Great Customer Service From Virgin Circa 1996

I am back in Riverside, CA at my parents’ home this weekend for my 10-year high school reunion. Tonight, I decided to dig through old papers in the remains of my childhood bedroom. I found old homework assignments from middle schools, comics I drew in elementary school, and a sketchbook of world maps and level designs for a Japanese-style RPG that I designed in 7th grade.

On a dusty bookshelf, wedged between some Narnia books, I found an old manila envelope. Inside, I discovered a letter and a packet of xeroxed pages from an issue of Tips & Tricks magazine. Holding this artifact in my hands, I started to remember what it was like to be a gamer in the mid-90s.

In 1996, my 12-year-old self was hopelessly obsessed with a horror-adventure game called The 7th Guest. I became hopelessly stuck on one of the puzzles and could not progress any further.

In those days, there was no Google, no GameFAQs, no Facebook, and no Quora. My family didn’t even have a modem because we had only one phone line and my mom wanted to make phone calls.

Back then, maybe 10% of kids in school played games. Of that segment, maybe only 5-10% played PC games. The rest had Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. In any case, you learned game secrets from older, savvier friends at lunch time and recess. Sadly, my friends were console gamers, not PC gamers. They had no concept of what a PC game was. “What’s DMA and IRQ? What’s Soundblaster 16? Will my old DOS games work on Windows 95?”

I took out a pen and wrote a letter to Virgin Interactive, hoping to get some answers. “How do I find the next puzzle? Also, what’s up with the video of the making of The 7th Guest that the manual mentioned? I don’t have it in my box.”

This next part is pretty badass. And the more I deal with modern customer service (mostly Comcast), the more awesome this incident becomes.

A week after I mailed my letter, I received a response from a customer service representative named Kellie Ziel on Virgin Interactive letterhead. Not only did she take the time to write a detailed letter to an annoying kid, she personally xeroxed 20 pages from a strategy guide and gave me her phone number in case I had further questions. This was not a form letter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being able to search for a game title on Google and instantly get 9 million links to walkthrough guides and “Let’s Play” videos. But sometimes I miss the human element of the 90s.

Kellie Ziel, if you’re still working in the games industry and happen to come across this blog, please be aware that you made a kid really happy. And to let you know, I did figure out the puzzle and I did complete the game.

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You Always Have A BATNA

Boy, it sure has been a while since my last post. I’ve been buried with schoolwork, GSI teaching, and recruiting. However, I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. So here I am, back to my old blogging ways.

In one of my posts last year, I mentioned that I enjoyed taking an Organizational Behavior class with Professor Don Moore and getting constantly tricked into learning. I enjoyed the class so much that I decided to take another class with Don. For Fall B, I am enrolled in Negotiation, a 2-unit course about negotiating good deals.

It’s a very practical course. Every class, students pair up and negotiate with a case-based scenario. Afterwards, everyone debriefs. Sometimes, I am the buyer, charged with securing a product at a certain price under certain conditions. Other times, I am the seller, charged with extracting as much value out of my buyers as possible. Currently, I am in the middle of a four-party email negotiation that’s incredibly gripping.

I find myself becoming a much better negotiator these days. The key I believe is understanding that it’s okay to walk away. In other words, “you always have a BATNA.”

Your BATNA is the Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. It is what you are left with if you walk away. For example, if you are deciding between two job offers and are negotiating with company A, your BATNA is the offer from company B. If you are trying to buy a house, your BATNA is to walk away and continue looking at houses. Understanding your BATNA is key to making the right decisions during a negotiation and being happy with your ultimate result.

I’m reading a book called Negotiation Genius by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman. It’s very easy to read and I recommend it highly.

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IBD Conference – It All Ends!

On Friday, my IBD experience officially came to an end. My team finished the diorama and displayed it proudly at the International House for the 1st year students to see.

I mentioned in the last post that completing the poster felt like engaging in 2nd grade arts and crafts. However, the poster turned out quite nice. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to find out after the conference that the IBD program coordinators chose our poster to keep on hand as an example to next year’s class of “what to do.” Other teams’ posters were destroyed after the conference. Such a waste of money.

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IBD Arts And Crafts

Back in May, I went to Korea with a team of consultants to work on a mobile app marketing project with SK Planet, a subsidiary of SK Telecom. It was part of a program at Haas called International Business Development. Students take a class to learn consulting frameworks while working with a real company from January to May. The project ends with teams of students traveling to a foreign country to implement their plan on-site.

If you thought the program ended after the teams return from their projects, you’d be wrong! Students actually have more follow-up work to complete in Fall semester.

This Friday, all IBD consultants will attend a conference held at the Berkeley I-House. Here, the teams have to deliver an extensive 20 minute post-mortem about the challenges they encountered during the project, the tools and frameworks used to overcome them, and high-level cultural learnings. Additionally, students have to create a 3′ x 4′ diorama to showcase their achievements and entice 1st year students to apply for the IBD program. (The diorama is basically a 2nd grade science project.)

Some students are making the diorama “arts and crafts” style (i.e. cutting a lot of construction paper). Others are going to Staples to print their content directly onto a foam board. (It costs $140+ to do this!) My team is doing a combination of both.

Most of the board will be printed. However, there is one element that requires cutting and pasting: the timeline.

My team understands that dioramas are supposed to be visually appealing. People don’t want to read a wall of text; they want to see pictures. At the same time, we don’t want to lose points for having too little text. You never know how classmates and professors will judge the diorama. Therefore, I came up with the following idea:

Our diorama will include the walls and walls of text that people never bother to read; but we’ll cover them with ‘flaps’ of paper (pictured above) that include summary sentences and colorful pictures. Viewers will see the topic sentences and understand what our team accomplished in Korea without being bored to death. If by some strange chance, they want to learn more, they can lift up the flap and read the novel we’ve published underneath.

Hopefully, this idea gives our diorama an edge over the others. Our project in Korea was pretty fun and very educational and I personally loved working with the people at SK Planet. But compared to my classmates’ projects, mobile app marketing is a rather tame topic. Some of them wrestled alligators and helped AIDS orphans!

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All Aboard The MarkStrat Simulation

Regardless of business school, there are a few activities that every MBA must experience before he or she graduates. One such example is the MarkStrat Simulation: an eight week virtual ‘game’ that puts teams of MBAs in charge of an imaginary company.

Every week, the MBAs must meet in a small, cramped room and make key decisions that determine the long term success or failure of their firms. These decisions are made in time-constrained conditions with very limited data. As a result, successful teams must utilize all of their training up to this point (operations, marketing, finance, organizational behavior, etc.) to navigate the ambiguity and make decisions. Teams can do as much or as little work as they wish. Some teams may try to model past performance on Excel and use curves to predict future performance. Others may try to anticipate competitive moves and rely solely on game theory. Just as in real life, some teams may just throw ideas on a wall and see what sticks.

The winners will be crowned at the end of eight weeks. Today, my team is meeting to make our first decision. Will we sink or swim? I’m eager to find out.

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