I roundly criticized Google’s product (a less than fully functional Local Business Center) and their process (erratic and inconsistent customer support for same) in my post: Why the Google Local Business Center Fails. As is Google’s fashion in these matters when a complaint starts spreading across the internet, they very often solve the specific problem. Google has in fact responded and solved the posters problem that I spoke of.
Last night though, a poster to this blog, Steve, ripped into me for having an obvious anti-Google bias and eagerness to disparage that company. He also noted: you appear to have really jumped the gun in order to make a point. You strike me as a Google gadfly or a Google hater. (You can read his full comments here.)
I was somewhat shaken by the vitriol in the response and composed several answers before deciding to say nothing. I awoke at 2 am with his post still ringing in my ears. The response seemed disproportional and I decided to check, in WordPress, the poster IP address: Author : Steve (IP: 188.8.131.52 , 216-239-45-4.google.com)
Last month, I called out MC in a post Merchant Circle has trouble getting it right where I noted that they had made stealth comments and I accused them of being tacky marketers. Well I guess, fair is fair. Obviously Steve doesn’t follow my blog so I will repeat my comment to MC almost verbatim:
My note to Merchant Circle Steve at Google:
You are welcome to come and discuss the issues in Local on my blog. You probably have a lot to contribute. But when you come, come as you are, don’t be skulking around. I can accept warts, I have a few myself. I just can’t abide you using my blog to surreptitiously promote your services berate me.
I don’t know whether Steve represents Google’s official attitude or not. But I never thought the day would come that I would compare anyone at Google to Merchant Circle. Many people at Google seem to listen to my criticisms and take some to heart in the spirit in which they are intended: To improve the product.
This incident, for me though, has clarified why Google is having trouble getting it right. They responded to the poster in the forum with the problem but only after word of the problem spread. This appears to be Google’s modus operandi: Only move into customer service mode to squelch the spreading of the wrong message.
The LBC is flawed. The many complaints in the groups attest to that as does my personal experience. But the LBC customer service process at Google does not need to be (flawed that is). Customer service is a proactive process, one that acknowledges that there will be problems but takes care of the problems, often times even ones that are not totally grounded in reality. It should not be reactive.
Google is following the same strategy for response to problems that they followed in Search. Their computers scour the forums and the blogs for problems using an algorithm, rank them, and only respond to the ones that float to the top page of the problem ranking system. This has the benefit of being very low cost and it has worked well for them. Google is a trusted brand. But it only keeps a lid on the problem it doesn’t solve the underlying cause. In the case of Local it seems to be an inadequate strategy. It leaves too many people dissatisfied and struggling for an answer, their businesses disrupted and their time wasted.
As Miriam Ellis so eloquently pointed out: It simply isn’t ethical to make advertising revenue by representing businesses whom you refuse to communicate with… It’s time for Google to start doing business ‘for reals’. Create a functional way for small business owners to report and gain speedy resolution to errors in their business data. This can’t be automated. Real people must staff this in order to protect the rights and livelihood of business owners. This isn’t a game…it’s real business, involving real money and real people. I see no two ways about this.