Google vs. Customer Service

This article is about the inhumanity of Google to man. Google is, after all, a bunch of rocket scientists trying to interface with mere human beings. We saw this problem in the space program with the loss of Challenger and its crew due to inhuman organization. Today, Google is larger than even the space program, and has the capacity to wreak great havoc while trying to “do no evil”. Like the three wise monkeys, Google sees no evil, hears no evil, and tries hard to speak no evil. Despite this, we have seen Google do evil. Rather than rant further on the subject, I’d like to provide an example of how the problem can cost the average netepreneur big money. We’ll also see how Google is meeting the enemy and it is… Google (not Apple) — as the Google Gobble is performed on Motorola Mobility. Will Google recognize this as it tries to “Google Everything”? Like many giant corporations beset with difficult-to-manage growth, Google may have forgotten that its core business is to “be Google”; not just another behemoth set upon us, run amok, devouring everything in sight.


Three Wise Monkeys – Image via WikiPedia

But where is Shizaru?

An Example in Business

If you’re one of the millions of people with, or managing, a web presence, you probably deal with Google AdSense. You may also deal with AdBrite or nearly a dozen other Internet advertising networks. Both are easy-to-use ad networks that let you embed ads on your website and “reap the rewards” (one thousandth of a penny at a time). Many Internet projects and websites would not be possible without them. As a matter of full disclosure, The Latchford Factor derives most of its revenues from Google AdSense.

You sign up for Google AdSense. And AdBrite. Both are the same in the beginning. You create an online account on their website, and, after all the signup details (including providing name, rank, and serial number to satisfy the government’s need to enumerate you) start placing ads.

With AdBrite, as soon as you hit $50 in revenue, they’ll cut you a check at the start of the month and mail it to you. You get it about 12 days later. Simple, with no other choices for payment. It works. Mostly. As long as you get the proverbial check in the mail.

With AdSense, it’s just as automated, but not quite so simple. More like rocket science, PhD style. You’ll get paid after you hit $50 in revenue, all right, but first… they’ll send you a PIN number in the mail. It’s in a perforated mail form that is easily lost by the Post Office. You have to receive the mailer, and enter the PIN inside to validate your address before you can get paid… even if you’ve already verified a bank account for direct deposit. If the form is lost in the mail (which happens a lot), you have to wait a month or so before another can be sent. Then you can get paid* (terms and restrictions apply). You get the options of direct deposit, fed-X for an exhorbitant fee, etc. Cool. So far. Except…

What separates these two services is what happens when something goes wrong. And something always does go wrong. Sooner or later. Google, apparently, hasn’t learned about Murphy’s Law, and believes that they can automate a task such that every possible error condition can be anticipated and handled. Except, they don’t even come close.

With AdBrite, you can pick up the phone, and during business hours, they’ll answer your call fairly promptly. They’ll do their best to help you, but usually just wind up opening up a support ticket that you could have opened yourself online. Regardless, your issue is addressed in a documented and timely manner. The way you’d expect to be treated by a business partner you’re sharing hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars a month with.

With Google, you can pick up the phone, but it won’t help. There is no number to call. You can’t send an email either. There is no email address you can write to. You can’t even open up a support ticket. They don’t have those either. They do have “customer forums”. If you spend enough time searching (Googling), you’ll probably find that there are dozens, hundreds, or many thousands of people with the same problem. Wow, how cool is that? But then… nothing happens. You just sit there, reading complaint after complaint about the same thing. Your problem does not get solved. Well, maybe it does, but it gets solved in “Google Time”, which in my experience can take two years or more.

After my own experiences with Google, which cost thousands in lost revenue for my employer, the employer took the position that to the extent profitable, it would give its business in preference to any other ad network that would communicate with its partners. The problem is, Google generally does give the best revenue. What’s a mother to do? Stand in line?


Everyone is agog (not aGoog) at Apple’s iStores. The opposite of iSores, these temples of whiteness and monuments to computerphobia compensated for by industrial design are more than pretty facia. Customers pay (handsomely) for, and get Customer Service. It’s sort-of hands-on Customer Service. I’d frankly feel better if they wore white gloves, but that’s another post… The point is there’s nothing to separate you from the dispenser of Customer Service. No counter. No intimidating cash register or credit verifier. Just a sometimes friendly geek with a card swiper hooked to his iPhone so he can take your iCash in an instant.

But Google doesn’t like people. They like to keep the human interaction at a distance, buffered by the web browser and HTML with CSS.

And so it was that when I turned on my car radio, I felt like there was an echo in there. Ira Flatow was on NPR’s Science Friday (SciFri) and chatting it up with Glenn Fleishman of The Economist about Google vs. Apple in the context of the Google-ization of Motorola Mobility, the cell phone manufacturing arm of Motorola. You can listen in, or read the transcript.

At nine minutes and twenty-two seconds into the segment, Glenn Fleishman says:

“Google doesn’t like people very much has always been my impression. They want to keep people arms-length away and let the algorithms, the automatic things, the user support forums handle everything.”

I felt vindicated. And less alone. Even though I knew I was a member of a fairly large crowd. It’s just that Google Gloss tends to cover us over. Caveat Googlor of the Google Gobble.

  • Aldrovanda

    I read a lot of posts today and yours is the best one i have read ever. I appreciate your attitude, if not that of Google.