Why does Google Have the Maps Support Forums?

Total postings Jan 21 - June 20 by Maps GroupMiriam Ellis has anecdotally documented the frustration that business users feel with Google once they arrive at the Maps Help Forum. The incredulity that smb’s have at Google’s apparent lack of customer support is summed up in these few quotes (amongst the 65 or so that Miriam has documented):

– Google really likes to keep their Customer Service phone number on lock
– If my business’ customer service was anything like Google’s, we’d have been out of business long ago!

Miriam herself asks: Like the small sampling of bewildered, frustrated and angry people, above, I am left wondering why Google builds applications for the use of local business owners – indeed, that end up ruling the lives of local business owners – and then hides from these people. Why build products for the world if you don’t want any involvement with its people?

My opinion? For Google the Maps Help Forums are not a customer support vehicle. That has become obvious as the staff presence there is at best sporadic and at worst might be viewed as a sinister programming of a Pavlovian response. As I pointed out in an earlier article, there are some indications that customer support on Maps from Google might actually be declining. Google clearly knows how to provide customer service and has done so within the AdWords group. Them not providing customer service even in the limited environment of the forums is a conscious choice on their part. So why have forums at all you ask?

The answer?

Google is after all a company of engineers (data driven) that are aggregated as a successful corporation (profit driven). Neither the point of view (engineering) nor the focus ($) are intrinsically customer service oriented.

We know that Google scours the internet for help in prioritizing problems. The forums provide Google a vehicle to gather a large amount of focused information. They provide data for the engineers to crunch and act as an early warning system. It provides the sorts of data of which can be sliced and diced to allow Google insight into what’s working and what’s not, whether an upgrade causes more problems than it should and what kinds of problems people are having that might be improved on a system wide basis (customer service being the exception of course ie without interacting with individuals).

I was curious what one might be able to tell from looking at forum data in aggregate. In an effort to get an inkling of what Google saw I compiled a simple view of the information presented in the primary Map Help forum tabulating total postings in the 3 main sub groups over a 5 month period.

Here is one view of the aggregate data (weekends removed as they were consistent dips in volume) of total postings per day (the three main forums totaled) from January 21st to June 21st:
aggregate-data-without-week

The large arrow points to April 7th, the beginning a long run of the daily averages increasing from around 60 postings a day during Jan, Feb and Mar to 80 per day for April and May. The postings have averaged 83 a day since the beginning of June. As an outsider with limited view of Google’s wealth of data one doesn’t really know why there was an increase. The date corresponds pretty closely with the start of the increased merging of business records and one can find a few mentions of merging on that date but it could just as easily be a result of an increased visibility of the forums from a link in Google or a combination of problems that are rearing their heads.

We can presume though that Google has oodles of this type of information and more. We can assume that they study it very closely. We can assume that through some sort of rational decision making (within their world view) the decision was to not provide any significant level of support for Maps. While I am sure that there are individuals at Google that would prefer a real customer service response to the many problems they see, it unlikely that we will see one any time soon unless large scale market or public forces demand it.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Why does Google Have the Maps Support Forums? by

15 thoughts on “Why does Google Have the Maps Support Forums?”

  1. Mike:

    I suggest Google hires you as head of the “all new” LBC customer service Group. I see by the volume of your comments within the forums group you are already doing this…albeit without pay.

    They owe you. You can do it remotely. You don’t have to move to Cali in sit in the Googleplex.

    They should give you a BIG SALARY a staff and great bennies. In fact, I have an idea to get you an agent and negotiate a great deal for you (w/ 10% going to the agent of course) :D

    I mean after all…you are providing more customer service currently than what the google staffers en masse seem to be providing.

  2. To some extent, the open platform of the Google Maps Help Forum is relying on local SEO consultants, like Mike in particular, to provide much of the help and advice required. They don’t want to pay Mike the BIG SALARY when they can simply not pay him at all. There are benefits however in that it does help Mike get paying clients, I’m sure.

  3. @Stever

    Yes Google is interested in externalizing as many costs as they possibly can. Thats what makes them such great capitalists. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the world but it is in their best interests.

    Beyond cost externalization though I do believe that Google is distancing itself from the specific accuracy of any record or the specific answer to any problem as it will commit them going forward to a level of obligation that they just don’t want for either monetary or legal reasons.

    Mike

    P.S. Most of the users at the forums are the self help types

  4. I think Google has the Maps Support Forums because they hope users’ experiences will help other users work things out. At this point, it’s a misguided hope, because so many of the reported problems aren’t operator error.

    I’ve been having my own adventure with the Local Business Center, and I think the problem there is that Google seriously mis-estimated the amount and type of interest they got in their product. They got a lot more than mom-and-pop shops, and I think they got a lot more response than they were ready for. The lack of any verification method for bulk-uploaded listings is a clear sign that Google didn’t expect a lot of bulk uploads.

