Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

Summary: Google faces an increasing number of unhappy customers, and an increasing number of failed initiatives, because there aren't enough Googlers with average incomes to talk them down.

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TOPICS: Google
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Google does indeed have an achilles heel, a potentially fatal flaw.

They don't scale people. (Statue of Achilles dying from Wikipedia. The original is at the Achillieon near Corfu.)

In some ways this makes perfect sense, because people don't scale well. There is only so much technology you can place in front of an "operator standing by." Once her calls are queued and she's in front of a terminal you're at the mercy of the callers.

People get sick. They have lives. They miss shifts. But the biggest variables are on the other side of the line. Some people can't make themselves understood. Some won't shut up. Some don't have what they need in front of them before they place a call. Some people get mad. Some people lie.

So anything that requires the use of many ordinary people, anything that's people-intensive rather than compute-intensive, Google avoids.  There is no Moore's Law of learning, or of training.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when a good friend relayed the story of a client whom he'd encouraged to use GMail, Google Docs, and other Google services.

The client's account was cancelled, supposedly for violating Google's terms of service, and he couldn't get through to a person to settle things. A waltz through the valley of Google voice mail ended up in virtual jail -- he was told they just don't offer live support.

The story has a happy ending. The account was unblocked as mysteriously as it had been blocked. But this is not the only place where Google fails due to its faith in machines.

Google Health, which I have covered since its launch, is another example. Microsoft is beating Google's butt in the health IT business, because Microsoft hires enough people to contact the customers, understand their needs, and adapt to their whims.

As a result Microsoft Healthvault is gaining serious traction as a Personal Health Record (PHR) system, while Google trails. The Google booth at HIMSS 2010 was nearly identical to what I had seen at HIMSS 2008. Microsoft, by contrast, is now a big vendor, a major name, alongside HP and IBM, or such specialty firms as McKesson and Cerner.

Google has two options here. It can hire people. It can use its chat and GTalk systems to connect with customers, maybe charging for calls that don't go over its network, and it can provide real service. Google has operations around the world, this is not a difficult thing for it to do.

Or it can accept the problem and avoid those lines of business where you need a lot of people in order to make customers happy. That means dumping things like Google Docs. That means dropping the very idea of customer service because it's just too hard.

The folks at the Googleplex have put this decision off too long. What they have now are an increasing number of unhappy customers, and an increasing number of failed initiatives, because there aren't enough Googlers with average incomes.

Or it can put its talent to work becoming a jobs machine, and accept the fact that people are messy.

Topic: Google

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15 comments
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  • TouTube issue

    YouTube is part of Google, too. Recently I've found a series of videos on Israeli - Arab Six Days War. There are, I think, five parts, and one of them is not accessible. When one tries to watch it, it says that "some users marked the video inappropriate for all audience", and that user needs to log in.

    I was able to access the same video through a different link. The funny thing is that there is nothing special about that part, except that it is a little bit boring. No particular political bias, not much violence (there is much more in other parts), no strong language... nothing.

    I've tried to contact YouTube and notify them that the designation is, probably, result of an error, but after a couple of clicks, I've found out that I need to call them by phone, which I was not willing to do.

    Obviously, Google left the users to police themselves, and to decide which content is appropriate. I don't have to explain how flawed that idea is.
    trenchsol
    • Automated 'policing' makes online harassment real easy

      In the case of Facebbok Groups of Islamists are using public pages to single out users they consider ideologically unorthodox and then using Facebook's public ban process to stop their mouths.

      Google and everyone else relying on stupid 'intelligent algorithms' (that's what they seem to call them anyway) are prone to let their users become easy prey to such forms of harassment.

      http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_new_policies_make_harrassment_easy.php
      OS Reload
      • It's called pure democracy.

        <a href=http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/pure_democracy>That, or merriam-webster got hacked.</a>
        AzuMao
      • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

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        gorians
  • Yeah, wikipedia is a real killer, but

    your description &mdash;<i>"Achilles dying from Wikipedia"</i>&mdash; is a little exaggerated, don't you think?<br><br>I looked closely at the image and couldn't find any evidence supporting your claim. I think wikipedia is innocent.
    OS Reload
    • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

      @OS Reload, <br> I suggest re-reading that segment of the article. The IMAGE is from Wikipedia, and is of the statue depicting Achilles' death.

      Granted, the wording/punctuation could do with some work.
      gavin142
      • &lt;sarcasm&gt;Thanks!&lt;/sarcasm&gt;

        Without your precious help I would never be able to see that.
        OS Reload
      • By the way...

