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What Fortnite, Pokémon GO, and Chewy Teach Us About Listening

There’s a strong likelihood you’ve heard of the game Fortnite. It’s one of the most successful video games on the planet, rapidly permeating pop culture and evolving the way we think of gaming.

It’s a remarkable story that continues to write new chapters for itself thanks to Fortnite’s brilliant development and design teams, as well as their rabid fans. Fortnite is a co-op, open-world survival game that is playable across multiple platforms and countries, uniting gamers everywhere.

Here at Fast Capital 360, you’ll find a lot of Fortnite players scattered throughout the company.

“The game is last man standing, in a way’, COO of SEO Locale and former director of marketing for Fast Capital 360, Nick Quirk said. “But it’s also a mix of Minecraft and the battle royale games so many players are used to playing. Plus, I can play it on whatever platform I choose; that’s the appeal.”

Fortnite skyrocketed to success during the early parts of this year and has only seen its numbers grow. The game’s ubiquity stems from its success on Twitch, Amazon’s video game streaming platform. The best players broadcast their abilities for the world to see on a daily basis, making millions of dollars for themselves in the process.

One of the most faithful players is assistant sales manager Ryan Stoops. He’s been playing for nearly six months, meaning he was hooked on the game about three months before the rest of the world realized how much fun he was already having.

“What really makes the game special’, Stoops continued, ‘is that Fortnite listens to all of the feedback and suggestions their players have shared to better the game. All of the recommendations are made by people like me and you who just have good ideas.”

Stoops says that the weekly game updates perpetuate his interest and the majority of the changes are posted by players on Fortnite’s subreddit, FortniteBR; a perfect forum for tech-savvy gamers.

“No other game has ever done that’, Stoops said. ‘Ever.”

But these elements alone do not allow you to rule the video game kingdom for very long. For the kind of reign that Halo, Call of Duty, and others relished, Fortnite has used a secret weapon that isn’t found in any skin, pack, or update.

Their ears.

The King Holds Court

At the top of the heap, you’re able to see every threat that comes your way and plan accordingly. Alas, some kings don’t see the dangers in front of them and fall victim to their own ignorance. Fortnite will not be such rulers.

Take one look at their Twitter feed and their 3.78 million followers and you’ll begin to understand why that is. They listen. They take action. No, they’re not responding to every frustrated or inquiring gamer that comes their way, but they are listening to everything that is said about their game.

All of the data they gather from their users gets filtered through the organization swiftly, allowing them to take any and all steps necessary to fix any glaring issues or needs.

For example, Fortnite announced in early May that they had entered into a partnership with Marvel which would allow Thanos, the villain in the recently released Avengers movie, to be featured as a playable character.

Like with any new update, there were some glitches with Thanos mode. Players voiced their grievances and the Social and Development teams went to work.

Within four hours, the Fortnite team had done the following:

  • Lowered Thanos’ shield capacity from 300 to 200
  • Increased Thanos’ max health from 700 to 800
  • Decreased the damage Thanos’laser did against human characters
  • Continued to monitor the situation in case more changes needed to be made

That kind of turnaround for a game this massive, with this many players, is astounding.

Users still have mixed feelings and opinions over their latest limited-time player-upgrade, but to their credit, Fortnite continues to update and gauge the needs of their players.

“The people; they love you, my King”

As you’d imagine with a highly engaged and tech-savvy audience, Fortnite’s twitter mentions are constantly being bombarded with requests for updates, changes, reversals, and other wild suggestions. While each individual won’t be directly addressed, the most common problems are dealt with accordingly.

Twitter is clearly the most visible platform but Reddit might hold more weight to the overall community. As Stoops told me, most of the changes made to the game are suggestions posted directly from Reddit, specifically the FortniteBR subreddit. 

Retweets and likes are great and all but Reddit’s upvote/downvote system allows Fortnite community managers to gauge which problems, questions, and suggestions are most pressing to the community. This subreddit is not just the complaint hotline for Fortnite’s millions of players, it’s arguably the most active segment of their userbase. Everything that revolves around the game – the jokes, the highlights, the curious gameplay choices, etc. – is discussed here.

