Is Google Maps Reducing Customer Support?

Recently there was a posting in Google’s forum where a large hospital facility was asking for help with claiming and verifying their records in Google Maps. They had a phone system that wouldn’t allow phone verification and the post cards either didn’t arrive or were lost in their internal mail system. Google’s Employee Joel responded with this unsatisfying answer:

I understand this is difficult. Here’s my advice –  If you want to individually verify, the best course of action is to check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost (not a very satisfying answer, I know, but it’s the best solution with mail problems). Alternatively, you may want to try submitting a bulk feed with the corrected information.

Late last year when Miriam Ellis of the Solas Web Design noted the great difficulty she had with emergency health numbers in Google Maps, Google’s Maps Guide Jen responded:

I understand that the main concern expressed is that the repercussions for incorrect information on hospital listings is much greater than that of non-emergency service businesses. We completely agree with this. In fact, we allow hospital and medical service listings to be edited partly for the reasons that you’ve expressed (outdated or misdirected information). Community edits for these listings come under great scrutiny. Our contact options in the help center allows users to tell us specifically when emergency service, shelter, and other hospital data is incorrect, and we aim to resolve these within 48 hours. While it’s not possible for us to go through every single hospital listing in our index, we do our best to ensure the accuracy of major listings.

The form that Maps Guide Jen mentions has now been removed. A customer service that Google once provided to attempt to reconcile the phone numbers of emergency care and health services has been removed. The question one has to ask is why? One can postulate all sorts of intentions about Google’s behaviors but at the core, one has to assume that they are rational and not crazy.

Why would they actually reduce their commitment to getting at least emergency numbers as accurate as possible?
-Is the task impossible?
-Is it too expensive?
-Does it open Google up to liability?
-Does it set a standard that they have no desire to generally apply?

Regardless, it does communicate to the world that pin point accuracy is not Google’s goal with Maps. It seems that “good enough” is their objective.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Is Google Maps Reducing Customer Support? by

17 thoughts on “Is Google Maps Reducing Customer Support?”

  1. Nice article Mike. Recently (in the last 4 days) two hospitals; one in Canada and one in Great Britain are trying to get erroneous phone numbers fixed. I wonder how long that could take?

    I recall the situation with the Duke University Medical Center from 2007, wherein the person requiring assistance also described how calls directed through Google Maps were overwhelming the phone system at the hospital system and being terribly misdirected. As I recall, Google fixed this problem very quickly as the “noise” was quite loud.

    It is very astonishing that mysterious Google would reveal a hard to find “emergency” contact…back last November…albeit rather quietly in a single person’s blog…and then even more quietly remove the “emergency contact” in about 1/2 year’s time.

    The secretness and quietness with regard to Google Maps and its interaction with businesses and institutions is dramatically different from their Public Relations and Marketing efforts that widely and loudly announce new elements.

    Clearly the Google interaction with institutions and businesses is purposefully kept in the dark.

    Here is an interesting example of a different type of “quiet” “customer service” ….if one would call it that…..

    A business in Houston was privately reported spam in his/her industry sometime before the end of May. They obviously weren’t getting a response.

    The business went public in Google forums detailing the spam issue.

    It evidently got resolved by the google maps people. But…per the business….it took about 20 submissions of a spam report…and about 3 weeks.

    Today a different person w/ a different business also identified a “spammer” in google maps in his/her business. The ultimately satisfied Houston business person was nice enough to comment….and filled us all in on a need to submit to the google spam group….”about 20 times” and it taking about 3 weeks.

    Customer Service ….this is the furthest thing from it.

    Meanwhile, Google populates content with local businesses information. Gets traffic, earns income from ads that sit on google pages w/ this content….and it has plenty of erroneous information…and seems to have little inclination to fix it….and really doesn’t want businesses or institutions to know that.

    Its terribly frustrating…and even more remarkably…it has the imprint of a “monopoly” on the conveyance of information….that doesn’t respond to its impact on those that suffer from the wrong information.

    Very disturbing.

  2. Customers with automated systems are a big problem for the Google verification process. For small businesses, most can shut it off. Larger ones we just send a postcard to. This usually leads to their listing going unverified as the postcard gets mixed in with the other junk mail.

    It is strange to me that Google did not plan out the verification process well enough to deal with automated phone systems. It would be fairly easy to have an extension passed to he IVR of the receiving company. Why not ask for an extension when you ask for the phone number and perhaps a delay ( in seconds). This would allow the verification system to get the PIN code to the right person at larger companies.

    It almost seems like Google does not use the systems they setup. A simple solution like this would have been thought of if the designers were forced to use their own system or it had been thoroughly tested on a wider audience.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I’m glad you decided to post about this. I ought to go back and update my medical post from last year, but wonder what I should do. Delete Jenn’s comment? Hmm…what a fix.

    The last thing that will make any of us happy at this point is Google reducing communication. I think it’s especially concerning that this was the one single area we could previously point to and say,”if it’s emergency data, Google has a special way to handle that.” Now even this is gone.


