Dealing with replacement parts is one of my least favourite parts of being a publisher, I really wish I didn’t have to do it! But perhaps, not for the reasons you are thinking…
When I go to a store and buy a game it is an exciting time where I can’t wait to get it home and open the box. I want to look through all the bits, enjoy the art, get excited by cool components, and prepare for playing the game. It’s a moment of joy, and suddenly finding a broken or missing piece can turn that joy into a moment of sadness or frustration.
So, for me, a replacement part request is a sign that I have ruined that first experience for a customer and our long-term relationship is on the line. I believe it is critical to offer a great replacements service and it can be the difference between growing a great community or fighting an unwinnable battle.
Broken and missing pieces
A logical starting point is to simply ensure no broken or missing pieces make it to the game, but unfortunately this isn’t realistic. No matter how many extra checks and levels of quality control you have, as your volume of games increases so will your issues.
As an example, the latest print for The Isle of Cats was made up of 24,022,850 individual pieces. Even with an error rate of 0.001%, that’s 240 possible issues.
If you multiply that across multiple print runs and several games, you’ll quickly be at 1,000’s of issues, even with extremely low error rates.
The first step is to make sure people can request a replacement, I do this through my replacement request form.
It’s a simple Google Form (which are free to setup) and allows someone to select a game, enter the issue, and supply a shipping address. When someone submits the form an email is instantly sent to my inbox and a Google Spreadsheet is updated to include a new row.
The first response
I receive a complete mixture of requests, some people are very understanding and happy you are providing a service to help them solve the issue. Other people can be incredibly upset, and some will be almost aggressive and extremely rude in their messaging.
As much as it can hurt, the important thing here is to work towards a fast solution and to regain the customers trust. This starts with responding quickly so each morning I will look for any new emails I received about replacement parts and email the customer, telling them what will happen next.
I like to get these responses sent out in under 24 hours (although it isn’t always possible) as a fast response is a great way to win back some trust.
I know I let you down and took away your joy, but I am here to help you and wont let you down again.
I use Google Mail (with a business email) for managing all my emails.
I have a number of templated emails for replacements and will edit them depending on the details of the request.
I start off by apologising about the issue and confirming the piece I believe is required to fix the problem. I follow up with an estimated timeline for how long it will take to get the replacement to them and include a good amount of contingency in this. The last thing you want to do is be late with a replacement! I then finish up by re-assuring them I am doing everything I can to resolve the issue quickly and let them know I’m here if they need any further help.
Processing the replacement
I know of 3 ways to process replacement parts:
- Submit a shipping request to a fulfilment partner and get them to ship out the part.
- Hire a few people around the world to hold a small amount of stock and be responsible for shipping out replacements as they come in (which can be good pocket money for people unable to work many hours).
- Do it yourself.
When I first started out, I used option 1 but I found the costs involved for storing replacement parts, processing them, and shipping them were too high when a fulfilment partner was doing it. They need to make money off each shipment after all.
I considered option 2 but currently I do not feel the number of requests I receive are high enough to make this option necessary, so I use option 3.
I have a 4 x 4 Kallax storage solution in my home office which contains a number of labelled cardboard boxes. There are also 3 types of packaging, small and medium envelopes, medium size boxes, and a variety of bubble wraps and tape.
I always try to ship the smallest item possible (individual tokens rather than full punchboards) and use the smallest fitting packaging to keep the costs down. Anything that is less than 3mm thick can be shipped for about $5 including materials, 3- 8mm comes in around $7-$10 and after that we hit $20+ for most international shipping.
Optimal packing can save $1,000 a year!
I then pile up the packages and walk to the post office once or twice a week depending on the requests.
The entire process costs me 30 minutes a week and if it’s a busy period (just after a new release) my partner Sara doesn’t mind jumping in and helping out for an hour. This doesn’t include the time to walk to the post office but I see this as great exercise and an excuse to get some fresh air whenever I’m needing a break from my desk.
I know it’s easy to see replacement parts as an expensive cost, but I prefer to see them as an opportunity to create a better relationship with a customer. With the right process you can easily earn back the lost money through future sales and a more healthy community.
The last 2-years have been a little trickier than previous years due to covid and not always being able to get to a post box, but I see this as a global issue that I don’t have much control over. I think my process is typically fast and responsive and I’m pleased with that side of things.
The main area I would like to improve is raising awareness of the replacement parts form and in my next game I’ll be looking to highlight this in some way.