There is a reported service area bug in the Google Places Dashboard that has an easy work around but terrible results if you aren’t aware of it. (Thanks to Steve King of Simpartners for also highlighting the issue to me.)
When a business selects service area the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” check defaults to checked EVERY time you go in an edit your record. Thus it is necessary to deselect the check box or you will suffer the outcome associated with hiding your address. YOUR LISTING WILL DROP OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH (As defined by Maps).
SEOMoz was given a chance to test a Mirmetrix eye tracking device. The used the opportunity to analyze the impact of Universal results generated by Blended results, the 7-pack, shopping and videos inserted in the SERPS. I was of course most interested in the Local results. Their conclusion?
These results also suggest that the in-page Local/Places results are having a strong impact, even if they fall in the middle of the page. In these limited cases, they seemed to pull attention away from the top organic spots.
This is not a tribute to Steve Jobs directly. Although in the end it may be one of his greatest legacies. Will Siri become the new Qwerty?
I have been in the technology field for over 30 years. I have seen a number of radical changes that became metaphors for how things were supposed to be done. Many, but certainly not all, of these metaphors were created at the hands of Steve Jobs.
QWERTY defined the keyboard. The Apple II defined a generation of PCs. Sony defined what the home video recorder should be. The Mac defined what a Window and Window based programs should behave like. The iPhone defined how touch functions on a smartphone and what a smartphone is.
These defining products and the companies that produce them don’t always win the battle in the market place for various reasons but the idea sticks. The technology becomes iconic and lays the path for others to follow. Sometimes the followers overtake the creators, sometimes the creators win. The market is a brutal overseer.
Siri, the natural language interface for the new iPhone 4s, is one such product. It may not be the product that wins the battle in the market place, it may not be the specific product feature that everybody has to have in their pockets in 2015 but if it isn’t, whatever is there will be like Siri.
Imagine a world where you say to your phone: Find me the best Asian restaurant within 25 miles. Or: Text my wife to meet me at 21. Or: Schedule an appointment for me with Joe the PR Guy and send him a text. Or: Tell my friends on Facebook that our team won!
All of the sudden the only thing that matters is the answer. Nothing else. You won’t be looking at a search box, you won’t be landing on someone’s home page, you won’t be looking at an ad…In fact you won’t be looking at anything.
You won’t need to. Not all of your interaction will be voice driven but depending on your mobile needs a large portion of it could be. You no longer need to look at your phone to enter a query in a search box. You just ask for the answer and it will just give it to you.
The answer can come from a single source or a range of sources. The brand of search engine is no longer important, the brand of phone that you are asking the question on is. Your only relationship is with the phone. Either it works or it doesn’t. Search engines and web brands could potentially fade in importance.
The winner in this next interface battle gets to pick where and who it gets the answer from. If Siri needs three data sources, it uses three data sources. If it needs four, it looks at four. That complexity is all hidden and the user not only doesn’t need to visit multiple websites, the user doesn’t even need a special app. Siri, or something like it, becomes the great equalizer for data sources. An OS for voice as it were. It handles the complexities. You just need to ask it.
Will it do what Apple says it will? There was a time when you couldn’t trust what Apple or any technology firm said. You had to have it proven to you. Even though this is a new Apple, one molded by the demanding perfectionism of Steve Jobs, this is one of those times when you will need to know that the natural language interface works and it works seamlessly.
If it does, it becomes THE WAY that you want to interact with the device. The new QWERTY as it were. Maybe not all all the time but certainly with mobile search and more frequently than not with mobile local search.
It also becomes the great disintermediator in mobile. It may be the greatest disintermediator of all time. If it works.
With Apple’s announcement of the release of the new iPhone 4s and iOS5 came the expected announcement of the tight hardware and software integration of their Siri natural speech technology. It appears to be integrated at the highest level of the user interface.
Mobile search on the iPhone has been broken. Google offers up voice search but it is by no means a hands free affair and takes way too much screen interaction to provide a result. Google’s product has been quirky and buggy on the iPhone and crashes frequently. Since the discontinuation of Goog-411, the 411 service on the iPhone has been only marginally functional due to a weak data sources for even the simple task of call completion.
Hopefully tight integration of voice with the phone will change all of that. The voice recognition system will read back texts, allow you to schedule an appointment AND do local search.
How does it do with local search? And where will it get its data?
The answer to the first question is that voice search on the existing Siri app is far better than Google’s voice product or the built in 411. That is a step in the right direction but passing the hurdle set by Google on the iPhone is not that difficult. It does a good job on the recognition side and it currently has an easy to use interface which will improve with integration and returns reasonable results.
Interestingly the current Siri app pulls data from a wide range of data sources to answer your questions. That is true with business listing data as well. Depending on the local search it might show results from Yelp, Yahoo, CityGrid, Localeze or BooRah. I presume that it uses even more sources than I have so far discovered and it appears to be agnostic as to where it gets its data. Siri also seems to mix and match sources when necessary.
Ultimately local will be almost 100% about mobile. That battle, at least for now, is Google vs. Apple. In local data that appears to mean Google vs. Everybody else (that Apple partners with). Does Siri solve the mobile search problem?
It is in the very early stages and users behaviors are not yet defined. Testing and time will tell if it offers up enough substance to be fluidly integrated into every day phone activity and local search. Here’s hoping.
To reinforce the critques in the article I republished from March 2009 about the Google Places customer service experience, I wanted to show a typical, current Dashboard screen shot. The screenshot demonstrates both the lack of meaningful help and the problems that still exist with seeking it out by the small business person.
