Over the last few years, each of the three big card companies have faced major customer concerns about customer service. A lot of the criticism has been warranted, and in many cases, it has led to changes that improve things. The underlying issue is that each company has to re-dedicate their efforts towards pleasing customers, and based on my previous experiences in many industries, that is never a bad thing – regardless of the business purpose.
Topps, as of late, has faced a lot of venom from the collecting base, mainly in regards to a few issues. The first is the dissolution of their Topps Support twitter account, and the second is the staffing on their phone and email teams. From what Topps has said on Twitter and on a few of the media outlets, they understand there is a lot to be done, but I have some things that I believe is actually on US as collectors as well.
If you remember back at the beginning of 2012 up through the national convention in August, Panini also faced a huge issue with their customer service, and for the most part seems to have taken it very seriously. I have confidence in Topps to eventually do the same thing, and I want to go through a few things that the companies can do and things that collectors can do too.
If I worked at one of the companies, I would start with the communication tools. Panini already does a good job of updating collectors on redemption statuses, and they also have a Panini CSM twitter account. I believe this is a good start, but there should be more resources across the board dedicated to answering customer inquiries. I would even go so far as saying that each dollar spent towards this is a dollar properly used, and I understand this might take away from other functions companies usually spend money on.
In terms of redemptions, we know that the bigger the company, and the bigger the print runs, the more fulfillment issues are likely to occur. Updating customers is great, but there needs to be a better process of letting people choose what cards they want to replace the autographs that cannot be provided. With a properly designed system of player and team requests for replacements, collectors will have a better chance to pick something they want. There should be a place to show proof of how much money was spent to obtain the card in question, so that a replacement of equal value can be provided.
From what it seems, Topps is struggling with disseminating information related to common collector questions, and a lot of it has to do with a lack of a central blog that serves as a resource. I have mentioned to Mark Sapir and Clay Luraschi that a Topps blog should be in the works, but it looks like the focus is being put on social media instead. That is a solution that seems to have brought a lot of confusion for people not on Twitter or Facebook, and it also prevents historical viewing of answers that Topps has given via those mediums. With a blog, a searchable repository becomes available.
I realize that sometimes, information isnt available to be delivered the way collectors want, or isnt ready for public digestion, but a quick – “Hey, we understand there is a problem, and are working to resolve it.” can go a long way with people. Panini has been very good at using their reach to convey this information – others have missed the boat consistently.
My biggest concern for the situation with Topps is that they dont attempt to alleviate the pressure, and thousands of collectors converge on Chicago with a bone to pick. Instead of getting the usual information that we look forward to receiving via the National Convention, we are left with a bunch of angry people wondering what is going on. In the meantime, Panini steals the show with their frenzy over wrapper redemptions, and Topps looks like they dont have a focus in the right place – even if that isnt actually the case.
The last thing for the companies I have to call out is something that is EXTREMELY important – follow through. I have understood that redemptions and what is available for help is as much the player or agent’s fault than anyone. But, if something is due to a collector, and promised to them via whatever medium, I think they deserve follow through. Dont promise something unable to be delivered, especially in the expectations of timeframes. It is a horrible idea to promise my replacement in a few days if its actually going to be a few weeks. If you give me an adequate timeframe, I will be much more understanding if things are late.
In terms of collectors, we have a lot to do with the problems as well. As I mentioned on Twitter during this whole fiasco, we DO have fault. A lot of it stems from a reluctance to search for answers on the internet that have already been provided, and a desire to game the system and try to get something we dont necessarily deserve, or shouldnt actually need.
Here are my suggestions, and I dont care if I get flack for saying this. The following suggestions are based on my experiences reading the different public complaints brought forth on message boards, twitter and blogs:
- Dont bog down resources at the companies for questions that have already been addressed, or a situation that is obviously still in process. Mainly, if you need to call Topps about your missing blue wave packs, when that issue has already been covered on every message board, Twitter, facebook and blogs, you are preventing others from fixing actual problems. If the cards havent shown up on eBay, and no one is posting that they have the answer to your question, dont ask Topps – ask other collectors who are knowledgeable on the situation. Even if you get through, its obvious that there is no resolution available, so why prevent others from using those similar resources.
- Dont expect that every card is available for replacement, or that every card is going to come out in BGS 10 condition. I know this is something that collectors WANT more than anything, and sometimes it needs to be addressed by the company. But if your cheap base card has a dinged corner, and you feel you deserve a whole new box, give me a freaking break. If your 1/1 500 dollar card has a huge crease down the middle, that’s where the resources should be used correctly. I get that this is an incredible gray area, but man, there are some people out there that abuse this situation like its a job. I have to believe that with the volume the companies deal with, they cant address pack out issues for all 3 million cards that are put into packs each year. Sometimes you need to realize there are bigger fish to fry. If every card were perfect, condition wouldnt carry as big a premium as it does in the hobby. I remember pack condition being a problem when I was a kid, and that is NEVER going to change. However, if you see your card is chipped, as are every card in the set from what you see, dont waste time trying to get a replacement for a problem that affects the entire print run. Cmon.
