Sunday, June 28, 2015

The less things change the more they stay the same

In which we conclude that WSOPcom isn't even trying.

Those of you who read this blog with far more care and attention than it is written may have noticed that Part 3 of this series seemed to peter out unexpectedly. Specifically, neither the problem of mine that had been "escalated" nor its resolution were ever described.

Believe it or not, there was an excellent reason for this. Almost two years to the day since the problem in question arose, it re-arose [1]. And since I wanted to wait and see how everything panned out the second time, I decided to save the details for this final installment. Not surprisingly, the waiting took a while.

Rewind to a few weeks after the WSOPcom launch. Word began spreading [2] that the online site would "tier match" the loyalty level players had reached in the bricks-and-mortar properties of the Caesars Empire [3]. Of particular interest was the fact that the higher your tier level at WSOPcom, the higher your rake-back. (As I described in "A tale of two sisters" the more action you give a room, real or virtual, the bigger the benefits.)

Many of us who play poker at Caesars properties put in enough hours to earn the coveted "Diamond Card" which gives customers daily access to free chicken wings. We quickly ran the numbers and realized that a tier match to Diamond at WSOPcom would be worth enough to pay for a couple of dinners a month at a more pleasant venue than our usual choices [4].

I promptly wrote to WSOPcom support asking for a tier match.

Support thanked me for my e-mail and cut-n-pasted a bit from the website describing how many APPs [5] were required to reach each tier level.

I replied to the e-mail in considerable detail.

The reply to my reply made it clear the customer rep had no idea what I was talking about.

The topic appeared at the WSOPcom 2+2 thread in which the forum rep suggested we e-mail support with our Total Rewards number and WSOPcom screen-name.

Seventy-three posters found different ways to tell the rep we'd already tried that, six of whom also managed to work in flattering remarks about Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler.

A mere forty-eight hours later the rep returned with new, exciting information. After a couple of paragraphs that seemed mostly concerned with how hard the rep had worked doing this wonderful thing for us (i.e., giving us access to a promo his company had allegedly launched), and several other innuendos that we had no idea how lucky we all were, the exciting information was revealed. It was an e-mail address that was to be used specifically to request the tier match and for no other purpose.

Nobody asked why this was necessary.

Actually there really wasn't time for much further discussion because almost immediately we all discovered exactly the same thing.

The fucking e-mail didn't work.

I don't mean that sending the required information to this new, super-special e-mail address failed to produce the desired tier match. That would be wholly unremarkable and frankly par for the course. No. The e-mail address didn't exist.

I forget how this was eventually sorted out. I think we were advised to e-mail regular support again and ask them to forward the e-mail to "bonuses and promotions." Suffice it to say that even once the correct party got the information it took another seven days for the tier match to go into effect. And during the intervening period none of us were getting our increased rake-back. It was costing us money, and costing WSOPcom action and any remaining credibility it might have had with its customers.

Then we found out the tier match was only good for a month.

It almost appeared that WSOPcom was doing its best to be so utterly incompetent that it forced its fuming customers back to its own bricks-and-mortar card rooms. Which is where I was a few weeks ago when a fellow grinder mentioned to me that the tier match was back on! It was again for a limited time, with the boost to rake-back applying for the calendar month in which it was granted plus the entire following month.

Being something of a nit, I e-mailed in my request for a tier match a few minutes after midnight, June 1st.

I won't reproduce all the e-mail exchanges since some of you may have just eaten, but here are the salient details and a few excerpts.

June 1st: I requested a tier match and sent all required information.

I got a response within a few hours which I will include in full because it hopefully demonstrates I'm not making this up, plus getting such a speedy response is something of a record.

Hey Meowlzebub,

Thanks for contacting us; my name is Brandon and I'll be helping you today.

I understand you would like to have your status matched with your Total Rewards Account.

Please be advised, I have escalated your request to our Promotions team to be reviewed. There is a timeframe of 7-10 business days for this to be completed/ an update sent to you.

On another note, I have reviewed your account and see you have been doing well with us so far. I would like to wish you continued success at the tables.

It's a pleasure to have you as a player, and we look forward to helping you again in the future.

Okay, I included it because Brandon for some reason felt it was necessary to look at my win-loss record and frankly I'd been crushing it.

It occurred to me that if WSOPcom employees chose to mind their own business it might cut down on the 7-10 business days required to comply with this simple request, but I was so surprised to get a competent response at all I let it go.