I am glad that Google has improved their Help system with a guided approach to solving problems. Google refers to these steps as “escalators”. I think that they will be helpful to many BUT there is still much that could be done in creating a customer service environment that is customer friendly. Much could be done even if a self help only approach to customer service was the only support Google desires to provide.
The contextual help in the dashboard, while present, is not as thorough or as helpful as it could be. The single Help link at the top of the page quickly scrolls off the screen in favor of other Google products. If you do click on the Help link, it is still at least 4 clicks to an answer and the answer is not totally informative.
And this screen shot just deals with the help that is provided INSIDE the dashboard. What about the many forms of support that can only be achieved by a link on the Places page. Why should an SMB need to go to two places for help? But then there are certain support issues that can only be dealt with in the forums? Why should they need to go to a 3rd place for support? And of course, if you do end up in the help forums filling out one of the new forms, will any one answer?
I think Google can do much better. They could do better in contextual, automated help and they could do better designing a comprehensive customer service experience….if they wanted to.
The problem is that I have been saying this same thing for as long as I have been writing this blog. These issues have been ongong for 5 years. While these new help files are a step, and a good step, in the right direction, the still inadequate help environment strongly suggests that they don’t want to.
Google has recently upgraded their help files and are receiving kudos for their effort. I find the effort, while laudable, very little and very late. I still find the whole Google Places “customer service experience” sorely failing at its primary task: convincing business owners that they are appreciated for something other than their credit card.
Here is an article that I wrote March 30, 2009 and I think it is as true today as it was 2 years and 4 months ago: Google Maps Places: What might customer service look like?
Over a year ago I compared Google Maps to Yahoo Local in the nature of their communication upon listing a business in the respective services. I praised Yahoo for proactive, if automated, communications and followup. Yahoo, in contrast to Google, made the signup process seem like not walking off of a cliff in the dark. More importantly than the specifics of the process, Yahoo made me feel good about the process with minimal effort on their part. Communication like this improves the buy in process prior to a problem. Customer service on the other hand is an improved communication after the problem inevitably occurs.
I just recently switched my home accounting on Quicken from a very old OS 9 Macintosh Quicken to a newer version on OS X. My customer service interaction with Intuit was exemplary without ever speaking with a customer service rep and it drove home for me why Google’s current model for customer service fails and how they could improve it.
What might Google Maps customer service look like if Google were to get serious about it? How would I feel if they were to do it right?
Google has a very thorough reputation management methodology. They actively scour the web, blogs, forums and every other kind of possible on line resource for problems with their products. This process is automated and the issues found are apparently categorized and ranked. In the case of Google Maps, if a specific problem is being widely discussed across the web and involves a specific bad record or set of records (think mapspam), it seems the Google staff are authorized to hand jigger the results so that better results are shown and that specific record repaired or removed. If the problem is serious enough, it might also be passed to the Maps group for review and possible future change of way the results are presented. It works great at capping the damage of high profile problems and it provides a long term feed loop to improve the product. Great as far as it goes.
Reputation management however is not customer service. Only high profile problems are solved and only after they become big problems. By only focusing on these high profile problems, many legitimate questions go unanswered leaving many folks with a feeling that Google just doesn’t care. At its best, good customer service is a process that takes that potentially huge problem and turns it into a positive to cement a long term relationship. It is a way of acknowledging the customer’s humanity.
Google’s single customer service option in addition to their help files, if you are a business or user, for getting an answer to your problem is to post to the Google Maps forums. These are unmoderated forums and once again it feels like a step off of that very steep cliff. Google Guides might read all of the posts but actually respond to very few, relying instead on volunteers to answer the question if it gets answered at all. Some of the volunteers are authorized to bring high profile problems to Google’s direct attention. (Nothing like shifting costs…)
Thus Google Map’s customer service is a very hit and miss proposition. By the time a small business owner makes it to the forums they are already frustrated and when they find such spotty service, they often go “postal” (is there a maps equivalent of postal?). Google Maps is becoming known for sub optimal customer service and the forums are a veritable breeding ground of discontent.
It doesn’t need to be this way. I think that the model of customer support provided by Intuit for Quicken points the way. But before I get to that lets look at how big the support problem is. Being immersed in the “bad results” I often get a distorted view of the reality. I see mostly egregious examples and I, and most people, tend to extrapolate that more widely than is justified. I read the group postings every day and the influx seems overwhelming. The reality? Let’s take a look.
To get a sense of the total number of problems reported I looked at the number of original postings in the three groups where problems and questions with Maps are dealt with since the new forums were rolled out in Mid January. On average there were 53 postings per day. Over time, they add up to many unhappy customers if they go unanswered. I suppose that there could be more postings if Google highlighted access but it would still be a manageable daily number.
Google has recently added a “Take our Survey” link to the Places page. I thought that it was a simple 2 question, rate your satisfaction survey with an optional third question (it actually goes on forever). But it was the third question that intrigued me: Describe Google Maps in one word.
I love Google Maps. I hate Google Maps. I find it exhilarating when it works and am continually frustrated by its quirks and oddities. I find it a challenge to understand and simple. It can help a business become successful and drive that same business to the the depths of despair. I am in awe and desperation.
ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
Ambivalent? For sure but that hardly captures my feelings in one word. I have trouble coming up with one word that describes the jambalaya of thoughts and feelings about Places.
My challenge to you: Describe Google Maps. Come up with one word that captures your sense of (sur)reality when it comes to Maps and Places!
Update 7:30 pm: The Google video of Al Franken has “Embedding disabled by request”. Sorry but for reasons that are not totally clear, you will need to head over to YouTube to view this video. Are there any conspiracy theorists in the house?