Google Maps: 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, 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.

Number of Posts Reporting Problems, Daily Average Jan Feb Mar
For Business Owners 10 9 9
Problems and Errors 26 25 27
How Do I? 19 17 17
Daily Total 55 51 53

So given the small scale of the problem why is Google unable to allocate the resources to provide customer service? Who knows? (see Greg’s post for a possible cause)?

Could it be fixed? Yes and here is where the Intuit Quicken solution comes in.
Continue reading Google Maps: What might customer service look like?

Google Maps Interface Tweak

Google Maps has made a small change in the interface (thanks to ever observant LA Florist, Cathy Rulloda) removing the obvious links to toggle between Maps View (seen when entering via Maps link) and Text View (seen when entering via a Universal Local Result). The change, one of many since the August Blue Line role out, is one more step in simplifying the Maps interface and integrating the Maps and Business Listing views.

Screen shot from 3/23/09:


In the new view, one simply selects the expand or contract arrows to move from one view to the other.

Screen shot from 3/24/09:


Google Maps: Telephone validation not working properly in Canada?

Google Map’s LBC phone validation system has been quirky (also see the old help group) over the years, working for many but failing unpredictably for some. It won’t work with a PBX system and seems to have other limitations but a recent post in the Google Help Fourms seems to indicate that currently, for whatever reason, it just isn’t working that well in Canada.

In a protracted post that started in late January, a number of posters  have experienced problems with the system not responding to the phone input. The one common factor between many of the posters is that they reside in Canada. Google, despite there having been 25 replies to this post, has yet to respond in the forum. 

Google is the only one that knows when the phone verification system works and when it doesn’t. My suggestion would be to catalog those instances where it is known not to work and detail that information in the help files. It makes more sense than folks sitting in the forums stewing about Google’s lack of customer service. From one of the posts:

I am sick and tired of this nonsense with verification: phone verification does not work, if you are lucky and the system accepts the 1 key then you can’t type the pin code. If you try the SMS then you see the first number of the verification code. THIS IS A JOKE!!

Local Links of Interest

Leveraging Small Business Customer Reviews and Testimonials Online – Steven Brier

Great summary of all the reasons customer testimonials should be an integrated part of your customer relations strategy and how to make it so.

Microsoft GeoSynth to take on Google Street View – Stuart Miles,

Although not due to be launched until later in the year, this appears to be a story about vaporware but it is cool none the less. Virtual Earth utilizes some impressive technology and when combined with Photosynth could offer some intriguing possibilities as an alternative to StreetView.

Called GeoSynth, the service will be based on the company’s PhotoSynth technology and takes into account geographical data within images.

Users will be able to upload geotagged images into a central database to help build detailed larger images of a given landmark in a similar way to how the company’s PhotoSynth software works.

Three-Quarters of the World’s Messages Sent by Mobile


It gives a sense of just how big the mobile world is if 3/4’s of the world’s digital messages (including spam?) are sent via mobile.

Twitter & Local: NPR reports that Tweeting Food Truck Draws L.A.’s Hungry Crowds

Today on NPR’s morning edition they aired a nearly 4 minute piece about a chef that has built a loyal, local following from his truck using Twitter.

On a recent evening, hundreds of people stood in line in L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood to try the much-heralded tacos. Chuck Chun, who drove in from Orange County, waited an hour and a half to place his order for $26 worth of food.

Chun found the truck with the help of a tool that has become the necessity of any serious foodie these days — a Twitter account.

“You’ve got to go on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news on what kind of specials they have that day or where they are,” Chun explains. “They actually got here late — that’s what they announced on their Twitter.”

It’s so 2009: Customers instantly know where the truck is, even if actually getting the food takes hours.

Mario Duarte also located the truck using Twitter……

[Choi] credits a large degree of Kogi’s success to hiring a new-media consultant who helped spread the word of Kogi virally.

“As a chef, I always think it’s the food, but I think without Twitter it wouldn’t be anything,” Choi says, “because I could have made these tacos, but I would have had no one to sell them to.”

Kogi not only has over 8,000 followers on Twitter, it has customers so loyal they’ve created YouTube tributes and a song (“Ode to Kogi”) on MySpace.

