Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Ocean Marketing/Paul Christoforo and Penny Arcade: Why Customer Service Matters on the "real internet."
It has been a while since I've had a bona fide gaming industry scandal to write about, but man are they interesting. I think that these sorts of stories hit the same spots in the brain that are activated when a high school girl hears the newest gossip or when a bit of drama hits guildchat in WoW. I am, of course, talking about Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing, a supposed SEO/Internet Marketing "Professional" who decided to be rude and condescending to a customer over a legitimate consumer complaint, and then Penny Arcade got involved... and things got weird. The entire text of the exchange can be found here, but I'll summarize as this frenzy has exploded over Reddit, Twitter and now even 4chan has gotten into the act, gleefully trying to destroy someone (and for once, it is a person who appears to really, really deserve it.
This all started with a few questions about a third-party controller, the Avenger, purchased in November, advertised as shipping in early December and a customer's questions about a shipment that was clearly going to miss a target for Christmas. These things happen, and Dave, the customer wanted an update, and noticed that new orders were eligible for a $10 off coupon and expressed his frustration that he wouldn't get the controller when he needed it, so he'd be best off canceling his order and placing a new one to save the ten bucks. This is a clear expression of a customer with a legit complaint that anyone who has been in any sort of sales knows is best handled with an apology and a $10 credit (toward a future order, if that ten dollars is really that important to you.) Instead, Paul Christoforo decided to respond in a condescending fashion, threatening to cancel the entire order of anyone who tried to save $10 stating "you can buy it at retail somewhere else." And in closing, he calls Dave "Dan."
This is where things get heated. Dave explains, using strong language (but no profanity) why this response to a customer is unacceptable, affirms that the product is so good that he intends to buy it anyway, but calls out Ocean Marketing on several failures to provide a minimal level of service. To be fair, he ends this e-mail with a bit of a snarky comment that could be construed as a personal attack. Mr. Christoforo then proves that he has not yet hit rock bottom in terms of a complete lack of business acumen or professionalism, and fires back. He starts name dropping, calling names and in general pulling the "do you know who I am, you little nobody?" routine. In this attack on both a customer and spelling/grammar, we have gems like "Son Im 38 I wwebsite as on the internet when you were a sperm in your daddys balls and before it was the internet" and "You just got told bitch ... welcome to the real internet." He closes by bragging about all the trade shows he'll be at, including PAX East.
This last bit is where thing take a turn for the surreal. The e-mail exchange is forwarded to Mike Krahulik, of Penny Arcade and co-owner of the PAX shows. Enraged, Mike steps in and calmly states that if this is how customers are treated, Ocean Marketing and Paul Christoforo will no longer be welcome at those shows. In a stunning display of ignorance, Paul responds with "I guarantee I can get a booth if I want one money buys a lot and connections go even further" and "who are you again?" The game is on. Penny Arcade is one of the most influential websites in all of video gamins, and Mike flexes a little bit to someone who clearly doesn't know who he is talking to. Paul Christoforo makes this clear when he starts throwing insults and telling someone with a LOT more pull than he has to "watch the way you talk to people" because "it's a small industry and everyone knows everyone," not appreciating the irony in his statements. He follows up with more name dropping, including the Mayor of Boston, Sean Buckley at Engadget and Scott Lowe at IGN. For a finishing touch, he insults and threatens the Penny Arcade site, saying that he'll put his "125 employees" on a smear campaign, insisting that Mike doesn't know who he is messing with.
The exchange is put up on Penny Arcade, which in his arrogance and ignorance Mr. Christoforo believes is a good thing, free publicity... and it goes viral within hours. Reddit, Kotaku, IGN and other sites all go bonkers at this little man with the mind-blowing ego and instantly he is the most hated man of the moment for many, many gamers worldwide. On Twitter, Scott Lowe takes issue with his name being dropped in support of this insufferable twit, and says so, calling him "completely unprofessional" given their past working relationship. Staying the course, Paul responds by calling Scott a "douchebag" and claiming that "You were the unprofessional one" in the same tweet, still oblivious to the concept of irony. Kevin Kelly of G4TV stands by Scott Lowe in his assessment, and the manufacturers of the Avenger controller become aware of what their "professional" marketing guy is doing to their brand online. At the moment (as of 11:30 AM, 12/27) Frank Shephard tweeted an apology to any customer treated poorly and said that there is no official statement yet, but "more to come soon."
Aside from the prurient entertainment factor of online drama, what does all this tell us about online marketing and the gaming industry? If you mess with an online institution over something petty, asking them "Do you know who I am?" soon, everyone will know who you are, and that isn't a good thing. Bad publicity is no longer the same as "good publicity," something I'm sure Mr. Christoforo will learn, much to his dismay. We also can see how careers and names can be ruined over something that could have been fixed with a ten dollar coupon. In general, as people become more connected, it is better to be decent and forthright with people, as word really does get around, and you DO have to be careful who you talk to and how. That's what we on the "real internet" call karma, bitch.Blog Gadgets