Stay the Course: The Power of Customer Affirmation

17 June 2019 | 17 Comments

Most of my articles are geared towards creators, but today I’d like to talk to customers, as you have a special power you may not know about.

Before I get into this, I want to be clear in saying that when consumers criticize or complain about creators, products, entrepreneurs, and companies, it can have a positive impact. It certainly helps if it’s solicited, constructive criticism, but even if it’s just an angry rant, it can make a difference.

Basically, I’m not discounting the value of criticism. 95% of the time, criticism stems from a place of passion–if someone took the time to complain about something, it’s usually because they care.

This is a broad generalization, but I would wager that the vast majority of opinions they hear from customers are a combination of criticisms and general praise. Just as the criticism is helpful, general praise can provide a nice emotional boost–creators are people too! :)

However, there’s another type of extremely powerful feedback that I seldom hear: Specific, targeted affirmation.

For most creators, companies, and products, 90% of what they do is good. Like, you’re probably reading this on a computer or phone right now. Do you like the screen on that device? The user interface? The position of the buttons? The color/texture of the metal? I’m at least 90% happy with my computer and phone–they’re incredible marvels of technology.

Have I ever shared those details with Velocity Micro or Apple? Nope. I like all those things and want to buy products from them in the future, products with those same characteristics I already love. But how will they know to keep doing what they’re already doing unless I tell them?

We’re far more likely to tell a company how we think they should change instead of precisely what we hope they continue doing.

This is where consumers have immense power if they choose to publicly or privately affirm specific elements and actions of creators–it’s just so rare! And I really mean specific. Here are some examples from my recent purchases and experiences:

  • I appreciate R & R Rescue Ranch for letting little Martha (pictured here) wander around the stable as we visited the other mini horses. She was so friendly!
  • I like that Nathaniel Reid Bakery had 5+ people helping out behind the counter at lunchtime on Saturday. It helped the line move quickly, and it made me feel like they have a customer-first philosophy.
  • I really like that each of the meeples in Trade on the Tigris are different shapes. It’s a small touch, but I appreciate that attention to detail by Tasty Minstrel Games (and I’m sure it helps colorblind folks).

I think it’s tough to get in the habit of providing these specific affirmations, so here are two cues I try to use:

  1. Whenever I have a complaint about a product or company, I instead try to think of another similar product or company I’ve used recently with which I had a good experience. I then try to share something specific I liked about the good experience.
  2. Whenever I notice a cool little detail (often about games), I try to highlight it in the corresponding “favorite mechanism” video on my YouTube channel, as I want that company and other companies to continue implementing those subtle-yet-impactful touches.

An extension of this type of feedback is when you request that a company does something and then they actually do it, it reinforces the decision if you follow up (privately or publicly) to say that you like it. For example, years ago, someone requested that we start using latex-free rubber bands because they were allergic to normal rubber bands. I made the change (a change that has since impacted hundreds of thousands of games), yet I never heard from the person, which kind of surprised me.

Finally, what can creators do to encourage this type of feedback? Well, sometimes I think we just have to ask. For example, I rarely hear from people that they specifically like the achievement sheets we include in some of our games. I don’t know if that’s something we should continue to sometimes print. So I once just flat-out asked the folks in the Scythe Facebook group if they use the achievement sheet, and I was surprised by how many people said they did. I think that had a direct impact on our decision to include an achievement sheet in My Little Scythe.

If you’re open to it, I’d like to invite you in the comments below to share a specific affirmation about a product or company you recently had an experience with. Please do not use anything related to me or Stonemaier Games for your comment–I’m totally fine with you doing that in the future, but not here.

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17 Comments on “Stay the Course: The Power of Customer Affirmation

  1. I really appreciate when companies that have more complex games sponsor quality play through a like Capstone Games. It really helps in determining if I will like the game best and teaches me it.

