Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…

Like many other SMBs, I have no love lost on the Better Business Bureau. Paying them to vouch for what I always considered my basic responsibility of being honest seemed inappropriate. They strike me in the same vein as our current political system: you have to pay to play.

But they do sit in the middle of the swirl of complaints about companies and can provide the consumer with some sense of whether a particular company has an unusual number complaints or perhaps has settled with the government . Thus while I refuse to pay them, they are not completely without merit. The BBB can spot trends and provide some relative idea about the quality of customer service that a company offers (how many complaints) and how the company handles them when they do get them (resolved or not). Google has also “blessed” them as a citation source for local (although an expensive one).

So when a reader sent me the link to Google’s BBB rating I approached it with my typical objectivity towards Google ( :) )  and the aforementioned caveats. I decided to compare Google to a range of tech companies (Apple, Hewlett Packard & Microsoft) and several companies in mobile (Verizon, ATT) to see how they faired and so you can put Google’s customer service level in perspective.

Drum roll please… Here are the results in order of the BBB grade:

BBB Listing Company Rating at the BBB
Yahoo!
AT&T Mobility
Hewlett Packard
Apple Computer
Verizon Wireless
Google, Inc.

Here is what the Better Business Bureau had to say about Google:

Our complaint history for this company shows that the company responded to and gave proper consideration to most complaints. However, more than one complaint is unresolved meaning the company failed to properly address the complaint allegations or their response was inadequate.

The bulk of the issue apparently is the fact that Google has not responded at all to 47 complaints. They were not judged on whether they satisfied the complaint, not whether they complied with their agreements… to a large degree, just whether they have responded. To put Google’s score of a C- in perspective, it is lower than Merchant Circle’s was (C+)  until their recent campaign to upgrade their image.

Google has made a science out of making it difficult to get a problem looked at let alone solved. They have saved millions of dollars by not providing support. Most of the unhappy folks either do what I do (stamp my feet etc etc ) or they go away. But obviously, a very small percentage file a high profile complaint with the Better Business Bureau. There were 637 over the past 36 months and all Google has to do is respond to every complaint. How friggin’ hard is that? The bar has been set very low here, and yet they can’t get over it. It is hard to find too many companies, rated in the BBB, that rank at this level with Google.

The situation reminded me of a quote from my favorite philanderer Ben Franklin:

“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.”

If Google represents the best of the “new economy” God save us and them.

Update: for a view of the reporting on Google’s previous and even worse scores see Barry’s article here.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB - For the Want of a Nail... by

40 thoughts on “Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…”

  1. @Mike – Great post as per usual (and quote!), with spot on analysis of Google’s general approach to customer service (large AdWords advertisers excepted).

    There are many ways about how the BBB operates that are interesting, including how the chapters act independently of one another in many ways. Additionally, they have different algorithms to handle how “large” companies’ ratings are handled vs. “small” companies’. That makes sense – 25 complaints in a year would be a huge warning flag to an SEM that takes on 50 clients per year. But to a huge corporation where that might represent less than 1% or 0.1% of their business? Not so much.

    But the overall point about how Google just doesn’t seem to care about its customers? The lack of even responding shouldn’t surprise anyone in the least.

  2. “They have saved millions of dollars by not providing support.”

    That pretty much nails it right there Mike. To quote a portion from ole Ben!!

  3. Mike:

    Basically there isn’t a company out there that can get away with that kind of customer service reputation…unless the major media passes on the news.

    It wouldn’t be a revolutionary change for Google. Yahoo has a customer service element that responds to problems with their Maps records.

    I think the larger business media has given Google a pass on this situation.

    We all want Google to do better. Its unfortunate they simply won’t interact with businesses (their customers) in a way that is normal and expected of any other business.

    WSJ, NYT, WaPo….all the business press….where are you on this continuing issue? You’d think with all the political chatter about helping small businesses some mouthpiece somehere would pick up on this issue.

