Google's Customer Contempt Conundrum

Google's attitude towards its customers is a continuing stain upon its reputation.

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In an ideal world, no one would ever need to contact customer services. Every step of one's interaction with a company would take place online and be hassle free. All the information would be available on the web. Problems could simply be fixed by reading an FAQ. No mistakes would be made by either party. In those rare occasions where something did go wrong, the "community" would provide free peer-to-peer help in official forums.

Unfortunately for Google, we live in the real world. Things go wrong and - understandably - people want to email or call someone who will fix it.

For the last few months, I've been gathering examples of where Google's utter contempt towards its paying customers is starting to generate real ill-will towards the company.

I want to make it very clear - moaning on websistes doesn't necessarily indicate a widespread problem and, if it did, Google is so tightly ingrained in many vital services that even a significant loss of goodwill may not immediately effect its fortunes.

These are just a few illustrative examples.

Examples

Doc Block

At the start of 2013, Oxford University's network team blocked access to Google Docs for their entire userbase. They were under sustained attack from phishers who were using Google Docs as an attack vector. So, they felt they had no choice but to totally blockade the service. What was their alternative? As they explain:

Google's own security team have advised us that the best way is to use the “Report abuse” link that’s at the bottom of each page. Easy enough.
Unfortunately, you then need to wait for them to take action. Of late that seems typically to take a day or two; in the past it’s been much longer, sometimes on a scale of weeks.
Oxford Univerty blocks access to Google Docs. Original emphasis.

Now, it's right and proper that Google takes their time investigating "abuse". We all know that spurious reports are filed in order to make mischief. But when a service is being weaponised and actively used to attack your customers, surely your security response needs to be immediate? A lag of a couple of days just isn't sufficient any more.

Nexus Schmexus

Google's flagship phone - the LG Nexus 4 - is supposed to offer a "pure Google experience". If you expect your Google experience to be fraught with delays, mixups, erratic or non-existent communication - you'll feel right at home!

Unlike most other Google customers, Nexus 4 owners have paid a significant chunk of money directly to Google. Does that buy them any loyalty from Mountain View? No, of course not.

Potential owners have created sites dedicated to documenting the abominable customer service experience Google have delivered.

A typical review of the purchasing experience is blogged by Eyal Sivan:

So I called Play support. While the rep was very nice, she had absolutely no information. All she could tell me was that my order had not gone through because there was a 'glitch' (which I already knew), and that I should wait for my email notification (which I don't believe anyone, anywhere has ever received).
After speaking to her supervisor, she also assured me that more would be available later today (which I assume is more blatant misinformation), but she could not tell me a specific time (and even if she did, who knows if it would be true, as the last one was not). So I opened a case, and am (somewhat) expecting a call back from the supervisor.

Look, delays happen. Selling out of a hotly anticipated item happens. Shit, it turns out, happens! But it's what a company does when there's a cock-up which makes or breaks them. People will accept problems as long as they have confidence that the company knows what's going on and has a plan to resolve the issues. And that requires something which isn't Google's strong suit - open and frank communication.

The worst part of this entire debacle has been the lack of direct communication from Google. Very disappointing.
Nexus in shipping limbo.

Droid Rage

What would you do if your customers wrote to you with suggestions for your product? What if they all clubbed together on an official forum that you created and politely notified you of bugs? Imagine thousands of people who had paid hundreds of dollars saying "wouldn't it be cool if we had feature X" - what would your response be?

If you said "Ignore them. Don't even acknowledge their existence. Make a concerted effort to implement less important features, and concentrate on lower priority bugs." then, congratulations! You can work on Google's Android team!

Last year I wrote about how Google ignores its Android customers.

Google are ignoring customers complaining about everything from Android's poor BlueTooth support to poor calendar support.

Perhaps the most egregious example - a bug which has been open for 5 years. No one from Google has even commented on it. How does it make sense to ignore such strong feeling from your customers?

In all these examples, we can only count the number of people who have bothered to find the official forum and complain - the actual number is likely much higher.

As one wag put it

In September 2009, I had my body frozen in cryo-sleep for 3 years and 3 months... assuming that, when I would awaken in December 2012, this issue would certainly have been fixed by then, and I could go on living a happy life with a new, brilliant Android device.

Oh well... back to sleep.

Can you imagine any company which would actively solicit feedback from its users and then routinely ignored it?

These are only a few examples. Google's official forums are littered with paying customers who aren't being supported. They can't phone, their emails go unanswered, so impotently ranting on the web is all they have left.

This Isn't News

Google has been very upfront about its approach to ignoring customer service. This official video from Google explains succinctly why they don't prioritise customer service:

Google estimates that they would need to hire over 20,000 customer service people to deal with 1 query every three years from each customer. So it has decided - as far as possible - to employ zero people and rely on algorithms. That is, I would suggest, an extreme option.

Customer service is the price you pay for being a successful company. You can try to mitigate the need for your customers to contact you, but you can't eliminate it. You can't ignore them hammering on your door. You can't abdicate all responsibility.

Some areas of Google recognise this. For example, the Chromebook team reacts to complaints on official forums. But it isn't enough.

Geeks like me are very good at ignoring anything which doesn't fit into our world view. Everything would be so much better if people followed processes, and didn't have to interact with humans. Sadly, that's not how most of the real world works.

You can't sell a vision and then fail to deliver on it - that's a recipe for disaster, as I explained in Love Thy Vendor.

Google revolutionised how we search for information and how we interact with the web. It's now time for Google to experience an internal revolution and dramatically improve how they interact with their customers.


One Response to “Google's Customer Contempt Conundrum”

  1. alexcraxtonAlex Image of alexcraxtonAlex

    Good article Terence, I think if you are able to automate support that answers general questions through self service, that might make a good experience, but as you say, once you get beyond that your customer experience suffers when you don't feel anyone is listening. When I worked at nuance there was a big trend of automating natural language understand so a user could type or say a question and the engine can try and work out if there is a ready answer or solution to it ... then if it can't understand what you are on about you get moved towards a real person. The trick is to make that quick, simple and natural so trivial questions don't require a real human and therefore humans can step in when you have customers with deeper problems. Not many examples of this in reality yet but it is coming.

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