  2. The Public Radio (https://www.thepublicrad.io/). They make single-station radios with incredible reception and sound…out of mason jars. One of my favorite products of all time. It has an ineffable charm that makes everybody who sees and hears one want to buy it.

    But to the point: recently, my radio broke. I bought mine years ago and had lost the warrantee documentation, and it was surely expired anyway. I wrote to the company to ask how I might approach fixing my radio. They sent me instructions, and when the instructions didn’t work, they sent me a new radio, free of charge. I was so impressed. It’s not a super-cheap product, so the service they provided me is a significant cost to them (but I feel a little better about it knowing that at least 5 people who’ve seen my radio have bought their own).

  3. I got to play Endeavor: Age of Sail, the reprint by Burnt Island Games. The decision to include Game Trayz inserts was a real win. From the moment the box was opened, the inserts not only kept everything organized but presented everything in an interesting way. We only played the base game, but the bottom insert, with all of the expansions, had us all asking questions. The individual player inserts made it easy to set up and pack away. The insert with the building tiles in it could be passed around, it’s genius. I’m not sure how much was added to the cost, but I’m pretty sure I would pay more for a copy with Game Trayz in it. Well done!

  4. In the board game world I’ve been especially impressed with how PAX has run their unplugged convention. The detail in particular is the amount of staff they have dedicated to helping both exhibitors and attendees. All the way down to staff positioned at strategic intervals so you’re always within eye sight of someone holding a sign saying “ask me anything.” to gaming tables with signs saying either “looking for players” or “looking for teachers” and staff dedicated to come teach games if you need it. Fantastic.

    I think this is a unique challenge for the board game industry — There’s an interesting TED talk with Reed Hastings (Netflix founder) where he talks about developing their algorithm for suggested content. What the Netflix team found is what people often self reported was different than their actually activity. So for instance people would rate “The Pianist” a 10/10 and something like “the Hangover” a 6/10 but only watch “the Pianist” every 2 years and watch “the Hangover” every 6 months.

    With that in mind I think creators need to find more ways to interact with their following in experiential ways — to not just see what they say but see how they act and react in real time. This isn’t new information exactly, many experienced game designers understand seeing players reactions to their prototypes “in the wild” is often more valuable than their verbal feedback afterwards, but finding ways to accomplish this when growing a business or brand… certainly a challenge!

  5. Recently, several fast or casual-food chains have started offering Beyond Meat (aka, plant-based meat substitute) at their restaurants. I always like to support non-meat options, so I’ve gone out of my way to visit Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, and Pizza Rev in the last month or two. I’ve even gone back to Del Taco more than once because the first time I went in to try their Beyond Meat taco, they gave me a stack of “free taco” coupons. Instead of just using them for the free one, I always buy an additional one to support their decision to offer this option.

    1. I’ll throw in a gaming-related thing too. I just played Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games. One of the main mechanisms is “throwing runes” to attempt challenges. It’s basically rolling dice, except these dice are only 2-sided. So maybe it’s actually more like flipping coins? Also, if you get a 3rd rune of the same color it becomes more powerful, but it’s not a dice-drafting, or dice-building game by any means. In general, I dislike rolling dice on my turn. I find it too luck-based and I don’t get much tactile pleasure in it either. These runes have a cool shape and material and throwing these runes made a simple dice-rolling turn into something unique and fun, so kudos to Brotherwise Games for finding a way to do that!

  6. Jamey,

    Thank you for the opportunity to express a few thoughts about other companies.

    So, what do I like and why? Here are a few cases to get the ball rolling:

    I love the fact that Chessex dice are top notch, resin-cast dice. They are color consistent
    within their dye lots and far exceed expectations for fairness for a mass produced product.
    Would I pay more for a game that said “contains genuine Chessex dice”? Maybe. Probably
    “yes” for a side by side choice with the same game. But probably not so much impact if the
    choice were between 2 competing games. And yet, it would make me want to read the
    reviews and not just go with the flashier game. So, in the end, it would make a small
    ad-response difference to me. Now for a set of “resin vs. resin” dice or “resin vs. other
    forms of plastic material”, resin would win hands down because of weight, surface
    texture/smoothness, and ambient temperature vs. physical contact response (the degree of
    “coolness” in my hand from the dice acting as a heat sink).