    Nice article

  4. Almost simultaneously with reading this article I saw the following tweet:


    “Thanks to the helpful tech reps at AT&T. Both of you were awesome on the phone with me this morning. Two thumbs up.”

    Somehow I have a hard time believing G Places is getting that kind of response…..and this referenced AT & T…not exactly known for being the most customer friendly group around.

  5. I noted Mike, that there were 649 complaints in the past 36 months…and the one that stuck out to me was that 426 of those, involved Google “Agreeing to perform according to their contract…” — I wonder what that means, eh?

    :(

    Jim

  6. This is easily the best post you have made to date. It sums up the core problem with Google (ie rulers of the digital universe). The company continues to ignore the basic fact that they need to provide a good user experience in order to survive.

    Google’s basic business philosophy is to throw a bunch of mud against the wall and see what sticks. The problem is that the users all get dirty and Google will not show us to the washroom.

  7. That’s very interesting, Mike. To be honest, I was actually expecting a much higher grade. I can’t take believe they didn’t respond to those complaints. Kind of a silly thing not to address. Surely they can pay someone as low as 30k a year to take care of that for them.

  8. @Jim

    Yes the BBB is a strange beast indeed. It is one that I have ignored as their whole business model seems fraught with a conflict of interest. It is interesting to me that of the companies above that I respect the most, Google and Apple, neither appears to be a member. Both have lower scores as well…

    @Jax
    Yes their support (for lack of a better word) seems focused achieving a very low cost per contact not at solving problems.

    @Earl
    I guess that Walt Mossburg just isn’t reading my blog today :(

    @Jim

    I have no idea but is possibly indicative of other problems eh?

    @Mark
    Flattery will get you everywhere! :) Oh they show you the washroom, its the one in that building there way down… the street…. :)

    @Wes
    Yes it would be a trivial task to get the record cleaned up. If Merchant Circle can do it, anyone can :) It is a sum total of 40 some complaints… that is 1/10 of 1% of a full time person.

  9. I think giving them a ranking like this is the only chance we have of getting any changes. Google basically has a monopoly over everything search related and probably feel they don’t have to do anything different. Maybe this will push them along.

  10. Mike:

    Just to be precise: 637 represents the number of complaints that escalated to a level wherein the person/business complaining had to take it to BBB. 637 is a fraction of the smbs that express frustration inside the google forum for Google Places.

    Then of the 637 complaints that BBB forwarded to Google they simply ignored 47 of them.

    With regard to our smbs, I’ll reference one that has been in business for over 2 decades. We get complaints. Not many. Of them, over the decades, 1 escalated to the point where it was referenced to the BBB. Of course we addressed it. The BBB was satisfied with how we addressed the issue. More importantly the customer was satisfied. We actually thought it was resolved before it ever got to the BBB but after the fact we learned there were 2 decision makers involved….not the one with whom we had resolved the complaint at an earlier date.

    Of course we are a small smb. Reputation is everything. Of course when small businesses complain a big entity can ignore them. Especially if the media ignores the issue.

    One interesting thing: I have seen errors/problems get resolved quickly when the media gets involved.

    For some crazy algorithmic reason Google Maps put the Atlantic Coast Florida town of Sunrise on the West Coast of Florida for a long long time. It didn’t change. Ultimately I saw that the town mayor and more importantly major media got involved.

    Boom!!! Google magically got the town properly relocated in a jiffy. Problem resolved. There have been quite a few cases like that.

    Put a little sunlight on the situation and Google might start responding like the rest of the business world.

  11. @Earl – You’re dead on about the media. A friend had a blogspot blog that he had held for around 7 years. He got pulled in by a phishing scam and had it hijacked, for which he definitely bears responsibility. He couldn’t get Google to do anything. Until, he used his connections to get the paper to write a story about it. It was only then that Google responded to him and fixed the situation.

