If we try to visualize a modern equivalent of the Holy Grail for businesses, it will probably look like some sort of graph showing a constantly rising level of customer loyalty. For loyalty is truly a miraculous thing as it affects user retention, user acquisition, and profit.
But like everything valuable, customer loyalty does require a lot of painstaking work and long-term relationship building. Or does it?
Well, unfortunately, most of the time it really does. However, there are circumstances when you get a chance to win a user over swiftly and within one conversation. The story you will read below is an example of precisely such a case. We shall first see how the user interaction unfolded and then try to single out general principles of how a company can achieve a similar result.
Our principal characters today are:
Kefir - a game developing company from Volgograd. Created such games as Last Day on Earth, Frostborn, Grim Soul, Metro 2033, and others.
devtodev support agents - customer support outsourcing team that has been working with two Kefir games - Last Day on Earth and Frostborn - for a total of three years
Leana - a user who is fond of all living creatures, great and small.
A deer - who at that beginning of our story has no special qualities but still becomes the epicentre of most exciting events.
Now, let us have a look at Last Day on Earth and the Deer Conundrum
The main character in Last Day on Earth is a person who has survived a global catastrophe and must adapt to the post-apocalyptic world. They need to build a base, get food, weapons, and transport, and, at the same time, ward off blood-lusting zombies of different colours and sizes. Besides the living and the undead, the multiple game locations also contain various animals. There are loyal dogs waiting for their owner at home, savage wolves attacking at every opportunity, and tender and gracious deer walking gingerly from the woods.
The post-apocalyptic world of LDoE is not kind, so the fate of the deer is hardly ever happy. Effectively, they function as a renewable game resource, and players seldom simply leave them be. Their meat serves as food, both for the survivors and their dogs. You can dry it over a campfire or turn it into a juicy steak. Some players even “eat” it raw when their characters are, for example, in a forest getting ready to face the undead. Deerskin is also useful; it can be turned into clothes that add to the character's stamina and protect them from the cold and zombie bites. So it is not at all surprising that the player's hand involuntarily reaches for the weapon when they spot a deer nearby.
However, it may so happen that a survivor does not just require food and warmth. They also need a friend. Sometimes, when a player starts building a base, they can find a couple of deer right on their assigned patch of ground, its likely purpose being to provide the survivor with nourishment. However, this time it all happened differently. A user (let us call her Leana) gazed into the sad eyes of the deer and found herself unable to strike the beast down. It stayed on her base and became her friend. Leana played with the deer, and it made her heart glad when she returned from a raid carrying a bag full of loot. She even gave the deer a name - Olesha (Deery).
This pet became an unexpected bonus for Leana, an additional motivation to enter the game every day. Her player experience became extremely personal, and her emotional connection to the game grew stronger.
So we can only imagine her disappointment when she entered her base one day to find that the deer was gone!
She immediately contacted the support, and her message was one of bitterness and sadness at her friend’s disappearance. She was not even asking for anything. She just wanted to share her feelings - to show how much appeal the game had lost now that the deer was not around.
The support specialist who received this message could not stay indifferent to her sufferings. They knew from experience that you should never ignore a user’s strong emotions. These moments can either lose you a customer or turn them into your apologist. However, the agent was not driven by some perceived opportunity to create a positive service example but a genuine desire to help. They decided not simply to show compassion but move the case to the next level and discuss it with the developers.
There this touching story also found fertile ground. And, arguably, treating a user like a person - with compassion and not with condescension - allows a company to get them the maximum possible help, not push a loyal player away but try to make their communication experience rewarding and unique.
It turned out that there was no technical error and that the deer just craved some me time in the forest. However, the developers approached the issue with all due diligence. They found the fugitive and returned it to the base. More than that, they went the extra mile and gave Leana something special that no other player has. They turned Olesha into a unique game item - a Tame Deer that will never abandon its survivor friend ever again.
I have found your user ID. :)
And I am glad to tell you that I have found your Olesha as well! :D
He had broken from the pack and wandered off into a dark forest, but I managed to get him out and bring him back to your base. You are together again now, and your friendship is safe. :)
However, Olesha is a wild animal, and someday his instincts can get the better of him. That is why I highly recommend that you build a warm and comfy cot for him (using walls and floorboards in the ‘Construction’ mode). And it’s best to make the walls stronger; otherwise, the Zombie Hoard may break them, frighten Olesha, and chase him away from your base.
I hope that now your friendship will last very long. :)
Happy surviving! :)
(This is how the support agent told the user the happy news!)
Leana’s joy at Olesha’s return was beyond description. She built a special cot for her friend where it happily stays.
(Now Olesha is a unique Tame Deer. There is nothing like it in the world of Last Day on Earth)
What the developers did for her largely defined her attitude towards the game. The cross from acute frustration to surprise and amazement served as a boost to her loyalty. Now she knows she can rely on support even in the most complicated and extraordinary circumstances. Even if she faces problems in the future, she will contact support with a positive predisposition and high expectations. There is no need to perform a miracle every time. From now on, it will be enough to sustain the image of friendly and competent support service to maintain the customer’s good impression. The one case of exceeding user expectations helped gain customer loyalty; future quality service will continue to keep it.
So - all in all - how does support can help us gain customer loyalty?
Users are not quick to trust. And it is even harder to fight for their loyalty within this fast-growing market when app stores and colourful ads tempt users with new exciting games, and every success leads to an army of clone projects. Therefore, everything is fair in making your players stick with you. Naturally, a gripping idea and quality of the game are the key elements of securing customer affections. However, personal contact is a necessary condition of effective communication between the developers and players. And if customer service deals with a problem efficiently and takes care of all its psychological side effects, it will do the reputation of the company a world of good.
What is more, to create such a positive effect, the issue you need to solve may not necessarily be a tricky glitch. It can be any user request, as long as it carries enough emotional weight for the customer - either negative or positive. Even a short feedback message can be loaded with meaning and significance. And though some support services tend to disregard user feedback, an extraordinary and impactful reaction to such texts can move the relationship between a player and a brand to a completely different level.
And what should we do to turn a conversation with a user into a customer success story?
The first ingredient is seeing user feedback not just as some piece of useful information but an opportunity to take the relationship between the customer and the company to the next level. When a game serves as a source of adrenaline and an outlet for creative thinking, then a powerful wave of emotions or a burst of ideas may urge a user to contact the company and express their concerns or their affection via feedback. By acknowledging the users’ feelings and confirming the value of their ideas, you can strengthen their attachment to the game and increase their loyalty.
However, in order to do all this, the company needs a user-oriented philosophy. Players must feel that they really matter and that the game exists for them. At the same time, it is crucial that this philosophy does not just stay on paper. It should be enacted on all platforms where the company communicates with its users and encompass all departments, including outsourcers. The example with Olesha demonstrates that such effective and inspiring solutions can only be born when different departments are perfectly in tune with each other when developers and support are on the same page and act as a single organism.
The teams from Kefir and devtodev share the same attitude that kicks in immediately as they start working with a user request. It can be summarized in two questions: "What can I do to help?" and “What else can I do to help?” In the end, communication with users implies compassion, sincere support, and a genuine desire to help. Because in this world of post-apocalypse every one of us sometimes needs a friend.