  4. Google local is more about getting a verified business directory for marketing purposes, which is given in exchange at this time for protecting your brand name or perhaps a keyword in your chosen business area. When see through this framework it becomes clear why there is little reason to focus and address specific cases, anything other than algorhythmically.

  5. I am the webmaster at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and I am beyond aggravated at the complete lack of support at Google Maps. If a physician changes practices, or if we open a new office, or move a unit, or build a new hospital, there is no way to validate or correct this information on Google.

    We opened our new Prentice Women’s Hospital over two years ago, and the Lynn Sage Breast Surgery Center was moved there. But if you Google it, you get a map pointing to the old address, based on a map last updated in 2007 by a guy named “Matt” with no email address and no affiliation to the hospital. (The correct address shows up as the “B” placemark).

    I have requested several times to have the “a” placemark removed, or moved, but it keeps reverting back. An “editor” named “Kath.m” denied my request, saying “This place is still open for business used by The Lynn Sage Breast Center for accepting donations.”

    That information is just completely wrong. I don’t know who “Kath.m” is (a Google employee?) but she’s not affiliated with the hospital and I don’t know why her judgment is valued over someone who is affiliated with the hospital.

    I realize there are problems everywhere with Google Maps and other businesses, but as people start to rely more and more on Google maps, we are seeing more and more sick people wandering around the neighborhood trying to find their appointments. It is another added frustration to people who are already so vulnerable.

    They need to address this issue before someone dies, and in a more helpful manner than this completely useless page:

    Thank you for this article, and I hope Google will start to pay attention to this problem. There are many hospital -related questions on the Maps forum that have gone unanswered. Including mine.

    1. @Manning

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I am not sure who Kath.m is either but she sure has done a lot of Map edits.

      Certainly the quasi public nature of the listings in Maps and the critical health and emergency issues provided by hospitals elevate the issue to a level beyond that of the problems experienced by the local pizza stand. Does Google as a private entity have a responsibility to the general public to provide safe and accurate listings, particularly as it relates to health?

  6. “Does Google as a private entity have a responsibility to the general public to provide safe and accurate listings, particularly as it relates to health?”

    If they have a shred of a sense of civic responsibility, they do, Mike.

    Google knows they have become the way people find local data. They have edged out the phone book. We need to see Google take responsibility for the situation they’ve created.

    I’m horrified by the scenario Manning Peterson has described and am further convinced that Google is not acting in good faith with the recent removal of their direct contact information for emergency service providers.

    I’ve updated the information we are offering on our blog regarding this and I’m asking the public to respond to Google’s policy:

    I’m really grateful that you’ve shed light on this very serious problem, Mike. That’s what I call being civic-minded!


    1. @Miriam

      Thanks for the nod and the link to your new article. Nice job.

      There is a line of thought that says that Google might be the least to blame in an environment of unbridled capitalism. They do what any good capitalist would do; decrease expense and increase income. That is how capitalism works.

  7. The British Hospital with phone numbers being misreported in Google Maps, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust; has now been struggling with this problem for 16 days since first reported..

    Obviously the problem started before it was first reported on June, 8, 2009

    Imagine receiving 16 days or more of service that disrupts your efforts, in a hospital no less….and the entity causing the problem won’t even communicate with you….let alone fix it.

  8. Manning: Maybe you need to raise the voice level with regard to your problem. Last night or early this morning a Google rep personally responded to the British hospital’s problem, which has existed for 17 days. He confirmed the reps personal phone number.

    Meanwhile a twitter campaign referencing Miriam’s article was raising awareness in wider world as to the quiet change in Google’s policy.

    You might want to reference your problem in twitter and direct it at all the health care and hospital accounts on line.

    Frankly, I think it would be easier for Google to reinstate the emergency contact policy.

    Alternatively they could stop inserting contact numbers from their algo’s, which are obviously faulty to some degree, and direct people to the hospital websites, or some other alternative wherein they aren’t aggregating data that is faulty and then presenting it to a public that has come to rely on Google’s accuracy.

  9. Manning:

    In fact if Google won’t directly respond, I might go into twitter, get an acct, if you don’t already have one. If you do a “people search” in twitter for the word hospital by example, there are plenty of hospitals already on twitter, and they have plenty of followers. I’m sure you could find other concerned groups by doing “people searches” using other health oriented words.

    I suspect if these problems persist the industry would get riled up once they learned of the issues and it emerged from darkness.

    That isn’t the most direct way to get direct “customer service”. That way has always tended to work though, when a business that effects many seems to operate in the dark.

  10. I thought I would come here and post an update:

    There is no update.

    Three weeks later, and I have not heard a word from Google, nor has anyone responded to my question on the help forum, nor has the incorrect listing been removed.

  11. I see where Google Employee Joel H stepped into the NMH thread here

    and with the University Bristol Hospital issue here

    In both cases Joel appeared on July 13.


    Wouldn’t life be a lot easier for google and hospitals if they just reinserted the emergency contact method they installed last November and then quietly removed.


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