        @gavin142

        In case you didn't notice (a strong possibility I dare to say) I was being sarcastic.
        OS Reload
    • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

      @OS Reload HAHAHA, nice.

      from the dictionary of Yax.
      Wikipediacitis: painful and slow death from overexposure to Wikipedia.
      Yax_to_the_Max
  • It's called "Geek's disease"

    The fact that Google is having trouble doing customer service shouldn't surprise anyone. Google is all about being the programming elite, they supposedly hire the best of the best, programming wise.

    Unfortunately, that creates a sort of geek-echo chamber effect, and naturally geeks and non-geeks don't share the same expectations concerning computer software.

    Linux often suffers from the same problem. The article is dead-right in pointing out just how difficult customer service is, and geeks are just not cut out to deal with people. That's why they deal with machines instead... :)

    Not knocking geeks, I *am* one, but you should always know your limitations.
    wolf_z
  • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

    I find it interested that people using free services advertised as free without support still get upset when there is no support.

    If the author's friend was told that support is not available, they are using the free versions of Gmail, Docs, etc. The terms of services are clear. Free to the user; Ads will show up on the inbox screen, and no support.

    If the author's friend wants support, they should upgrade to Google Apps Premier Edition. In addition to support -- with a phone number for critical issues -- the friend would have access to an array of resellers with service, support, and enhancement capabilities.

    Google's strategy is clear: Google is not going to build the large support organization like that of Microsoft. It is expensive and most users are eternally dissatisfied with the level of service. The same critics that chastise companies for not having 7x24 support, complain when support is provided from locales where English is a second languge.

    Instead, Google's focus is on developing a strong Reseller Channel that can provide better service and support because resellers are closer the needs of customers in their markets. It seems like a good strategy, if the channel can evolve fast enough.

    Allen
    allenfalcon
  • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

    I completely agree with the points regarding Google not providing, and willing to provide any support for non tech people and customers... <br>Take Google's Adsense for example. They have been closing webmaster's account and no support, or service is provided, except for the idiotic "copy and paste" note that once disabled, the accounts will remain disabled, and one cannot (may not) open a new one. <br><br>No wonder Adsense is bringing less and less to publishers, and more Adwords advertisers are starting to advertise with Facebook and stop spending money on Adsense, as Google has been closing advertisers accounts just the same as they did, and continue doing with publishers. Their arrogance has been overwhelming, and will be their Achilles heel indeed.<br><br>Google thought they were as almighty as God, but I am glad to see Google dying bit by bit, as they will be a thing of the past as all the rest online becomes sooner or later...<br><br>
    fortgo
  • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

    Google are at a crossing point, where they need to decide what their strategy is. Creating a search engine doesn't really need support, creating, manufacturing and selling a phone does need support. Creating and making available cloud space where your information may no longer be your own because you have been locked out as a result of an admin error without a route to escalation is a recipe for disaster.

    Just because Google want to focus on their strengths doesn't mean that they can't outsource to others with the skills (and there are geeks who can explain themselves) to provide the customer service/escalation points. It doesn't have to be a call centre, it could be chat, it could be email. But at some point, if they want to take on the Microsofts and Apples of the world (which is what their product lineup and acquisition history says to me) then they also need to create their own distruption model for customer service as well.
    KieleighH
  • Google's vs. Microsoft's Methods

    It's interesting that SO many people succumb to the hype-professionalism Microsoft has, and believes that the methods and friendliness in getting folks in the door is going to nearly, if not completely, disappear. Microsoft is just GREAT when you're in the consideration stages but once you're hooked, it turns into a "Hey, where'd you go?" method.
    I've no idea if Google intends to capitalize on that but I've seen other companies do so when the stakes weren't clearly known and the bottom lines still in the ether stages.
    Microsoft STILL has great marketing and hype-power, which in itself in interesting. But they still also don't have any idea how to KEEP clients, so they work to "lock" people in, trapping them for perpetuity. They've been doing this same exact thing since the 90's, starting with auto-obsolescence so they could sell and replace and replace and make obsolete anything else but the current newest and bestest crap.
    IF only there were a fully workable to MS, their customer base would plummet even faster than it has been doing recently. I really thought Lindows was going to be it at the time it arrived, but ... it wasn't to be.

    Microsoft is not to be trusted. Neither is Google, really, but ... Google is more up front and a lot easier to read and not looking for the "locked" customer base. They are more reality related, IMO.
    anonymous
  • RE: Google's achilles heel is service delivered by people

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