Is Google Stretched Too

By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2005-12-22 Print this article Print

Thin?"> In many ways, Googles customer service is being stretched thin as a result of its own enormous success. It was never one for customer service to begin with. It didnt need to be. In its earliest days, there really was no need thanks to a downright anorexic Web site leaving little doubt how Google operated.
Googles front page now leads to an increasingly sophisticated array of features that require more Internet savvy than an average user might normally have.
Its commonly-held that the more complex the feature, the more people are going to be in need of help, despite Googles already-storied talents at highly intuitive user interfaces. Read more here about Google Base, one of the companys latest new features. Perhaps even more importantly, Google is expanding way beyond just providing free, ad-sponsored Internet search. In so doing, it is taking on more demanding customers. Google is mainly used to dealing with companies taking out ads on Google Web pages. While the ads dont cost that much, they have added up to billions in revenues every year. But here come the big ticket items, and their higher level of customer service expectations. Google now sells networking hardware to trick out corporate computer intranets, and the most expensive have a five figure price tag. According to various sources, Googles likely to offer an array of other more mainstream commercial services in the near future, thus forcing even more pressure on its customer service. These may include desktop software, and a retailing feature to grow out of Google Base, Googles free classified ad listing Web site. Google has also reserved the right to start charging for access to what is now a free, citywide Wi-Fi network that it is building in Mountain View, Calif. Google has even hinted at an Expedia-like travel planning and price comparison offering. So just what does Google do for customer service? Googles audience is too large and too widespread to allow for dealing personally with each complaint. So the company created largely e-mail based system that relies, it appears, on first learning of breakdowns, glitches and other problems from customers, then acting upon the information. This mechanism, commonly used by large Internet-based companies, does work. For instance, it helped Google learn of a recent glitch in its Google Base classified listings service that created a flood of porn advertisements in search results. Also, like much of the business that companies do on the Internet, a lot of Googles customer service is done via e-mails rather than in person. The e-mail responses, though, "can be a bit frustrating when the response is too generic or when the customer service representative accidentally selects the wrong form letter response," search commentator John Battelle notes. If a more personal response is necessary, Google tends to use teams of customer service reps, rather than assigning just one to the issue. It may help with the work load, but Battelle opines that it "probably exaggerates some of the discontent." Read more here about how Googles goosing its enterprise efforts. Googles Fischer, in an interview Friday, said its customer service operates on a kind of sliding scale of manpower. Frequently asked questions sections, written instructions and other explanatory material available online is meant to sate inquiries about Googles free Internet search features. Advertisers, Googles main source of revenue, get more interaction depending on their volume of ads. Smaller advertisers, the one-timers, must contend with e-mail or online help resources. Larger advertisers get phone support or other live help, while Googles biggest accounts have their own teams of Google employees working directly with them. Fischer would not disclose how many actual customer service reps Google employs, nor the number of customer inquiries or complaints handled via e-mail versus over the phone with a Google employee. But whether it agrees with its customers or not, Google is now taking strides to improve the situation. For one, it has begun an experiment in London dubbed "Google Space" to get customer feedback, which is one way to improve its flagging customer service efforts. At kiosks Google has set up at Londons Heathrow Airport, Google gives unfettered Internet access in return for face-to-face feedback. "Its enlightening in that weve been learning tons about how to make our products more useful," Andy Ku, International Product Marketing Manager wrote on Googles official blog in mid-December. The search giant is apparently also planning to devote some space to additional customer service reps within the Googleplex, as its dubbed, which is a proposed million-square-foot Google campus at the NASA Ames Research Center that Google has designs on building. But despite all the efforts, the present state of Google customer service is clearly not enough, say industry insiders, competitors and—judging by the firestorm of protest on Internet forums—Googles own customers. To be sure, Googles customer service does have many fans. But for every "Tony" and his positive experience about exchanging a Google lava lap ("Id go with a nice big 10 on the customer service part" he wrote in an e-mail), there are 10 others frustrated by being stuck in a world of automated responses, script-following customer service reps and long delays between communications. "Google customer service? Thats an oxymoron," said one frustrated Googleite, requesting anonymity so as not to damage her relationship with Google. Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments and information from a Google representative. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.


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