Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Tale Of One Wargame Company, Updated

The weekend has come and gone, and I finally got some information back from MMP (heck, we all know who I'm talking about, right?) about the Mystery Package. 

Here's the complete timeline:

March 11, 2009 - MMP contacts me about Bastogne (SCS), saying that my card is not charging. I figure that the problem is almost certainly because the expiration date has changed, as has the CVV. I reply to the email with the information, as well as calling and leaving the updated info on their answering machine. Since I'm not giving the card info itself, I don't mind not talking to a person although I am calling during their regular business hours (which extend all the way to 11am my time since I'm calling from the West Coast). 

March 18 or thereabouts - Bastogne arrives. 

March 24th - MMP attempts to charge for PanzerBlitz: Hill of Death (the game I almost never got from them). The charge fails. I am not told. 

April 9 - MMP attempts to charge a second time and fails. They send an email to me, but I never get it. I'll note that I always check the spam trap, and there have been occasions when mail to me has bounced. However, since it will become clear that the address they used to send the message isn't actually read by anyone, it's entirely possible that they wouldn't be aware of this.

Mid-April - I am successfully charged for A Most Dangerous Time. 

April 20 - I send my original email asking what's up with PB. No response, largely because the address I use (that they used to contact me about Bastogne earlier) is apparently a "dead" address that they don't read. There is no information in the original message from MMP that I should not respond to this particular address. The address is multiman@multimanpublishing.com, which seems like a reasonable address to send mail to.

April 24 - MMP announces that all preorders for PB have been shipped.

Early May - AMDT arrives successfully at my house. 

May 4 - I send a second email to MMP at the address they contacted me at earlier. I get no response, again because this isn't an address they read, although I get no bounce notification. In this email, I specifically request that they *not* send me a copy of PB as I have ordered it locally, which I expected to do that week. I later decide to hold off until after I get back from WBC West because I haven't heard anything from them. 

May 8 - MMP tries to charge PB again, and it again fails. I am not notified. 

May 15 - MMP once again charges PB, this time successfully. They ship it to me. I am not notified.

May 20 - I have my credit card statement in hand showing that PB was not charged in March or April, and figuring that the order was simply lost and they aren't getting back to me, I order from Jesse's store. 

May 21 - I contact Brian Youse directly via a link on the ConSimWorld MMP support page. I hope to get a reply before the long weekend, but I'm not holding my breath. 

May 22 - I blog about my experiences with three different wargame companies and the level of support I've gotten from each. The "mystery" package from MMP arrives. Brian is told about my blog about the same time he reads my email. He is not pleased. We go back and forth a bit in email (tempers die down immediately), and he's at a loss as to what could be in the mystery package. We agree to look into it further after the long weekend. 

May 26 - I get notification from MMP about the package (it's PB, of course) and the steps they took to charge my card and contact me as outlined above. I inform them that this particular CC is used only for online purchases and thus is very easy for me to track, and no one else has had issues with the card to my knowledge despite around 10-20 purchases per month, certainly none during the time in question, and wonder if my information was updated in March correctly. I also note problems with their email system that combined to create a complete lack of communication about the matter.

While I could have gone through additional avenues to contact MMP (and eventually did), I believe that I had every reason to expect that the mail I sent would be read by someone. I also believe I had every right to assume that my preorder had been lost and that they would not send me a copy of PB, certainly not three weeks after they announced preorders were complete. 

To my mind, this is an example of an email system that isn't suitable for a business. Addresses that you shouldn't reply to because no one will read them should be very clearly marked as such (not the case for multiman@multimanpublishing.com). At the very least, the reply-to field for that account should be set to something that *is* read regularly, something that any email app will allow you to do in a matter of seconds. 

The other issue of course is notification. Believe me, I understand that MMP is a small outfit, that it has few employees who work part time, and that much of their time is spent assembling and shipping games. What should be happening is automation. When a game is ordered, you get a notification. The same should happen when you are charged for a game, and when that game is shipped. It should also happen when your card doesn't charge. I clearly am unaware of how MMP has their various systems set up, and I'm also aware that most wargame companies don't do this, but at the same time there's a few that do and it's very effective and useful. Even if the various systems don't talk to each other, there must be some sort of scripting that can be done that *will* allow for better notification to customers. 

My God, if Avalanche can let me know when they're shipping something to me (although for a while there I was getting assurances that things would be shipped that day only to have them shipped a week later, teaching me that you don't trust the person at Avalanche, you trust the automatic email!), anyone can do it. 

If all I had gotten was a notification that the game had shipped, it would have saved me time and trouble, and MMP reputation and more time and trouble. I wouldn't be refusing this package, they wouldn't have to credit my account, and you wouldn't be wasting your time reading this blog instead of working. In this case we can see how a couple of holes in a process can create bad buzz, a loss of goodwill (albeit temporary), and more work for everyone. 

At the same time, I'll note that everyone at MMP has responded in a professional manner (at least as professionally as my blog entry and email to Brian warranted), and that these are people trying to do a difficult job where they often take a lot of heat. My only response is that perhaps the best way to deal with heat is to figure out how not to generate it in the first place, and that requires learning from your mistakes. My mistake was to try not to play the squeaky wheel, at least at first - had I looked for other avenues to contact them sooner, we might have had a better result in terms of me getting my game, but at the same time we wouldn't have discovered the problems in communication that we did. 

Anyway, I'm considering this case closed, assuming there isn't some stinkiness with me returning the game. What they do with the information I've given them is their business, but I hope at the very least they change their reply-to addresses on unread accounts. That's just business email 101.  [note: they are looking into the reply-to addresses, as well as taking the game back. While this was a strange situation, especially with the CC not charging as you'd expect, it's the strange situations that point out where you have gaps in coverage, whether it's in you communications or your processes. Obviously, I think they made a good decision, and I'm very happy about that.]

I'll also be very happy to get the unopened box containing a wargame out of my house. Did I mention how much that bugs me?

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