TomTom Using Fear to Sell Maps

I received the following ad from TomTom although I am not a TomTom owner:

The ad struck a wrong chord for me on several fronts:
1)Selling add ons through fear. The ominous tone of the ad seems inappropriate for a product that theoretically is offered to increase ones safety. Aren’t I safe just having bought it?
2)The implication that the product is not adequate as purchased. Someone just spent a fair bit of change on a TomTom and they are told that they need regular updates to make it functional?
3)If one looks at Google Maps forums, it seems that TeleAtlas has trouble providing accurate ground data. This is the same data that is used in the TomTom. Hmmm, maybe you should be afraid.
4)Subscription model for maps. At one time you paid $20 for 5 maps that covered the whole US. Now you pay $250 and need to continue to pay and pay? Google clearly has a goal of making map data carry a value of zero in the market place. Can a subscription model possibly be sustainable.

Google enhances Streeetview in Europe and sees traffic jump in UK

Yesterday released a bunch of new Street View images for cities in the UK and The Netherlands. Today Robin Goad of Hitwise reports a huge jump in traffic for Google Maps in the UK:

Google Maps Adds Steetview in UK and see traffic increase

There was an attendant increase in visit duration as well:

average visit time for Google Maps UK

It is interesting to note that the average visit time for UK visitors was significantly less than that of the worldwide average time for Maps users but that the rollout seems to, at least temporarily, put the two population’s average time at parity.

Google Maps Looking for Local Inventory

We don’t frequently get to peak at what Google plans are for local and local content.
There have been a number of signals that all point to the obvious direction of Google wanting to increase the granularity of local information world wide and thir desire to control that information themselves. Google has been:
•Including more user generated listing content in Maps results.
•Including more user generated mapping data into Maps.
•Actively soliciting promotional events, political and social activities via Map Maker.

Clearly, Google needs and wants more granular information about things happening on the ground. It is no surprise that they would want hyper local inventory data as well.

In Google Cozies Up To SMBs For Digital Content, (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for the heads up) Laurie Sullivan recounts the presentation that Chris LaSala, Google director of local marketers and strategic partner development, provided this week at The Kelsey Group conference in Los Angeles. He noted “There’s a vast array of content specific to local markets, but the majority isn’t available in digital form, so getting access to it isn’t easy”. According to the article LaSala estimates that Google has indexed about 10% of the available digital content geared toward local markets. “If you look at Main Street USA–the barber, the church, the synagogue and the sports shop–you might get the hours of service and address,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be great if you find out if you could get an Alex Rodriguez rookie card? If you knew it was in the shop and the costs, you could go down to the store and buy it. This is just an example of where we are today.”

He apparently recognizes that Google has not done a great job of engaging local businesses and that many of their products don’t meet their needs.

To address this gap “there are plans to roll out new bundled services and APIs for SMBs that should align better with the philosophies of smaller companies”.

I would like tho think that we will be able to have all of this information readily and accurately available to us in the not to near future. But Google will only be able to provide this solution if and only if they can solve the fundamental problem of which businesses really are on the ground.

Will David Mihm get lost in the Big Apple?

wrong-maps2Portland web designer and search consultant, David Mihm,  is heading to SES NY next week to speak. He was exploring Google Maps and he sent me this search: Morgan Library at 225 Madison Ave, NYC that he had looked up in anticipation of his trip. David noted to me that he “was looking forward to seeing the new Renzo Piano addition to the library …  I was sad to see that I would need to slog through a gauntlet of locksmith storefronts before I was allowed to enter.”  

In some ways the result encapsulates all that is not quite right with Maps. One can’t really extrapolate a generality from a specific but this single Map result does seem to capture many of the problems a given business might face while attempting to project itself into Google Maps…. 3 mapspam entries, one erroneously located drug store via a YellowPage error (it is really located at 225 Madison St) and the inability of Google’s clustering algorithm to correctly consolidate 4 listings for the Morgan Library all listed at the one address.  

The result probably won’t keep David from his desired rounds. In the end, with the big dance in full swing, I find it very unlikely that David would be exploring Renzo Pianos rather than glued to the TV protecting his pool investments. But who knows?

Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!

Last week I made fun of blackhats that had mapjacked a listing for a hotel with the worst of reviews in an effort to rank high on locksmith related searches.  The screenshot from that incident shows that the blackhats had 7 of the 10 pack listing using a combination of illicit techniques on the phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY.

The listings have been changing quite a bit of late and it appears that Google is trying to clean things up. Today though, a poster in the Google Maps Help Forum noted that the blackhats seemed to have changed tactics and are no longer relying on cross industry hijackings. Never ones to be satisfied with half a dozen when they can have it all, the mapspammers now have 10 of the 10 Pack listings for the search phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY:


These folks are good! (For any Googler reading who might misinterpret my writing, that phrase means that they are competent at being crooks not that they are moral or decent….just wanted to be clear). I really am cheering for Google but do they ever have their work cut out for them. Here is the screen shot from 3/11:

Continue reading Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!

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