  12. I have a queer feeling that someone at Google is about to be assigned a couple of hours of work answering these complaints…

    Really smart post, Mike. Who knew?

  13. Media involvement can certainly help get things cleared up quicker than usual. It reminds me of an experiment that was done with young children – an adult directs a child to a big bowl of sweets in a quiet and empty classroom, and instructs the kid that he or she is allowed to have any sweet from the bowl, but ‘only one’, then the adult proceeds to leave the room so that the child can pick out their candy.

    This experiment was then repeated with several children and not that surprisingly, some kids didn’t respect the ‘one sweet’ rule and took more than what was permitted, although some did abide by it.

    They then re-did the experiment and everything was exactly the same, except for one thing.. but this time around the results were much more interesting, the number of kids that broke the ‘one sweet’ rule was statistically significantly less. What was it that made more of the children to obey the one sweet rule? It was the addition of a mirror – when the child stood before the big sweet bowl, they would have been faced with a full sized reflection of themselves directly opposite and this appears to have triggered some underlying psychology, which resulted in a higher number of children obeying and not breaking the one sweet rule.

    Apparently, corporations and similar offices have already tried to implement this knowledge in a practical way – such as placing reflective glass and mirrors near the coffee and vending machines, which reportedly reduced the amount of time that co-workers spent idly chatting around the vending machines. If that’s true, it’s interesting and makes you wonder what other types of subliminal psychology is being used on us throughout our daily lives, whether it be listening to soft music at the supermarket or advertisements on the tv and radio.

  14. @Mike Yes it would be a trivial task to get the record cleaned up. If Merchant Circle can do it, anyone can :) It is a sum total of 40 some complaints… that is 1/10 of 1% of a full time person.

    That is unless all the poor small business people who post over and over on the Google Places forum and get no support, start posting their complaints over at the BBB. Then Google COULD have their hands full! And then it COULD turn into a media and shareholder nightmare!

    Just a little pro-active support could nip all that in the bud.

    For example: Seems to me it would only take 2 minutes for someone at Google to post a brief answer and/or possible solution to the myriad of angry complaints over the past view days about all the missing customer reviews. Then fine – let us volunteers do the time consuming work of answering every post and pointing them to the official Google reply. All we need is 1 official answer and we’ll do the rest of the work.

    Same thing with the problem with images with all the crosshatch black lines going through them. Just post an answer or solution.

    Same thing with the split listing problems and all the tech problems and bugs we’ve been reporting in the 9/23 Technical Error Sticky – that were largely due to the 9/21 update, IMO. 59 problem reports and posts in that thread and still no answers. Although to their credit Cecelia and Brianna did TRY to help in the beginning, then they just stopped posting and answers or suggestions never came.

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?tid=5a1b67c7f496173f&hl=en

    I know the split listing bug is A LOT more complicated then your average bug, but at least let us know you are working on it. I was asked to email examples of all my split listings to someone in Google support so they could investigate almost 2 weeks ago and have not been able to get a reply or anything since then.

    My Drs. are all irate that I can’t get answers and there does not appear to be any fix for a multitude of problems these split/mirror/ghost duplicates are causing them! (FYI nothing like a regular dupe, these are totally different and there is nothing you can do about them)

    OK /end rant.

    Heading over to the BBB now.

    Just kidding… ;-)

    Sending all my Drs. over there instead.

    Seriously, just kidding. ;-)

  15. I am surprised that Google even got a passing grade from the BBB! I can understand not providing general support to users of the free search results, but at least if you have an Adwords campaign, there ought to be someone you can call if you run into issues. I did hear somebody say that you can get a dedicated ad rep if you spend ten thousand dollars a month in ads. . . but that really leaves the mom and pop small businesses out of the game.

  16. I have to second Linda’s comments with the thread that she referenced concerning split listings.

    Initially Google employees responded. Since then there have been many comments and a Google employee simply doesn’t respond.