    I love the fact that Bicycle playing cards and Bee playing cards (these sub-brands of the
    US Playing Card Company in particular) have maintained their quality throughout my
    lifetime (5+ decades of gaming). I prefer their “Linen” and “Cambric” finishes and am a
    sucker for their “Diamond Back” design (their standard red and their standard blue decks).
    These cards give you a reassuring “snapping” sound when you riffle-shuffle and they also
    bridge very nicely. And I think their box designs are user friendly and A1 quality. Would I
    pay more for a game that said “contains genuine Bicycle/Bee cards”? (Character cards,
    etc.) Yes. Why? Because a lot of imported cards (even in expensive games) are made from
    materials that seems to absorb moisture from the air and “soften” over time in a way that
    Bicycle/Bee cards do not. The colors on cards from other manufacturers are often (in some
    games) or at least sometimes (in other games) muddy by comparison and other details are
    also, quite typically, of lower quality. (Bleed control, margins, and corner rounding in
    particular). https://usplayingcard.com/

    For game companies, I would give high marks to the makers of the Cathedral strategy
    game (www.cathedral-game.co.nz) for their apparent resolve NOT to change their game
    design or it’s standard rules even though it has been proposed that the game is “broken”. To me, this game (available as a wooden game) is not so much about “BGG ratings of
    complexity” (though these numbers do help tremendously in classifying games) as it is
    about representing (in game form) a real-life experience – that of the designer, Robert
    Moore. So, just as a movie may get mixed critical reviews and yet go on to become a true
    classic, I believe Cathedral will be here for our grandkids and hopefully their grandkids to
    play.

    Finally, a note about respect within the gaming community.

    I have recently become aware of a gaming company based in Bellevue, Washington called
    Final Strike Games (https://finalstrike.games) which is an independent development studio
    for PC & Console Multiplayer Games.

    What impresses me about them? That they are the very embodiment of respect.

    Let me explain.

    As is so typical in today’s gaming market; there are a lot of company names, product
    names, game names, even character’s names within games and trade names of all sorts that could very easily – if left unchecked – overlap and infringe upon one another. And this, in turn, could potentially lead to a social-media nightmare and/or costly legal entanglements.
    And we can all recall instances of this within the past 12 months here in the US – which I
    see no need to rehash here.

    Specifically, from where I stand, I see Final Strike Games as a company that wants to
    show respect to any company great or small and to any product (within their product
    sphere) with a similar trade name to either their company name or the name of one of their
    products. I don’t see any bullying or any other less-than-mature behavior.

    A friendly phone call or email to start a conversation, followed by a professional negotiation
    is, in my opinion, a very respectful way for a company to sort out their trade names –
    quietly, low key, and with great respect. Peer to peer. Even if one peer is bigger or more
    established than the other.

    When it comes to trade names and keeping them straight regarding ownership and use, my
    hat is off to Final Strike Games. I think we’ll see a lot of good coming from this company.

    Don – Black Harbor Games

  7. I appreciate that Breaking Games thanked me for being a play tester on the new Dwellings of Eldervale. I had been happy to get a chance to play this game and give feedback. Then they reached out and asked if I would want a shirt. When I picked up the shirt they gave me not just the shirt, but some fun cards that promotes the upcoming Kickstarter. I have enjoyed having the shirt on at local game meet ups and giving out the cards, with some great art on them.
    I understand that I am doing promotional stuff for Breaking Games by doing this, but I’m glad to do it because I want to share this great game with others.

  8. Keep using the paper used in Wingspan and Between Two Castles. Everytime I open those boxes I am impressed and makes me feel like I’m playing a premium game.