- If your box is missing a hit, provide the proof to expedite the request, and be honest about things. This is where I know this request is going to fall on a hobby known for people who try to scam their way through life. I cant even imagine how much work it is for Topps and Panini to sort through the requests that come back, and how many of them are actually real. Dont be a dick and try to pull one over on the companies, as they will likely figure it out, and it will prevent them from working with people who actually deserve the help. If you think they dont know who is trying to fake them out, you are grossly underestimating THEIR resources.
- BE PATIENT. If you have an issue that needs to be resolved, email or contact customer service the right way, and wait your turn. Topps can be easily reached through Twitter at @toppscards, and Panini can be reached @Panini_CSM or @creed_75. You can also call both companies at their numbers listed on the corporate site, but because of issues mentioned above, you might have a tough time getting through. I would call early in the morning in the middle of the week, and get an email address to follow up if your issue is promised to be resolved but isnt. Bottom line, with thousands of people needing assistance, it might take a long time to get resolution, and you dont have to KEEP calling every day until it does.
- BE NICE. My dad always said that its easier to attract flies with honey rather than vinegar, and the same holds true here. If you treat the rep with respect, it should be returned in kind.
- Dont have unreasonable expectations. Sometimes, they wont be able to give you EXACTLY what you want, but that doesnt mean they arent trying. Both Panini and Topps do a lot of good things for people when they can, and some people are just going to have to come to terms that you wont get a $100 card for your $20 redemption replacement.
- Trying to rally collectors on message boards and twitter through rants and threats is ridiculously annoying, and really doesnt solve anything. Its better to fight your own battles than to try to establish change through vitriolic exposes on Blowout.
- Redemptions take forever. Just accept it. If you buy a redemption, expect you will be waiting for a long time. If it comes in a few weeks, great, consider yourself lucky. Most of the time, it has to do with player participation, not something the companies control. If you say “well they shouldnt promise a card they dont have!” I disagree. I would much rather have the opportunity to wait for an autograph I want than be completely unable to have that chance. Its a gamble, but every time I have played, it has paid off EVENTUALLY. This doesnt make it right, but it is what it is. You determine where your money is spent – speak with your wallet.
None of the above suggestions above are meant to absolve companies of the issues they need to address. They are there and they need to be fixed. All this is meant to show is that its a two way street, in my opinion. Call me whatever names you want, these issues stand either way. My perspective is all about realistic expectations. YES, each company SHOULD strive to please every customer. I have just been around this hobby and around professional customer service long enough to know that isnt possible. Therefore, with a more realistic approach to BOTH sides of this, I think we have a much better chance at being happy as collectors. Should it have to be that way? No. Will it be that way regardless? Most definitely.
As I stated above, the key is communication – mostly on the part of the manufacturer. With more communication, the vicious cycle I am talking about doesnt have to continue. If we dont voice opinions, companies wont recognize the problems. If too many of us voice the same opinion on an issue, a bottleneck happens. With proper information released to the public, these problems dont happen as often because more questions are answered straight from the horse’s mouth en masse.
Here is something you probably dont expect me to say: In every dealing I have ever had with anyone at any company, I have come away with a positive understanding. Scott at Panini, Mark at Topps, and even Gregg at Upper Deck have always given it to me straight, and done so with professionalism, even if I havent given them the same courtesy in return. I know for a fact that many of the people at every company really do care about the industry and protecting their brand, and if they could help they would. A lot of the time, those resources JUST ARENT AVAILABLE, because they tend to be expensive if my industry is at all similar to theirs. People to handle this cost a ton to maintain, and though that money SHOULD be spent, sometimes it isnt. They will be happy to take credit for that failure, but most of the time, its out of their hands.
Bottom line, collectors have a deeply seeded connection to their hobby and will fight tooth and nail for it. That is a good thing. Similarly, when money is involved, its obvious that people will be that much more excitable if a problem arises. Companies should realize this and do more to communicate with the transparency I know to be available. What collectors should also realize is that size of market and size of company greatly affects volume of issues and resources available, and that should be taken into consideration. I love what Brian Gray said at the summit, but Leaf is still small enough that they can do those things. I doubt Panini and Topps have that luxury.
I know I must seem like I am toeing the company line, but after this week, I feel as though the burden is equal between company and collector. Lets face it, we can be a very difficult group to deal with. I have a feeling that if I ever had to work in the industry, this is an issue I would take seriously, but I would also realize quickly how difficult it can be to resolve. That’s why I am willing to give a major congratulations to Panini for seemingly turning the ship around. They seem to have the best website of any company so far, and the money they invested in it seems to be well spent.
As collectors, with Topps’ current issues, we should continue to voice our concern, but I reinforce its not necessary to beat a dead horse. Mark and Clay have both said publicly that they are working to address things – they listen closely, regardless of the way it seems.
Hopefully issues like this do not continue to be a problem, as companies like Amazon and Zappos.com have made a name for themselves through the success of their customer service. Their proficiency in making people happy have made them into the brands they are, and are further proof that scalability is doable on a large scale.
That being said, its not going to happen overnight, but it should happen eventually.