It was a little disappointing to not hear from them again until June 8th, when I was sent instructions on how to link my WSOPcom and Total Rewards accounts. Since they were already linked (the former shows up on my monthly summary from the latter), it was apparent to me that we were in the early stages of a fuck up. However, in an effort to minimize any further delay I followed the supplied link to an obscure part of their website and filled out a form linking the accounts that had been linked for the last two years.

On the third attempt at pressing the button I did not receive a stream of C++ and a browser freeze. Instead the pop-up told me I'd been a good boy.

On June 10th I received an e-mail apologizing for something and which informed me my accounts were now linked.

I replied that they had been linked for the last two years and that what I actually wanted was a tier match.

One June 11th I received another apologetic e-mail:

Hey Meowlzebub

Thank you for contacting us. My name is Marcia and I will be assisting you today.

Let me take this time to commend you on being at Gold status. It is indeed a pleasure to see you doing so well.

In regards to your query, the Tier Credits for a given month will be credited by the second week of the following month.

This is why you are not seeing anything as yet.

Nonetheless, for every 1 APP earned on, you will be given 1 Tier credited.

It's a pleasure to have you as a player, and we look forward to helping you again in the future.

I appreciate that if you don't live in this sort of hell it may be a little difficult to follow the details here. You may therefore simply prefer to take my word for the fact that what is being described in this e-mail has absolutely nothing to do with getting my WSOPcom tier status matched to my Total Rewards Diamond status. And while you, the reader, may not know that, it is something that customer service reps for WSOPcom would readily understand if only they were given the necessary training and information.

I explained that the APP-TC exchange rate was completely irrelevant to what I had, for the past eleven days, been trying to accomplish, and got another e-mail:

Hey Meowlzebub,

Thanks for contacting us; my name is Clinton and I'll be helping you today.

With regards tyo your request, I have forwarded this off to be looked into. Please allow up to 72 hours for an update on this. 

We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience in this matter.

Forwarding things off to be looked into sounds like sending a tissue sample to a lab for a biopsy. Except for a WSOPcom tier match it apparently takes longer. And by the morning of June 13th I was steaming:

This matter has still not been resolved. It's absolutely pathetic that you offer a TR/WSOPcom tier match for a month and nearly half the month has already expired without the match being made. Either discontinue the promotion or expect to explain this laughable incompetence to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Seventeen minutes later I received the reply:

Hey Meowlzebub,

Thanks for contacting us, and please accept our apologies for the delay in responding. My name is Imani and I will be assisting you today.

Please be advised that your WSOP account matched to your Diamond status on your TR.

I logged on and found that, indeed, my WSOPcom account now showed as Diamond.

And I concluded that WSOPcom is just fucking with us. Getting this tier match should be as simple as pressing a button, even if it takes three tries. It should not take thirteen days. And I can only speculate how much more time and money I would have lost had I not uttered the magic incantation.

Nevada... Gaming... Control... Board.

That's how you get your problem "escalated" kittens. You threaten them with the grown ups.

[1] I tried that word without the hyphen and it looked like a reference to some sort of colonic irrigation therapy. Since I feel I have conclusively demonstrated that WSOPcom can't (or won't) get its shit together, this struck me as overkill. 

[2] I use this construction deliberately. There was considerable doubt as to the reality of this offer for a couple of weeks because it was apparently announced on part of the website that would periodically disappear.

[3] I'm sure I'm not the only one to imagine departing, corpulent supremo Gary Loveman wearing a toga and playing a violin as flames from The Mirage volcano set fire to the roof of the Forum Shops.

[4] Most of us can only afford to eat out if we use comps; typically a pastrami sandwich at Nosh.

[5] I have no fucking idea.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Escalating Problems

In which we discover that the customer is always wrong

There was a time in the not too distant past when businesses put a premium on customer service. I'm told that this fundamental principle began to erode around the Reagan era, when Americans were so busy standing tall that they frequently tripped over things and spilled soup in the laps of patrons [1]. 

I've spent a significant fraction of my life in bars, night clubs and casinos, and have dated several cocktail waitresses and hair stylists. Consequently I feel I am on pretty solid ground when I acknowledge that the customer is not always right. Based on direct experience as well as listening, occasionally with genuine interest, to former girlfriends complaining about "work," I can safely say that the customer is frequently an overbearing, rude, drunk scumbag with all the charm of a dozen live leeches that have been poured for obscure reasons into one's underpants. 

The puzzle, however, is which MBA programs are recommending that customer service personnel should endeavor to sink to the same depths as their worst customers.

