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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Places: What might customer service look like?

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.

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.

Here is my story.

In my upgrade to the new Quicken, I run across a problem with downloading data from my bank. My bank says “if you call Quicken’s 800#, they will solve the problem”. I am skeptical. I call the 800 number and they say: “There is no need to wait on hold, go to our website, create a ticket and we will call you back in 5 minutes”. Hmm, that’s refreshing, they are driving me to the web but for a legitimate reason. They do note that there might be a charge but thats not an issue, I have a problem to solve and it seems a remote possibility. Intuit doesn’t make the problem worse…thats a start.

I get to the web page and it turns out that customer service via a call back is closed for the day but there are two alternatives, instant chat and email, which would l like? OK I understand that staff must sleep too but at least there is a human alternative. I am delayed but not dismayed.

I choose the chat alternative and enter my question. I am told that it might be 6 minutes before someone actually makes it to me. Hmm, 6 minutes, not bad. I can wait and do something else in the interim, at least my phone is not glued to my ear listening to musak.

But here is where Intuit really distinguishes themselves. I am immediately presented with 3 help articles relating to my query that might answer my question while I am waiting. I read and sure enough, the answer to my question is there and I disconnect before the human makes it to the chat. I am happy. I am sure that if I was able to choose the speak with a person option, I would have not ever waited around as I would have found (or rather Intuit would have given me) the answer.

What made it such a satisfying experience even though I never spoke with a person?
1)Firstly there is the issue of tone. Intuit seems to assure me that they want to hear my questions.
2)Never being denied. I had a reasonable question and Intuit never, through action or statement, minimized or prevented me from feeling like I was making progress.
3)Reasonable alternatives when my first choices was not possible. Even I can be reasonable if I am treated reasonably. I just get very annoyed when I get BS or roadblocks.
4)Relevant Help documents automatically delivered that actually answered my question without me doing any heavy lifting.

Google could very well learn from Quicken:
1)Get your product mostly bug free and give meaningful error messages.
2)Provide multiple avenues to get support. At least it felt like I could call Quicken if I wanted to.
2)Provide excellent on line help resources that answer the real world problems that people confront.
3)Make the Help easy and intuitive to get to. Deliver them as part of the problem reporting process like Intuit. Just this feature, which is theoretically Google’s strength, might be enough to solve a vast percentage of reported problems.
4)Allocate some resources to customer service. Don’t tease us with the occasional comment from Maps Guide Jen or Joel or Adam. I would rather be told upfront that there will be no Google response than hang out for days waiting to know whether someone from on high will deign to respond.

Quicken offered up mostly free phone support. I never had to use it. I never once felt like I was the whipping boy in the process of asking for help.

Now see, customer service is easy. Even without a real person.

Google, you just need to treat me like I am a human being and have some decent systems in place. That wasn’t so hard was it?