Last week, I was considering whether to move the company’s email services from our own server to Google professional applications; was, until I considered whether I would trust Google’s customer service to support me effectively. Instead I am moving to Rackspace that offers 24 hour phone support. I bring this up as a preface to a review of Google’s problems with customer service for the Nexus One handset.
Two weeks after launch and online forums are filled with complaints about technical issues with the Nexus One such as spotty 3G connectivity and the lack of support from Google. (see Google’s own customer support forums) The Nexus One like the iPhone is already attracting “fanboy” status with owners decrying vehemently any critics, but with sales of 20,000 (supposedly) and the forums containing 1000s of questions, it does look like there are some problems.
There are two tactical issues for Google to address:
- what the change in business model means for the business as a whole
- how they will address their new requirement for consumer customer service support.
and one wider strategic question:
- what impact this will have on their brand and reputation.
There seem to be two divergent views on the impact of the challenges on Google:
“Google tends to have a bit of a Teflon coating,” says Golvin. [Forrester Research] “People tend to cut them a lot more slack — as they do with Apple — than they do with their mobile operator.”
“It may be unfair to predict doom for a handset that came to market just two weeks ago, but it’s becoming clear that taking on the role of mobile retailer was a mistake for Google. It’s too early to predict that Google will kill the Nexus One, but it’s not too early to wonder whether it should.” [GigaOm website]
Although Google has been a consumer brand for a long time, they don’t strictly speaking have consumers as their paying customers. It has had a business to business model based around advertising, like many media companies. As such it has had modest customer service issues to manage and has developed sophisticated tools to support those businesses via Adwords accounts. Now with the Nexus One they are selling directly to consumers but they do not seem to have developed the same sophisticated tools to identify or support those handset users.
Consumers are tough cookies when it comes to demanding support for their idiocy and expect a voice at the end of the line, something Google does not do and something Google seems to have an antipathy for. So, if Google does not want to customer service, maybe they should not do retail at all. For the first time they can directly damage their relationship with vocal consumers who will begin to see Google as a whole in a different light. It is somewhat similar issue to Virgin: if your trains don’t run on time, what does it say about your bank or your airline?
Google does have a great opportunity by going direct as a retailer, but it will need to use its formidable brainpower to develop a customer service algorithm every bit as sophisticated as its search engine if it is to make a success of it!