The Customer Service Survey

Electronic Arts: A Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in a Corporation

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2013-11-06 15:38

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. That's the fancy name for that thing where the majority of people think they're above-average drivers. It's obviously impossible for the majority of people to all be above average at the same thing, and it turns out this sort of delusion is pretty common. Dunning-Kruger is when someone thinks they're good at something that they're actually very bad at.

I believe Dunning-Kruger also applies to companies: there are a lot of companies which think they provide a good customer experience but actually suck. I didn't name names before since all the obvious (to me) examples are companies I'm personally mad at. That's perhaps not the most objective position to be writing from.

But thanks to Consumerist, I have a nice case study of the corporate version of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Consumerist runs an annual "contest" for the Worst Company in America, and Electronic Arts won not once, but twice in a row. The Worst Company in America is organized like a championship bracket, with two companies facing off against each other and reader votes deciding which is more evil. Eventually the initial 32 companies are narrowed down to a single "winner" which gets a "golden poo" award.

Amazingly enough, this contest sometimes manages to bring out the worst in companies which already have built up piles of customer ill-will. In 2011, for example, Comcast was caught trying to stuff the ballot box to avoid being voted Worst Company two years in a row.

All of which brings us around to Electronic Arts. EA actually did take home the Golden Poo two years in a row, so clearly it has some issues. Customers are apparently upset over the company's nickel-and-diming pricing strategy, and that some of it's most high-profile recent games were apparently really bad, really broken, or both.

In response, EA acknowledged that it could have done some things better, but then blamed its "victory" on customers whining about the cover art on a game, and an organized effort by homophobes to smear the company.

Wait, what?

So Electronic Arts is clearly doing a very bad job of creating a customer experience, as evidenced very strongly by this online poll. I'll go a step further and suggest that it's reasonable to assume that Consumerist's demographic is fairly close to EA's.

And EA seems to think that it actually is doing a good job, as evidenced by the company's response which not only included the weird statements about cover art and bigotry, but also the deep-in-denial claim that "Every day, millions of people across globe play and love our games – literally, hundreds of millions more than will vote in this contest." [As an aside: it is extremely dangerous, but also very common, to assume that having a lot of customers is evidence that your customers like you. You can probably think of companies you hate to do business with but have to buy from anyway. Chances are those companies think you love them.]

That seems to complete the Dunning-Kruger checklist pretty definitively for Electronic Arts. But there is hope for them, in the form of a new CEO who said that the Worst Company in America award should be a "wake-up call" for the company.

Sometimes a fresh perspective is the only way out.

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