I've discussed in the past that one key area, which I think has been Google's Achilles heel, is its customer service. To most outsiders, Google comes off as something of a big, white monolith
. When things go wrong, it's often nearly impossible to reach someone there, or to get any sort of actual contact with a human being, who is trying to help. We've argued in the past that if Google doesn't fix that, it's a huge opportunity
for a competitor. I've been told that people inside Google recognize that this is an issue, and that they're really trying to fix that. In fact, one of the things that has really impressed me about Google's latest social networking play, Google+, is that it's actually afforded Google an opportunity to show this in action. A bunch of folks at Google have used Google+ as a way to make the company seem much more human, accessible and responsive. I was pretty amazed that the few times I've mentioned bugs or problems with something in Google+ that often within minutes
Google employees responsible for the project would respond and be quite helpful.
However, it looks like Google is definitely still sorting through some problems with this -- and being responsive on Google+ alone won't satisfy those who aren't on Google+... especially if Google has completely locked you out. A guy named Dylan wrote up quite a complaint letter to Google
detailing how the company completely shut down his account -- which he used for just about everything -- and then all he could do was face the big, white monolith with every attempt to figure out what happened and get his life back.
On July 15 2011 you turned off my entire Google account. You had absolutely no reason to do this, despite your automated message telling me your system “perceived a violation.” I did not violate any Terms of Service, either Google’s or account specific ToS, and your refusal to provide me with any proof otherwise makes me absolutely certain of this. And I would like to bring to your attention how much damage your carelessness has done.
My Google account was tied to nearly every product Google has developed, meaning that I lost everything in those accounts as well. I was also in the process of consolidating everything into my one Google account. I had actually thought through this a few months ago and determined Google to be a trustworthy, dependable company. So I had imported all of my other email accounts, hotmail, yahoo, etc., into that one gmail account. I had spent roughly four months slowly consolidating my entire online presence, email accounts, banking info, student records, etc., into that one Google account, having determined it to be reliable. That means in terms of information, approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes (a side-note: when I closed my original Reader account to consolidate everything in my one reliable account bearing my name I re-saved several hundred of the articles myself, by hand, one by one to this new account. The one you have closed and from which I have now lost all of the articles.) I have lost all of my bookmarks, having used Google bookmarks. I had migrated my bookmarks from computer to computer, a couple hundred of them, for maybe six years and I finally uploaded them all to Google bookmarks, happy to have found a solution to migrating them and happy to be safeguarded from their loss. I have also lost over 200 contacts. Many of which I do not have backups of. I have also lost access to my Docs account with shared documents and backups of inventory files. I have also lost my Calendar access. With this I have lost not only my own personal calendar of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and various other dates, but I have also lost collaborative calendars, of which I was the creator and of which several man hours were put into creating, community calendars that are now lost. None of the calendars were backed up either. I have also lost my saved maps and travel history. I have also lost in my correspondence medical records and a variety of very important notes that were attached to my account. My website, a blogger account for which I purchased the domain through Google and designed myself, has also been disabled and lost. Do you really think I would knowingly do anything to jeopardize that much of my personal and professional information? And I am sure as the days continue I will realize other things that Google has destroyed in their unwarranted disabling of my account. I am only too angry right now to think straight and realize them all. Why anyone would entrust anything to “The Cloud” after what I have gone through is completely beyond my ability to comprehend.
His description of the "help" he got from Google's preferred customer support system, it's forums, seems all too representative of how the company has dealt with customer service in the past:
I’m not upset that Google would put my account on hold if they think it was compromised, but I am absolutely furious that they would disable my account without notice, without giving me a reason, and without giving me any way to re-enable it, and then ignore all of my attempts to speak with someone. No other online service provider behaves this way. I understand that Google can’t offer support for every little thing, but when a company like Google has monopolized sectors of the internet they need to demonstrate some responsibility to their customers when things like this happen. I have exhausted the help forums. And that has only made me much angrier. I will not bother to quote the nonsensical exchanges I have had, there are too many and they will only aggravate me further. The breaking point came when a “Top Contributor” moved my thread from the original help forum in which I posted it, into another forum without my permission. Then a few days, and 34 responses, later, another “Top Contributor” posted that my thread was in the wrong forum and closed the conversation, thus preventing me or anyone else from posting to it or making any more progress. The user forums are not the informative places that Google may think they are. And the only time a Google employee posted in my thread was to say that my question was in the wrong forum, and to tell me that I should have posted in the forum that it was originally posted in. This came after being asked over, and over, and over again the same questions. Here’s an example:
ME: Please help me my account has been disabled and I don’t know why.
USER1: Just log into your dashboard and do [something.]
ME: I can’t, my account has been disabled.
USER2: Hi I just saw your post. Can you log into your account and tell me what [something] says?
ME: NO, I CAN’T LOG INTO MY ACCOUNT.
USER1: OK calm down, can you do [something which required me to log in]?
ME: NO! I CANNOT LOG INTO MY ACCOUNT!!!!
After four days of this I nearly gave up, until another “Top Contributor” stopped by to mention that my thread was in the wrong forum and I should have posted it in another forum, the original forum that I had posted it in. Then the conversation was closed by someone and I gave up, after five days.
Dylan appears to have spent much of the day alerting people to this story on Twitter. And hopefully it's working. I saw that Google VP Vic Gundotra has replied to Dylan
You bet on Google. We owe you better. I'm investigating.
Other Google employees have also said that they're trying to figure out what happened as well. I imagine things will get fixed before long, but it's unfortunate that Dylan had to go through this at all.
But, of course, fixing Dylan's situation and making sure it doesn't happen again are two different things. I am hopeful that Dylan's experience will make more people at Google realize what an issue this is for many people, who rely on the company.
Now, obviously, some will point out that (a) there are ways to back up many of these things (though, perhaps not all) and Dylan did not do so and that (b) many of these services are free (though Dylan has paid for extra storage and some other things via Google). In some ways, just as you were always told to "backup your hard drive" in case it crashed, today you'll have to "back up" your cloud data in case Google or someone else randomly shuts you off.
But I still don't think that's a reasonable excuse. Google has created a ton of excellent and useful products (some of which are world changing), and I'm impressed with how much more responsive and human
the company seems to have become via Google+. But it still needs to figure out how to be human when it comes to customer service. I recognize that Google's culture is about being as algorithm-driven as possible (just see this story
about its venture investing process), but some things really do need a human touch. I know that plenty of people inside Google realize this, but until that becomes evident in how it handles customer service issues, it still seems like a key weakness for the company.