The responsiveness of the Fortnite team is outstanding and deserving of the accolades they receive. The way in which they interact, externally and internally, demonstrates that collaboration and execution can exist at hyperspeed regardless of the size of your team. Granted, being super tech savvy always helps.

But having the tech skills and a fervent userbase doesn’t always equate to sustained success. The desire and follow-through of the company to both listen and respond to what their community needs is an element that not all organizations have and can ultimately be their downfall.

Learning From Fallen Kingdoms

Let’s rewind the clock all the way back to the Summer of 2016. Remember those nostalgic days? Boy, times sure were simpler; iPhones didn’t even come with an X yet!

July 5, 201,6 saw the release of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game that would bring the iconic world of Pokémon ‘alive’. After a week in the market, the game featured more than 21 million users and would more than double by July 19, 201,6 with 45 million people on the hunt to find pocket monsters.

Adults and older teenagers who grew up with the Pokemon franchise flocked to the game (this author included), leading users into highly populated areas in their local cities and hometowns in the hopes of finding their favorite creature – sometimes at all costs.

Pokémon GO had smacked a home run in their first few weeks on the job. Everyone seemed thrilled with the final product and looked forward to how the game would evolve over time.

And then it didn’t.

If you lived in a rural area far from the hustle and bustle of a San Francisco, Chicago, or Miami, your gaming experience was…repetitive. Many gamers shared their suggestions for how to improve the overall gameplay, user-experience, and ways to rotate the types of pokemon in areas outside of major cities.

Of course, there were plenty of updates and augmentations to the app, but most of the wide-sweeping desires of the community were largely ignored. It was extremely disappointing and frustrating for everyone who had fallen in love with the game, hoping it would improve with time.

In July of 2017, Niantic, Pokémon GO’s parent company threw a huge, physical festival in Chicago, attracting the game’s biggest fans and champions, as well as their most prolific players. The idea was fantastic: a real-world meet-up on a massive scale with new product features and rare character releases designed to drum up good press for the game.

It was a disaster.

What was supposed to be the celebration of the game’s first anniversary devolved into nothing but a debacle. The game’s servers were bombarded by users causing thousands of crashes and progress lost throughout the day. Chants of, ‘Fix the game!”, drowned out any announcements trying to be made about the past, present, and future states of the game by the Pokémon GO staff. The white flag came at 5 PM local time when Niantic cut the event short by two hours, ending an exhausting and depressing day for everyone involved.

Had the Pokémon GO community management team been more proactive and engaging during the game’s early days, it’s safe to assume attendees (as well as the media and non-attending fans) would have been much more forgiving. The relationship between user and company had been strained greatly only a year after the game’s release; the greater community was over it.

One of the best answers I was able to find on the matter came from Anvit Srivastav, a Quora user whose response to the question, Why did the Pokémon GO craze die down? has over 35,000 views.
Anvit’s answer was broken up into three parts, but for the sake of our needs, we’ll focus only on the first portion of his answer.  

If Niantic had even tried to understand the target audience, they would’ve realized that player vs player battles and trading Pokemon with friends are essential features which they should have had from the start. Nothing would beat the feeling of recognizing a fellow player, locking eyes 

with them in the real world, and starting a Pokemon battle. I hear they’re finally planning on introducing these features, but it might be too late.”

As a former player of Pokémon GO myself, Anvit’s comments about the lack of camaraderie ring true. If you weren’t able to physically meet-up with someone, it was impossible to play with or against one of your friends. Fortnite’s gameplay allows for friendly team-ups and interactions at all times. It’s quite common to hear Fortniters making plans to play in tandem later that night. The social aspect of the game becomes a glue that carries the game’s popularity.  

Nearly two years after it was released, Pokémon GO still has over 23 million users logging into the game on a daily basis. It’s still an insane amount of users compared to so many apps, games, that businesses would kill to have (Niantic has made over $2 billion with Pokémon GO).

Pokémon GO’s rise and fall was a spectacle in and of itself. Unfortunately for Niantic, their inability to meet and anticipate user expectations was a key component in their swift decline (even though by business standards they’ve been successful).

