Reacting quickly to stem the potential damage to its reputation after a minority of users couldn't access Gmail for most of the day yesterday, Google contacted me today to confirm the company will credit all signed-up customers of Premier Edition with an extra month's free service.
"We understand that our users need to trust us and we need to react appropriately," said Rajen Sheth, product manager for Google Apps Premier Edition, the $50 per user per year online office suite that Google launched last week for the business market. "We want users to realize we're taking them seriously and we want to do what's in their best interests, not only now but in the future."
All Premier Edition customers who were signed up at the time will receive the credit, irrespective of whether they were affected by the glitch, he said. "We want to make clear we want to do what's best for all of our users." The credit will be added on as a free month at the end of the fourteen-month subscription. This means that customers will still be billed the annual fee when the initial free trial period ends at the end of April, but their annual renewal will not come round until the extra month has elapsed at the end of May 2008.
Emphasizing that yesterday's problems were completely unexpected by the Google Apps team and seen as highly exceptional, the credit is significantly more than the one week Google is obliged to provide under the published SLA for Premier Edition.
"We've set a high level of availability that we fully expected we can meet," Sheth told me. "We're actually going to go above and beyond what it says in the SLA and give [our Premier Edition customers] one month."
Although Google is still investigating what caused the problem, Sheth told me that the company was not only determined to track down and eliminate the cause, but also intends to go further, both to maintain availability and to improve the way that it communicates with users when glitches do occur.
It's likely that only a small number of Premier Edition customers were affected — the percentage of users involved appears to have been in low single figures, and most of those who suffered were users of the free-of-charge Google Apps Standard Edition or of individual Gmail accounts. But Sheth admitted that still added up to a lot of users: "We recognize that although the percentage was small the number of users was fairly significant."
In moving so quickly to credit its users, with no questions asked, Google has demonstrated that it is indeed serious about its move into the on-demand business applications business. The cost of crediting an extra month to a few early adopters is likely to be minimal. But the loss of reputation the company would have suffered had it done nothing or attempted to play down the seriousness of the glitch could have been incalculable. By swallowing its pride and rapidly reacting with generosity and humility, Google has demonstrated that it has the mettle to succeed in the on-demand services marketplace.