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August 16, 2007

Customer Satisfaction and the Swiss Army Knife

A lot of blogs and newspapers discuss a rather boring news: "for the first time, Google has lost its crown to Yahoo as the highest-rated search and portal site in a key customer satisfaction survey", namely ACSI. The scores are so close that it's difficult to draw some conclusions (Yahoo: 79, Google: 78, MSN: 75, 75), but Google is the only one that lost some points.

So why aren't customers satisfied with Google? "The average consumer that goes to Google today doesn't see anything different than from three years ago," thinks Larry Freed, president of Foresee Results, and he's right. Google's sparse homepage continues to stand out from the rest of the crowd and it has a lot of admirers: it loads fast, it shows exactly what you want (a search box) and it's not intimidating.

But Google users have many opportunities to find out about Google products: from the new menu bar to the OneBox results, from the extended snippets to Google Toolbar, from the personalized homepage to the impressive press coverage Google gets. For example, you can discover Google Docs in many ways: you may see a link next to a Gmail attachment, receive an invitation to collaborate on a document, click on the link from Google's homepage or find an option in Google Toolbar. People should discover a product naturally.

Google's main problem is to make people realize that it's more than a search engine and that could be solved by packaging all its non-search services in Google Apps, integrating them and distributing them as a suite of online communication tools.

"Google falls by 4% from a year ago to a score of 78. Its year-to-date stock returns have been about market average - a far cry from the explosive growth after going public in 2004. Google also missed its most recent earnings forecast. For a company that has introduced so many new products and made so many changes, it may be surprising that its homepage has changed so little. It is almost the same as it was in the 1990s. Some users say it looks stale compared to, which has a very different display of search results," says Professor Claes Fornell from the University of Michigan.

And here's a nice quote from a 2002 interview with Google's Marissa Mayer:
I think Google should be like a Swiss Army knife: clean, simple, the tool you want to take everywhere. When you need a certain tool, you can pull these lovely doodads out of it and get what you want. So on Google, rather than showing you upfront that we can do all these things, we give you tips to encourage you to do things these ways. We get you to put your query in the search field, rather than have all these links up front. That's worked well for us. Like when you see a knife with all 681 functions opened up, you're terrified. That's how other sites are - you're scared to use them. Google has that same level of complexity, but we have a simple and functional interface on it, like the Swiss Army knife closed.

Google's difficult task is to make people aware of the tools that are available in the Swiss Army Knife.

{ The image, which shows a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife, is licensed as Creative Commons by Martin. }


  1. I am mostly very satisfied with Google, but I'm getting increasingly nervous about inconsistent availability of my GoogleDocs and Google Calendar. Since starting to use them last fall, I've seen an increase in sluggishness, inability to load, inability to edit, etc. Since I use GoogleDocs for (some) of my business work, these frustrations have real-world consequences. For example, a few weeks ago, a key document refused to load until about 5 minutes before an important conference call. These mission-critical failures stop me from making GoogleDocs my primary word processor or spreadsheet program, and are gradually pushing me closer to Google's competitors (like Zoho). One of the main factors in remaining with Google is that everyone else I know/work with uses it, too. That's not a very strong argument.

  2. Google equals the Internet for me. Using a variety of tools from the plain search engine to the reader, calendar, a personalized homepage (igoogle) and GoogleEarth. Google is life for me. Docs and Caledar working magnificently for me.

  3. (This is a very personal opinion, but an opinion is an opinion)
    I do somehow feel like Google is getting a little old. (but i still love it) I just feel like they need to add maybe a little bit of eye candy. (For example, the new PayPal, its basically still the same, but there is something new about it. More of 3D effects and such) and maybe add some more colors to it. But in the end, Google offers by far the least "in your face" advertisements and has great features if you are willing to play around with it a little and get to know the google services.

  4. As a normal user, I use both. However I like Yahoo as I have been using it for quite some time 10+ years and I like their integrated features on personal management (address book, calendar, mail, notes, groups etc). However google rocks on search engine front. Have not yet tried any online docs thoroughly !!

    Happy browsing.

  5. The number used to say Yahoo beat Google for customer satisfaction is not very useful. In the title of the press release of the organization that calculated the score they say "Flat Customer Satisfaction Suggests Continued Weak Consumer Spending" - If you want to believe that fine but I find that a crazy belief. It seems to me they are just blathering and using numbers to try and seem like there is some number behind it so it must be true. For more see Data based blathering

  6. For what it is worth, the largest collection of Swiss Army knives in the world is owned by the Department of Homeland Security.

  7. I think you have to give Yahoo some credit too - they have made a lot of progress in upgrading their web services recently.

    I use both Yahoo and Google services, although Google primarily.

    I agree with chandamama about Yahoo's integrated mail/calendar, but I use igoogle to create that, and I like that flexibility.

    Yahoo is just not standing still, as it looked like several years ago.