Not too long ago, I stumbled across a curious fact: Valve, maker of the world's biggest PC gaming service, was given an F by the Better Business Bureau. Other major gaming companies largely have A's. The culprit? Poor customer service.
According to the BBB's page on Valve, people have filed 717 complaints about Valve and Valve-related products (Steam, games, etc), 502 of which they have failed to respond to. The majority of complaints stem from "problems with a product/service." More tellingly, the BBB says Valve has "has failed to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints."
Here's a summary of the types of complaints the BBB has received about Valve:
"On June 25, 2013, BBB recognised a pattern of complaints from consumers regarding product, service and customer service issues. Consumers allege the games they purchase from Valve Corporation or Steam malfunction, do not work or have an invalid CD key. Consumers also claim the company blocks users from accessing their library of games. Consumers further allege they attempt to contact the company for assistance, but Valve Corporation fails to correct the gaming issues, does not correct credit card charges or issue a refund, or does not respond at all."
"On July 1, 2013, BBB notified the company of the complaint pattern. To date, the company has not responded to BBB's request to address the pattern."
When reached for further info, the BBB told me they re-review companies every six months to see if anything has changed. Evidently, in their eyes, it has not.
Now, it should be noted that the BBB as not as "capital O" Official as its name makes it sound. It's not a government agency, nor does it have any sort of regulatory power. Rather, it's a national network of non-profit groups that seek to, well, make businesses better. Services provided include dispute handling and resolution as well as consumer-focused information on many businesses (of which the 13-factor grading system is a part). They also lobby against fraudulent business practices. And yet, they have been accused of shady dealings involving good grades and their paid accreditation program (something Valve is not a part of), a program that foots some of their bills and leads to clear conflicts of interest. Also, their system is worrisomely self-focused. If, for instance, companies resolve complaints sans BBB involvement, the BBB can still count it against them.
So that's a minefield. Still, I decided to ask Valve business development authority Erik Johnson what was going on behind the scenes. He replied that Valve doesn't really consider the Better Business Bureau a priority, but that users have the right of it: Valve needs to toss its busted customer service program in the incinerator and start over.
"The BBB is a far less useful proxy for customer issues than Reddit," Johnson began. "We don't use them for much. They don't provide us as useful of data as customers emailing us, posting on Reddit, posting on Twitter, and so on."
"The more important thing is that we don't feel like our customer service support is where it needs to be right now," he said. "We hear those complaints, and that's gonna be a big focus for us throughout the year. We have a lot of work to do there. We have to do that better."
When an issue's got roots this deep, though, how do you even begin to untangle it? Valve, Johnson explained, is looking at a complete overhaul.
"We need to do a variety of things," he said. "We need to build customer support directly into Steam. We need to understand what's the most efficient way to solve customer problems. Right now we're in a state where we're doing a bunch of technical work on thinking through how does a support issue get raised, who has to see it, how do refunds get raised within Steam -- we've done a poor job on all of that up to this date. We think it's something we really need to focus on."
So it's good to hear that Valve is finally trying to resolve this rather glaring hole in their service. Granted, none of this is in beta testing or anything like that yet. There's no guarantee it will actually come to fruition. Still, this is better than nothing. Between this and Valve's apparent interest in better all-around communication, it seems like they might finally see merit in knocking down their notorious wall of silence -- or at least poking a few holes in it. Of course, only time will tell, and if there's one thing Valve knows how to take, it's time.