I suspect part of the problem is outsourcing [2] which, as noted in part two of this series, is how WSOPcom has elected to handle customer service. If you are careful in preventing your reps from having access to pertinent information, compound this with a website that is vague and frustrating to use, and finally build in long delays between all communications with complaining customers, you cleverly guarantee that, by the time these customers find outlets such as the 2+2 forums or a personal blog, they are spitting equal measures of nails and vitriol.

Within a few weeks of WSOPcom joining the market, it became impossible to avoid the conclusion that the truly spectacular incompetence was not some highly-sophisticated, level-four thinking developed to charm and amuse us, and that the outfit really did intend to insult its paying customers either by ignoring them, directing them to e-mail addresses that didn't actually exist, or by having reps in the far-flung reaches of the American Empire cut-and-paste responses from arbitrarily-chosen pages of their ghastly website.

It was at this point that I was introduced to the concept of escalating problems.

Many of the cocktail waitresses and hair stylists that I dated were also alcoholics [3], and as a result the word "escalate" has almost exclusively negative connotations for me. All the manuals and counselors made it clear that the desired goal was de-escalation. Thus it was with considerable trepidation that I received the news that one of my problems with WSOPcom was going to be escalated.

It turns out that in this Orwellian business lingo, escalating means the person who received the problem is not getting paid enough to solve it, thus they pass it on to someone else. What is less well advertised is that in order to get something escalated (which you will have to do since the customer service reps have no useful information at all), you have to make a real nuisance of yourself on social media and/or at the sponsored forum on the 2+2 boards [4].

When WSOPcom established its official presence at 2+2, the reps, apparently having joined the company from FedEx, immediately adopted a defensive position, parrying most complaints with business-speak that roughly translated as "you have no idea how difficult it is to run a poker site," and "we don't see why anyone would want that feature."

So I learned that escalation could be... well. not terrible, and I learned that WSOPcom treated its customers as if they were parasites that were scuppering an otherwise well-oiled machine [5], and I concluded I wasn't going to give them a wooden nickel.

And then their competitor went tits up.

And I went back to WSOPcom.

And, as I'll detail in part four of this series, absolutely nothing has changed.

[1] For brevity I'll restrict my observations to the USA.  In the United Kingdom, customer service does not technically exist, unless one includes the bizarre blend of unctuous obsequiousness and pomposity personified brilliantly by the two sides of Basil Fawlty.

[2] One notable exception that deserves special mention is the remarkable performance of the FedEx company. This odious collection of goats and lizards does not outsource its customer service department, nor its recovery mechanisms when, as is usually the case, the parcel it is entrusted with is lost, stolen, destroyed, eaten by bears, or falls into a volcano. Nevertheless, in a complete volte-face to pre-Reagan principles, FedEx customer service reps begin phone calls by making it abundantly clear that, irrespective of the details of your complaint, it is you, the customer, who has done something terribly wrong. And they will shout at you until you apologize or hang up.

[3] Before any former girlfriends in these professions stumble across this piece and contemplate legal action, I should point out that many of them were not alcoholics. I did, however, during a hypomanic episode, become fascinated with the correlations and intersections of career and substance abuse choices, and summarized my research through Venn diagrams made out of fuse wire to which I would attach silver posts and give them to the relevant girlfriends as earrings. 

[4] I have to say I initially had some sympathy for the WSOPcom reps at 2+2. There is a long tradition of posters there being assholes, almost as if there is a monthly competition. Expecting reps to field customer queries when their promotions and products were so poorly-conceived and executed was never going to be pretty.  That sympathy soon evaporated thanks to the imperious and condescending tone of the reps. The WSOPcom 2+2 board was abruptly closed a few weeks ago. I suspect they didn't want the bad publicity it tends to generate right before the World Series of Poker kicked off here in Vegas. Customers can now share ideas, complaints, and be alerted to improvements at a brand new WSOPcom forum which is worse than their website and almost completely deserted. Oh and the bricks-and-mortar WSOP needn't have worried about the 2+2 forums generating bad publicity - they have done that themselves through their completely predictable incompetence, such as making players who cashed in the Colossus stand in line for several hours to get paid. Frankly it's embarrassing to be part of a profession that has a huge build-up every year to its annual jamboree and then, regular as clockwork, royally fucks it up.

[5] I'm offering a $5 reward to anyone who can find the metaphor I was trying to use here. I think it has something to do with rust. Also possibly a boat.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Indian Atheists

For some mysterious reason, Facebook has deemed the "Indian Atheists" page as "unsafe." This means one cannot share posts from the page, nor can one link to it from within Facebook. If you would like to check out the page and judge for yourself, use this link.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Oh no. Technophobia. Even the machines hate me.

