Gaming studio Electronic Arts is, finally, no longer America’s most hated company.
In 2012 and 2013, readers of Consumerist.com voted EA as the worst company in America, beating the likes of Bank of America, AT&T and Walmart. But in the last two years, the company has made a concerted effort to reverse course. The results have been promising so far: In 2014, EA lost the title of worst company in America, and more importantly customers are coming back. After a string of disappointing results, the company beat industry expectations in its Q4 2015 earnings, with revenue growing 5 percent year over year.
In a recent CNET article, the company shed some light on the steps it took to get back into the game.
The first step was a simple but a hard one: accepting that there was a problem. Despite the company’s falling stock price, many executives in the company didn’t realize the severity of its problems. Among other things, customers complained that EA wasn’t releasing innovative games, that it was charging for extra features and that the company was ignoring player feedback.
"We needed to look at systemic problems," Patrick Söderlund, executive vice president of EA, admitted to CNET, adding that executives used to dismiss customer complaints and didn’t take the company’s reputation as the worst company in America seriously. "We needed to understand this is how people perceive us—right or wrong, it was as simple as that."
The biggest challenge for Andrew Wilson, EA’s CEO, was to get the company to recognize that it had a customer satisfaction problem. He encouraged his executives to rally behind the company’s mantra, “Think Players First,” and challenged employees to make decisions that prioritized the interests of customers.
Part of that strategy was acknowledging the limitations of Big Data. Just like many tech companies, EA had a lot of customer data, which it relied on heavily to make business decisions. To win back customers, the company needed more than data.
“The challenge with data is you never seek to do anything profound or inspired," Wilson told CNET. “We weren't thinking about everything we were doing in the context of the player experience.” Under Wilson, the company sought out to “be human first” and to listen to its community of players.
"The challenge with data is you never seek to do anything profound or inspired."
- Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts (CLICK TO TWEET)
Commenting on Wilson’s approach to customer data, Jake Sorofman, vice president at research and advisory company Gartner, had this to say in a blog post:
When it comes to customer insight, sometimes the more data we have, the less we really know. Sometimes the best customer insights are simple, elemental and, most importantly, utterly human.
Putting the company’s mantra in practice required making tough business choices, which in some cases meant delaying the release of games that weren’t up to its customers’ standards. It also meant engaging with the gamer community before games were fully released in the market. For instance, for its next big game, Battlefield Hardline, EA offered a pre-release test version to the public, gathering feedback from 1.7 million players in the process. The initiative was so successful, seven million players signed up when the company announced a subsequent public test in February. Pre-releasing games and getting customer feedback early was part of the company’s plans to “be more open and communicative with players,” according to CNET.
"When it comes to customer insight, sometimes the more data we have, the less we really know."
- Jake Sorofman, vice president at Gartner (CLICK TO TWEET)
EA’s turnaround efforts is far from over. The company is under tremendous pressure to keep its momentum, with high-profile titles such as Star Wars Battlefront in its slate. In the short term, the company is relying on fan favorites for its comeback, but EA also needs to catch up on mobile and social media games.
For other companies, EA’s story illustrates the pros and cons of relying on Big Data to understand its customers. EA recognized that customer data alone won’t help it rebuild its tarnished relationship with players. Getting feedback, hearing directly from players and embracing transparency all played a role in EA’s impressive turnaround. It’s a real-world story that demonstrates the importance of knowing the primary sources of customer intelligence available to your company—and using them to gain a complete picture of your customers.
To explore the primary sources of customer intelligence today (including big data, social media analytics, CRM systems and more), get your copy of The Enterprise Guide to Customer Intelligence.