As it has long been said by Social Customer Service Expert Jay Baer, customer service is now a spectator sport. Pokémon GO wasn’t able to rise to fame on the backs of their stunning performance in the eyes of an ever-watchful internet – but there is one shining example we all can learn from.

Keep Your Eyes on the Bone Throne

We leave the world of video games for another industry that has always won over the hearts of Americans and the world: pets.

The amount of money Americans spend on their pets has increased each and every year for decades and 2017 was no different. A whopping $69 billion was dropped on our furry friends last year and the market is expected to easily eclipse $70 billion by the end of 2018.

I personally have a lot of experience in the pet industry, having worked for the now-defunct Pet360 for four years as both a social media and e-commerce content manager. One of the reason’s Pet360 is no longer a company?

Chewy.

Well, it’s partly Chewy – it’s more because Chewy, like Fortnite, responded to the needs and wants of their customer base, while Pet360, much like Pokémon GO, was slow to address the changes of the market.

While it’s bittersweet to write it, it’s a perfect comparison. Chewy was acquired by PetSmart in April of 2017 for a record-breaking $3.7 billion – more than Walmart’s purchase of Jet.com. PetSmart recognized that Chewy was stealing market share from their own brick and mortar stores and decided to absorb the competition rather than fight them any further.

But how did Chewy go from a small South Florida retailer with razor-thin margins to the largest e-commerce acquisition in United States’ history? They listened.

The New Top Dogs

From their inception, Chewy has been world-class in two things:

  • Providing one-to-two-day shipping on high-quality pet foods at bargain prices
  • Customer service.

One of the best examples of how dedicated Chewy is to customer care revolves around a customer who lost their two beloved dogs in a freak accident. For a pet owner like myself, losing one dog is a devastating loss; the idea of losing another in short period would be unconscionable.
After Chewy was made aware of the situation, their actions were swift and empathetic. They refunded the grieving pet parent in full and instructed them to donate the food to a local shelter if they so desired. Chewy also then sent flowers and a card to the family plus a photobook memorializing their cherished pups.

The family was floored. So was the rest of the pet world.  

Word of this story spread like wildfire across the internet, eventually reaching the ears of Scott and Alison Stratten, two digital business advisors and podcasters based out of Toronto. They loved what Chewy was doing and how they’d set a new bar for customer outreach and experience in the world of social care (I profiled their episode of the Unpodcast when I originally wrote about this Chewy story for Convince and Convert).

Chewy didn’t stumble into the good graces of the internet by accident. This wasn’t a one-off, all-in effort by the company to drum up good PR. It’s part of their DNA and always has been.

When I worked for Pet360, I would constantly review the competition to see who was making waves in different digital disciplines. As I’d scour Facebook reviews and Twitter mentions, it became clear there was an obsessive, loving relationship being created between customer and company. Chewy was not only responding to each message, they were showering their customers with gifts simply for being their customer.

As a competitor, it was terrifying, seeing how efficient their teams were at solving problems and delighting pet owners across the country. Most of the messages they received were oozing with happiness and stunned enthusiasm. Even taking a look at their Facebook community page today, I see the same level of love, responsiveness, and passion I saw in 2016. Chewy hooks their customers with crazy awesome prices and keeps them with stellar, often unfathomably great, customer care.

Their ability to listen to each customer and respond accordingly is evidence that, no matter how large or small your company is, it’s possible to scale empathy and execution with great success.

They are truly the top dog every business can learn from.

The Line of Succession

Fortnite and Chewy will not always be the reigning champions. That is simply the way business cycles operate.

The thing that will always rule the kingdom will be how the aspiring rulers intend to heed the calls of their people. If they listen to their needs, chances are they will curry favor with their audience and gain their loyalty and affection.

Building your business to reach Fortnite and Chewy heights within your particular industry certainly depends on a variety of factors, but the way you treat people dictates how successful you can become.
Listen to your customers, prospects, and former customers. Their insights, experiences, and ideas are valuable items you should never take for granted.
Who knows – they could be worth their weight in gold.

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