How Chris Zhukovsky studied customer support for his games at the airport

This is a translation of a recent email from a game indie developer Chris Zhukovsky [ 1 ]. The author successfully spoke at conferences, including at the GDC [ 2 ]. Articles by this author are well-deservedly popular on the Hamasutra and are regularly translated into Russian sites. In this publication, Chris talks about the basics of competent communication with dissatisfied customers. Nothing super cool and innovative, quite a lot of bragging, but the material is interesting, and the author’s games are really very well evaluated at different venues.

Image from Dallas News [ 3 ]

I am proud to provide good customer support to my customers. I try my best to convince haters and turn bad situations into good ones. Most recently, I received a landmark comment [ 4 ] on my game right from the Linuxoid: "The developer is the most enthusiastic of all I met in the entire history of Steam."

Well, well, the whole story of Steam! It's funny that I never really worked on a full-fledged work on customer support. Nevertheless, for several years I worked at American Airlines, developing a user interface for employees at the checkpoint before boarding ( hereinafter simply, agents ). You know, these are the guys who scan your boarding pass before you get on the plane.

I spent many hours peeping between cases on how these hardworking people do their job. I also went through a three-week training program that all agents go through before they are distributed to airports around the world.

Well that’s it, now you can roll your eyes from the fact that someone can be inspired by the work of airport employees. Every week new stories appear, as some terrible airport employee does something stupid. Or hear the story of some nasty incident at the airport. But when everything happens at the highest level, you will not even know about it in the media. Most of the airport staff I worked with were very hardworking, attentive people who really tried to do their best at this, one of the most hassle-free jobs on Earth.

Once, on my official duties, I was near the checkpoint for boarding in Hawaii. The landing took place without any problems, but literally as soon as the doors were closed, we heard a scream from the other end of the hall: "Please do not close the doors!" A young girl in a T-shirt with the words "newlyweds" raced along with her slightly behind husband (in the same T-shirt). But it was too late. The plane has already begun to depart. They missed the last flight for today on their honeymoon. She burst into tears. Large restaurant containers “with them” in her shaking hands indicated that they had sat up in an airport restaurant and somehow managed to skip all the call for departure. It was all their fault.

Then I watched the agent take control of the situation. He came and reassured her with her husband. He was blunt, but without any charge. He showed sympathy. He listed their next steps and assured them that they would not miss their whole honeymoon. He took exactly where they needed so that they could get on the next suitable flight. It was a very nervous and unpleasant situation, but it could have been much worse.

The agent acted directly according to instructions for employees, designed to maintain quality customer support. I still have one, and I periodically check it.

At a school, employee agents are taught LEAD models. In the manual, it stands for: “The LEAD model is a list of techniques for effectively helping customers. This creates a positive atmosphere, improves active listening skills, improves mutual understanding and provides algorithms for effective communication with clients who require additional sensitive services. ”

The abbreviation LEAD consists of:

I try to train in this technique every time I communicate with my community.

If any problems arise, I start by listening to respect for my client, listening carefully to him and sympathizing. As the book says: “Use your ears, not your mouth, and be grateful to the client.”

Then empathy . This is similar to the reflection technique. The book recommends using phrases of the form: “If I understand you correctly, then you had in mind ...”; "I understand why you are upset ...".

Further apologies . Apologize sincerely. Do not apologize for non-existent mistakes, but for the fact that customers are now left disappointed. The book advises phrases like: “Please accept my apologies for this situation. I am sorry that this caused you so much inconvenience. "

And the last: fix it . Here your task is to tell you exactly how you are going to do everything right. Be straightforward, concise, and use simple phrases that they can easily understand.

The Internet and gamers can be quite caustic, especially for us game developers. But when I recall my times at the airport, these agents have to deal with people who are tired, drunk, nervous and upset because they spent thousands of dollars to get them across half the world. If this LEAD model works in the chaos of air travel, this could work with annoyed players.


You can subscribe to the Chris newsletter (somewhere in his profile [ 1 ]), he sends out his messages only a couple of times a month. Many of them are interesting and useful to read. You can also consider subscribing to my profile. I write articles (and sometimes translate) on various game development topics that may be useful for small indie developers.

References to sources

1. Chris Zhukovsky on the Hamasutra
2. Chris Zhukovsky at GDC
3. Dallas News - source for the CAP
4. A laudatory commentary on Chris’s game in Steam


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