An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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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?


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