Today Google is changing the category structure and posting process in the Google Maps Help Forum in an effort to reduce miscategorization of topics and improve the quality of the help provided. All posts since the new forum was rolled out in January have been apparently been placed into the new categories:
Problems and Errors —> Map Won’t Load
For Business Owners —> Verification Issues
How Do I? —> Base Map Data
The move, while a big step in the right direction, will not really solve the customer support issues that Google faces in the SMB world.
In the current forums users typically mix questions across the categories and often cross post as they are unsure as to which category a query belongs. This move to upgrade the forums with more granularity has apparently been successful in other Google forums.
Google noted that “We’re hoping to also generate more discussion around the various features of Maps rather than simply providing a forum for transactional questions and answers”.
In the new layout, Google first asks users to identify themselves as either a business owner or not a business owner as to allow a choice to see all posts by business owners only.
The user is then asked to select one of the many new, more specific categories to post their question. Google’s hope is that this will make it easier for them “to identify issues, find resolutions, and circle back in a more efficient way”.
-Maps User Categories:
Not a Business Owner
For business owners having difficulties verifying listings in the Local Business Center.
-Local Listing Issues
For users with questions about editing, adding, or removing business listings.
For users who are unable to use Google Maps because the map won’t fully load.
A place to share your ideas to help us improve Google Maps!
-Base Map Data
For users to discuss the current base map data for Google Maps.
For users to discuss best practices for getting driving directions, or to report driving direction issues.
For users creating personal, annotated, or customized maps.
Discussions surrounding all things Street View!
Having spent a great deal of time in the forums, I think this change is very positive and will generally improve the overall environment of the groups and their usefulness. In many of the categories it will improve the ability of users to help each other and create more of a community feel as MyMaps users congregate or geeks talk of packet problems or firewall settings in the Loading Issues category.
But there is a limit to this strategy to improve the self help nature of the forums. When it comes to small businesses with problems in the Local Listing & Verification process, it is unlikely to be as successful as in the the other categories in changing the transactional nature of the Maps problem solving cycle. The reasons for this are several.
Firstly, SMB’s perceive, often rightfully so, that Google has an obligation to display their business information correctly.
Secondly, most SMB’s that I know are either so busy due to the struggle of surviving or enmeshed in customer support issues of their own to be willing to spend their free time in the forums. In the best of circumstances they are franticly executing their new promotion or paying their bills.
Most have an intensely focused and competitive attitude which precludes them lingering long to help others with similar issues. They have survived, as they perceive it, by their own grit, let others do the same. Most are understaffed, underpaid and even if they do understand that cooperation might produce better results than not cooperating they just don’t think that they have luxury.
By the time that they arrive in the forums they are not “grateful” for the free nature of the product but resentful of the imposition of energy and aggravation that they have gone through in their mostly futile attempts to get their listing looking right or ranking as they think it should.
These folks typically come from a world where the phrase “customer service” means talking to someone and when they are confronted with the deafening silence from Google in the forums, they just get more angry.
Thirdly, while the new format will categorize the problem to be solved more clearly, it will still not force the poster to provide enough information to allow another forum contributor to understand the problem quickly and point them in the right direction. The postings almost always lack city, business name or a link to the listing forcing the job of discovery onto the helper. This is time consuming and rapidly wears out even the most dedicated of forum followers. The problem results from the contradiction of trying to solve issues with the structured data of the business listing in the free form context of the forums.
Fourthly, the search system in the forums doesn’t provide answers to new questions it just shows previously posted relevant questions of the same ilk. Thus it requires massive effort on the part of the poster to pore through these many questions in search of the answer that often is not there. Nobody wants a lists of questions to their question, they want answers.
The help system needs to improve to the point of actually answering questions when and where they occur, in the LBC, to be effective. The new Verification troubleshooter is a baby step in this direction but not nearly enough.
Fifthly, many of the problems that drive SMBs to the forums are either features or quirks intrinsic to the Maps system and even if they can be identified, they just can’t be solved by others. Mergings, duplicate listings, wrong telephone numbers, undeletable coupons, are mostly artifacts of Google’s technology. The problems that they cause can not be solved with a simple entry in the LBC but only by Google’s direct intervention in the account. The circuitous route of a top contributor to identify these types of problems to Google staffers who may or may not respond quickly is both time consuming and demeaning.
So while this upgrade is a welcome change, in and of itself, it will not change the reality for many small businesses hoping to find a solution in the forums unless Google themselves actually invests more people and time in the forum process, improves the types of issues that can be solved in the LBC and refines the help system to actually answer the range of real questions that exist.
Customer service, while it can be automated and scaled to a point, ultimately has a human at the end of the query that deserves a quick and correct answer. That responsibility should not be futilely shunted off to others or left to a solely algorithmic solution.Google Upgrades Maps Forums - Will It Solve Support Issues for SMBs? by Mike Blumenthal