I have just spent over an hour trouble-shooting an audio problem on my computer. Now, as will shortly be revealed, like most retired theoretical astrophysicists I am not the most practical person on this or probably any other planet, and in an attempt to compensate I try to be at least methodical when such issues crop up.


1. Check jack is firmly inserted into hole on tower with headphone symbol.

2. Check other jack is firmly inserted in headphones.

3. Check media player is not muted.

4. Try a different media player.

5. Fuck about endlessly starting from the Control Panel and wandering and winding down paths I never knew existed for an hour and give up.

6. Shout about fucking Microsoft and how everything was much simpler in the days of VMS and record players.

7. Make executive decision to listen to music on iPhone instead.

8. Remove jack from tower.

9. Attempt to plug jack into iPhone but discover port already filled with jack.

10. Follow wire from jack in iPhone and discover it terminates at headphones currently perched on head.

11. Discover jack previously in tower attached to back-up iPhone.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Tale Of Two Sisters

In which we discover why Ultimate Poker retained its player base and what WSOPcom might learn as a result

In April 2013 Ultimate Poker rolled out the first legal, albeit bare-bones, real-money online poker site in Nevada. WSOPcom, who [1] in my previous post I characterized as Ultimate's herpetic younger sister, flashily appeared on the scene later that summer, with off-the-shelf software that had been battle-tested and refined in the European market, and the commercial power of the mighty World Series of Poker brand.

Everything associated with the WSOP is, of course, owned [2] , trademarked, exploited, and generally sold down the river by Caesars Entertainment Corporation [3]. However, even detractors would agree that the corporation's marketing division has an absolutely enormous budget that is more than sufficient to overcome the lack of imagination of its management and staff.

WSOPcom promotional material was suddenly everywhere. The stained and thinning felt on the poker tables at CET properties was somehow scraped off and new coverings appeared, gaudily bedecked with the WSOPcom logo and cunningly designed to camouflage blinds posted by players in the end seats.  New swivel chairs sprung up, again sporting the online site's logo, that crashed into adjacent ones whenever a player left the table. Pamphlets were distributed by attractive young women in fishnets and bustiers, who set a trend for all future WSOPcom employees by having virtually no useful information about the site when quizzed on the topic.

As the PR juggernaut rolled through Nevada, I revised my estimate for the survival of Ultimate Poker from months to weeks.

And I was completely wrong.

Poker players, mostly out of necessity, rarely exhibit loyalty to anyone but themselves. Many, I am glad to say, have a respect for The Game and for honesty that keeps the ecosystem functioning and has the added benefit of avoiding unpleasantness late at night in parking lots. But loyalty is something that casinos have long known is a commodity that typically has to be paid for. Hence loyalty programs.

Casinos and their online spin-offs all offer some kind of kick-back to players in order to keep those players on their bricks-and-mortar or virtual premises rather than those of their competitors. A standard method employed by online poker sites involves deposit bonuses. At certain times, players depositing money on a site will have that deposit matched at some percentage and up to some limit by the house. The player releases that bonus by playing on the site. The more you play, the more the house makes in rake, and the more of your bonus is released. In essence it is one of those symbiotic relationships that real journalists usually illustrate with small birds removing food lodged in the teeth of alligators.

A few weeks after launch, WSOPcom announced a deposit bonus. I immediately flapped over to my computer, pulled up the client, and after a few minutes pecking at the keyboard had successfully transferred a few hundred dollars from my bank to the site.

A great deal more pecking through the snarling maw of the cashier page [4] provided no evidence that my bonus had been registered by the system. I reread the e-mail announcing the program and noticed at the bottom that I should have included a bonus code.

Bonus codes have been a feature of these bonuses even at real sites like PokerStars and I have never fully understood them. They are not used to track how a player learned about the promotion and thus serve no purpose other than additional keyboard pecking. However, since I rarely read instructions carefully [5], I had forgotten to enter such codes on multiple occasions before Black Friday. The problem had always been quickly rectified by telling support I was a dummy and could they please manually activate the bonus.

I should remind readers at this point that I grew up in London and consequently am more comfortable with accented English spoken by Sunil from Sasaram than Sully from South Boston. Nevertheless, I was a little perturbed to find that my "problem" as it had now become was to be handled by someone twelve time-zones from Las Vegas. I was more than a little perturbed when I was informed by e-mail that my bonus could not be activated.

