounts. One of them was mine (inactive at the time because I wasn’t playing any games that Electronic Arts owned). Someone tried to buy FIFA (some soccer game) on my stolen account, but was thwarted by the fact that my credit card had expired a year or so before the transaction was attempted. By the way, EA somehow has translated that to believing its crack crew of cyber security experts had “stopped” the transaction and did a great service to me. Keep in mind, the only “stop” that was conducted was my bank saying, no, that credit card hasn’t been valid for a long time now. Anyway, to make a long story short, EA incorporated Origin into its service as its process of charging everyone for everything, so when I went to reactivate my account for SWTOR, EA refused to let me put any credit card information onto the account because my credit information was now “flagged”, which really translates to “we tried to let a thief fraudulently charge a game to your account and the transaction failed, so we now have to flag your account as one we can never allow you to make charges on again, even though our customer service people have given back access this account to you, no longer the thieves.” All attempts to “fix” this account have failed, as I have escalated the issue to the top echelons of EA, and each time it gets rejected based on…well, no one really knows why. It just keeps getting rejected. And then I get a really friendly email from EA stating: “So, is there anything else we can help with at this time?” I guess just rejecting me isn’t enough. They want to rub salt in the wound, too. For the record, the people at SWTOR have been very kind, but have resigned to the fact that if EA can’t fix it on their end, the issue is out of the hands and incapable of being fixed. Sure, I could start up a new account, but I have a ton of maxed characters on this account and a lot of game money in their banks, or possession. Starting over is not something I desire to do, so I’ve pretty much just stopped playing the game. I could play by buying a monthly game card (for game time), but that means I have to pay the maximum price to play the game each month, which is a direct insult to someone who was a member of the game when it first launched.
Strangely enough, gaming companies do this sort of thing a lot. Sony is a good example of this. I had an Everquest account back in the day, but when I stopped playing, somehow my account then became “flagged”. I can’t get my account back now. It’s like I was doing horrible things in the game and am now banned. But I’m not the sort of player who does any of those kinds of things, but as usual, I can’t even get them to tell me why the account was banned, meaning it was probably compromised during the time I was gone, or it was breached during one of those early periods when entire batches of accounts were breached at once by overseas hackers and rather than deal with each case one by one, they just banned everyone as a consequence.
The point is: Customer service is almost nonexistent these days. Because of automation and outsourcing, we now have a situation where if you ever need customer service for a game or product, chances are pretty good that you’re going to end up very dissatisfied. There are some good companies still out there, but they are becoming rarities, and one thing I’m starting to recognize is that when someone recommends a company to me for good service, it’s usually because they had good service from that company YEARS ago and probably haven’t had a recent situation they’ve had to deal with concerning that company. I’ve had a few encounters like that recently where I went with a company because of past, good experiences, only to discover that they’re currently a crapfest when it comes to dealing with customers.