    The businesses with continuing problems are left totally in the dark. That kind of response is totally unacceptable in any kind of business environment. Within Google Places Forum its standard operating procedure for Google. They do that all the time.

    Simply lots of businesses are left in the dark. There is no response. I suspect a tiny fraction of these unhappy businesses ever make their way to the BBB to generate a complaint outside of Google.

    Take the BBB record and multiply it many fold by the numbers of businesses that never get a response. It must be a huge number many times larger than the 600+ that made their way to the BBB.

    One of our accounts fell into that trap. We experienced a partial solution. Despite subsequent comments as to an ongoing issue there has been ZERO response from google since the first couple of comments. Its well over 2 weeks since the problem first occurred.

    I can’t think of another business that gets away with this.

    In our case the existing place record is receiving wierd spotty data from the dashboard. We have actions showing but no impressions. How can that be?

    From my understanding the records that show are the result of an algorithm that reflects a merging of data from many sources. The record always remains in this algorithmic format. It never seems to move to a hard record representing the name, address, and phone number of a business or entity. Its always algorithmic.

    I first saw the split on the afternoon of September 20 east coast time. As Linda described it was a different form of split than those that have occurred in the past.

    It would appear that the single algorithmic record became 2 records. In our case we had 2 records showing…both with a tag. That is wierd isn’t it.

    Similarly reviews were split. That was easily visible. My suspicion though is that many of the “signals” that Google accounts for that represent how the web views that “place” were split between the 2 listings. Some stayed with the original/stronger listing….some went to the phantom duplicate.

    In our case the phantom duplicate disappeared from Google Maps. I can’t find it.

    I suspect though that it is still there. I suspect that because I sense the “signals” that reflected the original record have not returned. I say that after testing the ranking of that record many times with many different geographies.

    Similarly I suspect that because the dashboard data is being only partially sent to the claimed listing. Google has not connected all the dashboard data to the claimed listing/record. Its got data. Its sending some of it to the claimed record….but not all of it.

    Where is that data being sent? Could some of that data be connected to a still existent phantom record….that is in existence…but simply removed from showing in Google Maps? Could some signals on the web still be connected to a phantom record that still survives but simply isn’t being shown in Google Maps?

    Don’t know. Its just conjecture. To the extent that the phantom record for my referenced account was removed while others remain, it strikes me that possibly Google didn’t remerge it into a single record, but simply removed it from visibility.

    They may not yet know how to remerge the records. Hopefully they are working on it. How do we know, though. They won’t communicate.

    In a sense, Google Maps are like the Yellow Pages and White Pages. States have laws that require printing and distribution of the White Pages (maybe the yellow pages–I’m not sure). Virginia is contemplating removing the requirement that the White Pages be printed and distributed. The argument is that the web makes this expensive printing and distribution job unnecessary at this point.

    The web has largely supplanted the phone books for access to information.

    Google though, which has a monopolistic market share of web views, simply is non responsive when it comes to communicating about problems.

    It doesn’t necessarily fix things. It doesn’t communicate.

    I repeat: At some point the larger media is going to get a hold of this story. These things leak out. The networks got a hold of the fact that Sunrise, Florida was misplaced by 200 miles and was ironically located in a “sunset” location on the Florida West Coast. ;) The problem got fixed immediately.

    Danny Sullivan exposed a crazy problem wherein a local police department phone number was mistakenly directed to the jail for that police department. It got fixed in a day.

    A couple of years ago Bill Slawski found a crazy result wherein a search for a gun shop in Miami was returning a maps result for the Girl Scouts. (now that was weird and potentially very embarrassing. It got fixed in a day.

    Google can fix things quickly. It chooses not to except in rare occurrences. Google can communicate on a regular basis. It chooses not to.

    I think the media needs to take a hard look at this issue.

  17. I’ve never attempted contacting them because I haven’t had any issues… yet. I can’t believe they have nobody there to help or get back to you. Who is going to make them though.