Now I suppose it is just about conceivable that the oversight of the Nevada Gaming Commission is so stringent and repressive that it bars any agent of WSOPcom from manually flicking a switch to trigger a bonus. Far more likely, however, is that in outsourcing customer support to some third party with employees sitting on another continent, the system is unable to handle the slightest deviation from an absurdly rigid process.

Or it could be that nobody gave a rat's ass about my deposit bonus.

I'll return to WSOPcom's almost unique views on customer service and support in the next installment, but for now I leave you to contemplate this. I am not the only idiot who forgets to enter bonus codes. I checked. Further, and as explained above, the reason online poker sites offer such bonuses is because it benefits them. Thus the fact that WSOPcom would not or could not activate this bonus suggests a hole in their understanding of the business they are in.

More importantly, at least to me, was that this episode alerted me to the fact WSOPcom outsourced its customer support. Ultimate Poker had its support right here in Vegas. I realized that I didn't care that WSOPcom's software was miles ahead of the Ultimate product. I would rather give my action to a company that created local jobs and generated local revenue.

Former readers of my Blind Straddle column may recall my ground-breaking article on table image inspired by a young lady named Hope. I once remarked to Hope that "if you don't have herpes by the time you're thirty-five, you're sleeping with the wrong people." I mention this because my characterization of WSOPcom as the younger sister with herpes would not, in itself, be a deal-breaker for most poker players, particularly given she was prettier and faster [6] than her older sister Ultimate.

But you really have to re-evaluate the situation when you realize the younger sister is both obstinate and as dumb as a rock.

[1] If corporations are people, grammarians better get used to these kinds of constructions.

[2] Technically dependent on the current status of CET debt restructuring, the merry-go-round of subsidiaries and holding companies, and a bunch of other financial wizardry that would require far more research on my part than is likely to be supported by my latest royalty check from Kendall-Hunt for $11.49.

[3] When the company changed its name from Harrah's Entertainment in 2010 - a move usually made for PR reasons by nuclear waste processing facilities such as Windscale - the new corporation lost staff, credibility, and - for reasons that are mystifying even to Chapter 11 legal specialists - its apostrophe. 

[4] It is traditional for the cashier area of online sites to make deposits extremely simple. WSOPcom adopts the philosophy that any other information relating to player bonuses should be part of an amusing game of hide-and-seek.

[5] The exception being high-amperage household appliances since the incident in 2005.

[6] I am told this usage of faster will confuse anyone under the age of fifty. Boo hoo.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Let Sleeping Cats Snooze

In which we begin to uncover how a license to print money turned into a 28 billion dollar deficit.

As will be apparent from the frequency of posts on this blog, I have mellowed since turning fifty to the point where the stupidity of background events rarely causes me to comment. But just when I felt confident that intellectually I had curled up on a cushion, some damn fool came along and poked me with a stick.

The damn fool in question is slightly amorphous, but since I live in a land where corporations are people, it can be roughly identified as WSOPcom.

I'll use that rather ugly string when referring specifically to the online poker site. Not the website of the online poker site, because, while sometimes appearing to be the site that you'd want to consult with queries about WSOPcom, will, at the press of a button, suddenly transform to the website covering the WSOP. And by WSOP I don't just mean what the WSOP meant for decades - a tournament series held in Las Vegas before it got so damned hot everybody wanted to stay inside - but also WSOP-C, WSOP-E, and WSOP-WTF.

The point being that one can be attempting to ascertain the e-mail address for Nevada support for WSOPcom and seamlessly get transported to a list of chip counts for a tournament in Prague. The wonders of modern technology.

When online poker returned to Nevada, I was one of the first to sign up at Ultimate. It was exciting. It was slightly less exciting when the game client showed all the sophistication of circa 2002. When it became apparent the traffic at the site was never going to crawl above horse-and-buggy status the word "exciting" became pretty much surplus to requirement, but I won a few tournaments and played some PLO8 cash and generally it was better than nothing.

Then WSOPcom launched. Ooooohhh. Shiny shiny!

I confidently predicted on one of those poker forums where 95% of the posts are "+1" "in before 'Doug Lee is a tool'" and "HU4rollz!!!" that the superiority of WSOPcom's software would bury Ultimate in a matter of months.

Eventually Ultimate did go tits up for a variety of reasons, but before that occurred many of us played there exclusively, shunning her prettier, younger sister like she had herpes.


Stay tuned.