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July 23, 2011

Customer Service in the Early Days of Google

Many people complain that Google doesn't offer customer support for most of its services and it's really difficult to receive an email from Google that actually answers your questions. Here's a story from the book "I'm Feeling Lucky", written by the former Google employee Douglas Edwards. Back in 2000, Max Erdstein was Google's sole customer service rep and he could only use a laptop and a copy of Microsoft Outlook.
Max never envisioned customer service becoming an omnivorous blob consuming all his time, but soon he found himself responding robotically to more than a thousand emails a day from users around the world. Crushed under the load, he could do little than succinctly reply, "Thanks! Keep on Googling!" Non-English emails presented the biggest problem. We had no idea if people wanted to praise us or harangue us. We tried using off-the-web translation software, but it left us more confused than when we began.

Meanwhile, there were rumblings from sales VP Omid that supporting advertisers and search-services customers should be a higher priority. Could Max help with that, too? After all, unlike users, these people were actually paying us. Max was emptying an ocean with a teaspoon. As the backlog of unanswered emails began to swell, Sergey offered a useful perspective. "Why do you need to answer user email anyway?" he wanted to know.

To Sergey's thinking, responding to user questions was inefficient. If they wrote us about problems with Google, that was useful information to have. We should note the problems and fix them. That would make the users happier than if we wasted time explaining to them that we were working on the bugs. If users sent us compliments, we didn't need to write back because they already liked us. So really, wouldn't it be better not to respond at all? Or at best, maybe write some code to generate random replies that would be fine in most cases?

23 comments:

  1. in theory that works, but the problem is they don't fix a lot of the problems lol. at least they haven't yet........

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  2. This is quite a timely article. As it would be nice if google would comment on this: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/bt2p2o

    I use a lot of google services, and it's always been a fear of mine that they'd cut me off by some misunderstanding and I'd have no one to talk to. I understand it might take a bit of time (days, not weeks here...) but I'd like to be assured emails to my gmail account continue to be accepted.

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  3. Yes, I remembered the story after reading an article about a Google account that has been disabled. "Something happened to Dylan's Google account, and it's been disabled. He doesn't know what happened to the account, and no one at Google with the power to help him is interested in acknowledging the problem or letting him back in to the cloud-based services where all of his correspondence and much of the digital trail from the last few years of his life is stored."

    It's time-consuming to answer user emails, but there has to be a way to solve important problems like clarifying why a Google account was disabled.

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  4. Google, PLEASE hire a Customer Service professional who understand what real humans want, not geeks....

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  5. Nothing has changed. Google still has the worst... wait... they don't have the worst customer service, because to have the worst customer service it has to exist. Instead, Google relies on thousands of homers to respond to issues in forums. The problem is, most of the questions posed in the forums are woefully neglected too.

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  6. Yeah, the users don't actually pay Google anything... they're simply the only reason that advertisers are willing to pay Google anything--in order to reach those users. Nah, the users don't contribute anything to Google's coffers. Nope, users are of no value whatsoever.

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  7. I've received personal responses, and have had some conversations with (what I assume were) some Google engineers (they used very in-depth language). Does that make me special?

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  8. I would *PAY* to have Google fix several accounts that are stuck between apps and non-apps status. One of them (my daughter's) requires clicking the "Do later" every time we sign her in. Mine just has stuff split between two accounts with the same email address and a third with a gmail account that's somehow stuck in the middle of the mess. It's frustrating.

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  9. I am also lucky to get a response from google.

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  10. I find this article to be hilarious to a huge degree. As someone mentioned, Google does not fix the problems. This is not their concern. They allow old problems to be mowed down when a new version of a website/project comes out. If the problem is still there, they leave it until an even newer version might or might not override the problem. Where was Google when Chrome Sync destroyed thousands of my bookmarks? When it did this to anyone who dared use Chrome Sync? Where was Google when the bookmarks problem froze my PC because the bookmarks were being duplicated over and over, and stored in GoogleDocs locked down? Google has done some amazingly shady things with customer service. Very, very sneaky things. But, they've also provided services no other company is able to. As for services being free, that's also just not true. Do any of you know how many thousands of adverts you stare at all day? Do you have any idea at all?

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  11. they could fix this with aardvark; their is a large bank of people out there willing to help with specific knowledge about many aspects of google...

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  12. The problem is that every other company has taken this template for their responses, and most just ignore it. And Google seems to ignore it most of the time too. If users have faith that your bugs/problems will be fixed in a timely manner, this approach works, but Google has lost that faith.

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  13. Oh beloved Google what have you become. Tom of Massachusetts has a fascinating point about Aardvark, the question answering community. There must be some way to offer incentive to Google employees who are willing to help everyday people. There must be some way for everyday people to learn to help themselves. Google isn't our government. We own them. We can help shape them. There is still time.

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  14. Yes, I could never get their Adsense ads to even show up on my website by following their nearly incomprehensible directions. So today I canceled my account. Now neither Google or I will make any money off their ads. Too bad Google. Your failure to help me will limit your potential income, a trifling victory, perhaps, but I do feel a little better.

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  15. If i can do it at my job with ease, a company as large as Google can surely provide basic customer support and email response...but we'll keep using them even if they don't :\

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  16. Anyone tried to get a reply out of Microsoft? It's worse, MUCH worse...

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  17. Services people genuinely depend upon, such as Gmail, AdSense and AdWords should have a dedicated team of support personnel to deal with the questions and requests of its users.

    Some people depend upon AdSense as their main income (or at least a large chunk of it), people depend on AdWords to push traffic to other lucrative entities they've setup that they too depend upon financially.

    With you guys thinking you can carry on not responding to issues/questions time and time again to things or services that people genuinely depend upon, people are going to start (and have done) jumping ship for a service which offers more security, or at least seems to convey just a little bit that they actually care about their publishers.

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  18. Customer service plays a very crucial role in the success of a business. Its high time that Google consider it as a serious requirement & hires/sets up a professional CRM team for its users.

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  19. I've atleast got a couple of replies from Google and Adobe but never out of Microsoft! it is just pathetic.

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  21. I've got reply from google support and I think they are simply good. No words actually.

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