  18. If a company can’t be bothered to respond to complaints I think they should get an F. As customer service fades to a distant memory, it is time for companies to be more responsive to their customers, even if they are Google, or perhaps especially if they are Google.

  19. Thank you soooo much for tackling. I frequently encountered this reality when I was unceremoniously dumped from Adsense, a relatively common complaint infuriating folks on the web. Best source of proof is Google’s own forums: http://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/search.py?hl=en&forum=1&query=adsense++more%3Aforum+inurl%3Ahl%3Den — Frankly there is a book of evidence here. When I actually fought to get a number of someone inside the company, they literally hung up on me. The media has been given waaayy too big a pass to these guys, probably because they don’t want to be removed from its search engines. Yep, that’s what happens: after they kick you off their ads, your info is delivered much lower in Google’s returns. While some argue that this should be their right — even Electronic Freedom Foundation told me this — it seems as though with Google’s stranglehold on web ranking that there is a huge fairness issue here.

    Don’t stop. Please keep digging on this topic. Also — what finally empowered the Texas Attorney General’s office to sue? …

  20. Please note (as Mike did in one of his comment responses above), neither Google nor Apple are BBB members. Please keep in mind, the BBB does not disguise the fact that becoming a dues-paying member raises an organization’s BBB mark at least one full letter grade. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that Verizon’s grade might be lower than a B if it were not a BBB member (since (a) Verizon just had a billing glitch that affected a few hundred thousand customers and (b) cell phone companies presumably generate a lot of complaints (i.e., “I didn’t know I signed a 50 year contract just by dialing my phone”).

    I’m sure Google has customer service issues, but a BBB grade is a very poor indicator of performance. Not only is the BBB’s rating system for sale, its internal controls and tracking systems are lacking (to say the least). I know of a number of incidents where a company responded timely to a BBB complaint, but the BBB (through its own terrible internal record-keeping) failed to note that a response had been received. Once notified, the BBB might acknowledge the error, but will not change the company’s profile or grade.

    I think it’s time for a BBBB (a place where complaints against the BBB can be filed).

  21. @Barry

    Thanks for the link, I will update the article.

    @Stan
    I would agree with you Stan that the BBB is not a very objective source for the evaluating company performance. The point I was trying to make was that even when the complaints are very easy to respond to and very high profile and the barrier is so low, Google’s efforts are lame… that lack of response (not the BBB grade) is emblematic of their real support issues.

  22. I have set up over 2000 people in business and have always Recommended NOT joining the BBB. About 10 years ago Small Businesss Opportunity magazine did a 3 part Series on how courpt they are. Pay to Play was the name of the game.

  23. I’d just like to point out that Google does not pay the BBB, aka they are NOT a BBB Accredited Business. To be a BBB Accredited Business, you have to pay the BBB annual fees, and they magically make your ratings better!

  24. @Steven & anon

    I agree. That being said, the fact that Google DOES NOT respond to these complaints despite their very low level and high visibility is indicative of a great deal no?

  25. @Mike

    The problem is that, even if you DO respond to the complaints and resolve the issues, unless you PAY the BBB, and are a BBB Accredited Business, they DO NOT REMOVE THE COMPLAINTS. End of story. So, if you’re not willing to pay the ridiculous fees they have, then your BBB rating stays, even if the issues are resolved.

  26. Using the BBB measurement to describe Google’s lack of responsiveness is simply a simple yet dramatic way to describe the phenomena that Google uniquely and often doesn’t respond to customer service issues of various types. Whether one likes or doesn’t like BBB is not the issue.

    Whether Google joined or doesn’t join BBB is not the issue.

    I’ve attempted to get answers from Google on problems in both the Google Places and Google Adwords areas. At times I’ve asked probing questions. Yup….I’m trying to get them to help me understand how things work.

    I haven’t gotten responses on those questions.

