Red-Question-MarkFor as long as I’ve used Google products and services, like Android, Gmail, Google Documents, and so on, one aspect of the company has frustrated me to a singular extent. There’s pretty much no way to get in touch with a live person there. No phone hotline, no email, no live chat, nothing.

If you need help, or if one of their products isn’t working properly, or or if they made some change to one of their apps that you don’t like, or if Google Documents keeps trying to “correct” your spelling into inaccuracy, you can’t get in touch with anyone to ask for help or complain about it. The most you can do is ask for help from or share your complaints with other users on Google’s forums, but you’ll rarely ever see an actual rep from Google there. Even in those rare cases where Google has had some form of customer service contact, it’s generally been terrible. The company is just a big monolithic structure with no doors or windows.

Google isn’t exactly alone in this, as a lot of big Internet businesses such as Facebook or Twitter tend to be similarly faceless, but Facebook and Twitter aren’t spending billions of dollars on multiple fronts of devices and applications aimed at consumers. As a Recode piece from last week points out, Google has traditionally had a hard time getting products directly into consumers’ hands. Another piece follows up on that to suggest that, if Google’s serious about wanting to get into consumer products, it really needs to make itself easier to reach.

Boy, is that ever right! Amazon ranks as the most trusted names in retail year after year, and a big part of that is built on the strength of Amazon’s customer service. Amazon will deal with you via email, chat, or phone—they’ll even call you, so you don’t have to sit around on hold waiting for someone to pick up.

For that matter, brick and mortar retailers have their own customer service operations—farmed out to third parties like Teletech, but nonetheless, they could be just as effective as corporate-owned given that 90% of the answers customers needed were found in the user manuals. (I speak from experience, having been a Teletech rep for Best Buy’s Insignia products for three years.)

So why doesn’t Google? It saves money that way? I would say that as big as the company’s gotten by now, it can afford to spend a few million a year on customer service. As the Recode piece points out, Google already provides customer service to enterprise customers, even at the small business level. Perhaps it’s that its customer base thus far has been mostly young, tech-savvy people who’re able to find answers for themselves via search engines? It’s going to need to look beyond those people if it wants to appeal to a broader customer base.

It’s funny to consider that the makers of one of the most popular mobile operating systems in the world doesn’t have any way for consumers to get in touch. But maybe that’ll change sooner or later.


  1. I can give you a perfect illustration. There are two companies that create digital content under the name Inkling. Here’s one.

    Note that quirky logo. The other company, in business since 1999, has a common-law trademark to the term Inkling Books for print and digital content in any font and any color. That highly specialized logo let this johnny-come-lately get a USPTO trademark.

    Here’s the other publisher:

    That’s me. About once every two weeks or so, I get a call from someone looking for a phone number that’ll get them to a support person at the other Inkling. Their trouble isn’t easily resolved with generic email support. I can see their problem. They’ve looked all over that other website and not found a single phone number. In desperation, these people find my Inkling phone number and call me.

    I commiserate with them in their frustration, but have to tell them that, as far as I know, that other Inkling does not have any phone number that they want to make public. When it comes to that technology, they operate pre-1876.

    Amazon isn’t the only tech company with good phone support. As an iBooks publisher, I’ve had excellent support from Apple. And my cable provider, a little company called Wow!, is doing their best to be better than the universally hate Comcast by offering excellent phone support.

    Based on my experience while living in Seatte and having no choice, Comcast phone support is so awful, you almost wish they didn’t have it. Here an article about the ratings of various cable companies.

    There is this elsewhere:
    In fact, if it weren’t for Mediacom Communications, a cable company that serves a little more than a half-million customers in the Midwest and Southeast, Time Warner and Comcast would have ranked lowest in the survey. Comcast came in 15th out of 17 pay-TV providers for customer satisfaction with TV service, with an overall score of 59 out of 100. The company had low scores for value and customer support. Its proposed merger partner, Time Warner, did no better, ranking 16th overall for TV service with an overall score of 58. Time Warner had low scores for value, reliability, and customer support. Mediacom trailed the entire pack with an overall score of 54.

    But the flip side is that two smaller cable companies, Armstrong Cable and WOW (WideOpenWest), topped the Consumer Reports survey for TV service. Those companies were followed by Verizon FiOS, which came in third, Wave/Astound, DirecTV and Dish Network, and then AT&T U-verse.”
    To paraphrase a country and western song, when it comes to Comcast and Time Warner, “if it weren’t for bad ratings, they’d have no ratings at all.”

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

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