    I was digging Charterstone already, but the moment in the game where we got some stickers to attach to the gameboard that even the background graphics matched seemlessly, my mouth dropped. Those little attentions to detailed really went a long way.

  9. I really love the box that Facade Games uses in all of their Dark Cities Games (Salem, Tortuga and Deadwood). I usually don’t care about what a box looks like as I’m more interested in art and gameplay. But the little extra touch of having a cool box (a box that looks like a book) makes me happy to support their games every time they release a new one.

  10. Lovely post; I always like complimenting companies when things go right, particularly for good customer service.
    A couple of recent examples, firstly within the gaming world I am very impressed with Cryptozoic. My partner lent our copy of DC deck builder to a friend, and unfortunately they misplaced 2 cards. We contacted Cryptozoic, and they sent replacements out free of charge, posted from the USA to the UK, arriving within a week. Fabulous service.
    In the non-gaming world, I’ve recently had a good experience with Marks and Spencer, a clothing store here in the UK. I wanted a second pair of a particular style of trousers, as womens’ trousers with good pockets are like gold dust. There was supposed to be one pair in stock, and as the staff member hunted them down for me, she let me go and do my other shopping. When she couldn’t find the trousers, she collected a couple of other pairs that were the right size and also had pockets. I decided to order a pair, but I really appreciated her going above and beyond to remember my requirements and try to meet them.

  11. I’ve been thinking about a reply to this article since reading this article.
    This morning, I got a marketing email from inVision and was about to delete it. I went searching for the unsubscribe button instead. When scrolling through the email, it caught my eye that the graphics they used had a guy in a wheelchair depicted (doing something productive). I then scrolled through and noted quite a bit of diversity in gender and race. I was impressed. (PS these were line drawings so I was also impressed that it could be conveyed )

    In gaming, a few: a local game store (Chicagoland Games: Dice Dojo) has a demo library that is insane! The library goes floor to ceiling, wall to wall and they have a large gaming area (several) with dozens of tables. It really is neat.

    For a game company, Forbidden Games did an event at our local store and I was impressed that Glenn was there, super nice to everyone… And they gave away copies of their games as prizes.

    For an actual game, I was really appreciative of the diversity depicted in Unfair.

    And there have been a few games lately with unexpected components that have been a treat. Can’t think of them right now.

  12. I appreciate board games that include high-quality components, or any products that pay great attention to detail. To me, it shows the company really cares about the product they are putting out there, because we all know there are some who don’t.
    We all enjoy the feel and aesthetics that metal coins or realistic resources add to a game, for example, but when the base game or factory-standard product starts out really well done, it makes a lasting impression. (and add-ons just enhance the expericence).

    Some of my recent ones (keeping SM out):
    *Tiny Towns- the buildings
    *Architects of the West Kingdoms- the board art, all components are great
    *Welcome to..- the details in the player sheets
    *Any game that has sturdy cards, cardboard punchouts, and quality dice.
    *My phone (Samsung Note9) or any technology with a good battery that lasts more than a day on a charge.
    *The amazing production in podcasts like ‘the truth’, ‘blackout’, ‘the bright sessions’ -Basically movies for your ears, keeps me sane on my commute.

    I rarely report on things i do not like, unless there is something truly broken about it, and usually chalk it up to ‘not for me’ and move on. When i really like something, esp the fan service, i try to make a point to let them know.

    Its all about fan service/customer service… how they treat their followers. If a company can deliver that, i am in.

  13. I really appreciate it when a publisher uploads their rulebooks in a customer friendly way with the full name of the game instead of the initials. It saves me from renaming it in my rulebooks folder. Imagine a rulebooks folder full of initials.

    Also putting ENG on the English version helps me find it hiding among other language versions on the publisher’s website.

    FullGameName-Language(even ENG)-rulebook-version.PDF

    :)

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