    (At my company, we bulk-uploaded the data for our 100+ locations, and then discovered we couldn’t verify them or assign coupons to them. We recently deleted all the bulk-uploaded data and keyed it one at a time. We had to spread it across a couple of accounts because you can’t have more than 100 locations in an LBC account — another serious design-stage mistake.)

    As you say, Google is a company of engineers. I think they’re busy trying to fix the underlying problems, but they’re doing in in the classic engineering/computer science way: buckling down, shutting up, and getting to work. The “shutting up” part leaves us customers clueless about what’s going on, and clueless about whether we’ve even been heard.

    Deep down, I think Google thinks of us all as “users” rather than “customers,” and changing that view will be to Google’s benefit at least as much as ours.

    Maybe Google will hire Mike and/or some other like-minded souls to help out — maybe the problem is rising to high enough prominence thanks to blog posts like this one.

  5. @Robert

    I think you are right that Google does think of us all as “users” (and probably as “users” who would like to manipulate their system) rather than customers. They sure appear tone deaf though don’t they.

    Mike

  6. At some point the volume of help requests will far outstrip the capacity of a few helpful souls like Mike. What is the estimate on numbers of local businesses that have even claimed a listing? I know it’s low.

    When Maps really gets out there and we see an exponential rise in users (i mean customers) in the forums seeking help, then Google may be forced to do something better.

  7. To all,

    I’ll be happy to share some amazing experience that I had with Yahoo Local’s Customers Care-

    Not only that they replied my inquiries by email, they even called back to ask a few questions! But it didn’t stopped here! They refund my account with $140 that they accidently charged me for a duplicated Enhanced listing that was active many months without us noticing that!

    Oh, Yahoo! I think I’m falling in love!

    THE BEST PART from this issue- They even managed to delete many bad reviews that the spammers planted in our listings & they even deleted all the good reviews that those spammers stuffed to their own listings (BTW- those are the same Mega Spammers Locksmiths from Google Maps).

    Isn’t that lovely?!!!

  8. @PureSheer: Yahoo is next on our list, as Big Search Engine #2. We hope it’ll go smoothly — and maybe it will, since revenue sources proably get better customer service than free stuff like Google Local Business Center.

    (In the meantime, I’d better sign up for an account here — I’m being conflated with some other Robert who has also posted comments.)

  9. @Robert

    I’ll be happy to give some tips & basic instructions for you on your Yahoo Local journey.
    Not that I’m such an expert, but i know one or two things that can help.

  10. I can’t believe I somehow missed this post, Mike.

    PureSheer…many of us have felt the shock of having Yahoo pick up the phone or send us a personal email after the mind-numbing experience of dealing with Google’s opacity. Yahoo is coming off as far more people-centric than Google because of this.

    The only problem is…they don’t get Google’s traffic, so we keep having to play in Google’s ballpark. Still, it’s nice to know Yahoo cares!

    Robert…your remarks regarding Google’s possible unpreparedness for the avalanche that is Local are very illuminating. I hadn’t thought of this before. It’s true, definitely, that Google has launched applications that failed to become big. Could they have thought this might be the case with Local? Interesting thoughts.

  11. Well as I have noted previously Google has $201,000 net profit per employee vs. Yahoo’s $32,000 (see this seekingalpha blog post. Some of that is due to better technology, some of it due to focus but in the end if Yahoo doesn’t become just as profitable then capital will all flow away from them and towards Google.

    Up to this point, Google’s way (high tech power, low people power) has dominated. Whether that will continue to be the case in local remains to be seen.

    If Local is different than Google will fail. If Local is basically the same as organic they will succeed.

    Obviously bringing near monopoly position to the battle gives them a huge advantage at the game start but if their actions are ultimately counter to the market’s real needs and interests, there will be either public or governmental push back

  12. Thank you for your commentary. The lack of responsiveness is dispiriting. We operate several brick and mortar businesses of several types; all with websites. The above is one of them.

    Recently there have been a growing number of problems that our business websites face as it relates to Google Maps. We aren’t asking Google to rank our sites first. We are simply attempting to get seen within Maps and get correct information out to the public.

    The problems range from dashboards that don’t work, to inability to upload pictures into the various LBC’s on behalf of these businesses, to being strangely miscategorized, without explanation, to wrong data being presented. It varies from business to business.

    I appreciate this forum for the feedback and suggestions it offers. Strangely Google doesn’t do the same. The sad fact is that the mistakes are occurring in Google Maps, not in this forum.

    How strange that I have to express these frustrations here rather than in Google Maps, who, were they to react professionally, would address my concerns.

    Instead, they either ignore my concerns, along those of other business operators, allow other people to comment on the issues, and/or create some crazy button indicating as to whether or not another reader feels “an answer has been given”.

    As someone who has requested assistance within Google Maps in the past on behalf of a variety of businesses I can state I’ve never received an answer from Google.

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