    On the other hand, I have a business that is currently dealing with a residual issue in Google Places. After an initial set of comments weeks have gone by without a comment from a Google staffer. Many businesses have brought up questions. Some businesses continue to suffer from the problems. Mine is one of them. All these unanswered questions leave businesses in a dark hole of not knowing and possibly having bad or erroneous information being distributed to the public.

    Frankly Google Places has a lot of bells and whistles. At the minimum though it should be able to distribute basic information to the public that mirrors what White Pages and yellow pages does and did.

    It should provide basic Name, Phone Number, and address information. In this digital age it should provide a URL and email (not every record/business has a website)

    It should be required to get that right and communicate to businesses when its wrong. When it is wrong it should fix it quickly. It actually manages to fix those things quickly when the error starts to become embarrassing.

    An acknowledgement with regard to fixing the problems would be appropriate.

    In this day and age the only entity that seemingly doesn’t communicate at all, as far as I know, is North Korea. Not exactly a great example or model for communicating IMHO.

  27. Thats so true!! I can’t tell you how many times I needed to contact somebody from google and all they do is redirect you to their FAQ. Itso frustrating…

  28. Google used to offer some amount of support for its AdWords advertisers, lately it has offered only limited support. I recently had a site banned from Google AdWords for no specific reason. When I called them to ask why there was no specific answer. The boards at Webmaster World are filled with stories of sites that have been banned from Google AdWords for no reason in the past year with devastating results for the owners of the sites.
    Google deserves an F. They crow about their commitment to users, but for the customers who pay ALL of their bills – AdWords advertisers, Google treats us like dirt.

  29. Thanks Mike. I just posted the following there, but wanted to post it here as well.

    I’ve been one of the most vocal on Google Places recently in that 9/23 buggy update thread and here’s a MAJOR problem I have. And it makes my heart literally hurt sometimes for these poor small business people that can’t get any help!

    Yes Google Places is a free service…

    AND if Places was a mature, bug-free, easy to understand, self service platform – they would not need that much support…

    HOWEVER 90% of the problems on the forum are from bugs and/OR a totally broken scraping mechanism that continuously creates bogus duplicates and overwrites VERIFIED merchant data with sloppy erroneous data it pulls from who knows where.

    If you stripped away specific buggy problems like rashes of missing reviews or lines through images or broken QR codes.

    If you stripped away complaints about being rejected, suspended or pending review. Which are sometimes deserved end-user caused problems. (But are also often times innocent mistakes like a Plumber in Dallas making the horrible mistake of putting in his description that he’s – of all terrible things – A what? A plumber in Dallas!)

    If you stripped away what some would consider dumb questions – however they are from small business people who maybe aren’t that technical, so you can’t blame them for being confused.

    THEN WHAT YOU ARE LEFT WITH, when you really think about it – are the MYRIAD of problems that Google itself causes.

    A businesses phone number or website being changed to the wrong number or worse yet, a competitor’s info (due to scraped data). Who can blame these poor business people who are loosing customers, for wanting support! Duplicate problems (due to scraped data) Who can blame them when their ranking tanks due to a dupe stealing 90 reviews, like just happened to one of my clients. Split, rogue, ghost or mirror dupes. (Due to bugs and/or scraping). Missing tags, double ghost tags, can’t cancel tags or when they added tags then other problems cropped up (due to bugs). Broken QR codes (bugs). I could go on & on & on!

    Anyone who lives Google Places like I do and spends lots of time on the forum I think would agree – that a great majority of the problems are caused by Google and not operator error.

    So when Google’s own system is what causes so many problems for these poor small business people, I think GOOGLE should be held accountable, fix the problems and offer support – EVEN IF PLACES is a free service!

    I am so busy with dupes, bugs, troubleshooting and a myriad of problems – I’ve had to stop accepting clients because I am so buried in problems with existing clients I can’t take on any new ones.

    Can you tell I’m a little frustrated?

    /endrant

    Linda

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