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Google Maps gets dedicated customer support



Diane GreeneDiane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud PlatformGreg Sandoval/Business Insider


  • Since its founding, Google has been accused of providing poor customer support. Customers were often frustrated by their inability to get ahold of a service rep.
  • At the Google Cloud Next conference this week, a manager at Google Maps conceded that the company has been “very bad usually at picking up the phone.” 
  • Things might be changing — at least, when it comes to how Google works with larger businesses.

A subtle but significant shift is occurring in a small number of areas within Google’s enterprise business, at least when it comes to customer service representatives.

They’re actually going to exist.

“We wanted to make sure that every customer is treated like an enterprise customer,” Amit Litsur, a product manager at Google Maps, told attendees of the company’s Next cloud conference on Tuesday. “We now provide customer support for free, 24 hours a day, and we think that will kind of help us set the stage to make your experience dramatically simpler.”

“Yes, you can clap,” he joked. 

And clap they should. Google has helped changed the world with search and AdSense and YouTube and on and on, but one of the biggest complaints about the company, going back to its earliest days, was the lack of service reps available to help when something with one of the products went wrong.

Google Maps’ decision to offer human customer-service reps, free of charge, to all customers, comes just weeks after Diane Greene, CEO of the company’s cloud business, said her unit would make service reps available via chat round-the-clock, for customers whose accounts were flagged by fraud-detection systems.

Whether Google might offer more human help in other product areas is unclear. Company spokespeople who could answer that did not respond to interview requests.

Exactly why Google didn’t do more to improve customer service after so many years and complaints is often speculated upon. Google’s founders supposedly believe that humans don’t scale. In this case, that would mean that typically the more customers a company acquires, the more reps a company needs, and that’s less efficient and more expensive compared to automated systems or posting a web page with responses to frequently asked questions.

Whatever the reasons, Google’s approach often didn’t work.

Go online and read the complaints that have accumulated over the years from angry users of Android, AdSense, Gmail, etc about the lack of support. Anybody but Googlers might find them sort of humorous.

‘Is there any such thing as SUPPORT here?’

“Is there any such thing as SUPPORT here?,” wrote one disgruntled and obviously frustrated user on an AdSense forum in 2009 (all punctuation and capitalization are the user’s). “REAL honest to GOD support?  From a HUMAN person? NOT a self-help page, or forum, or any of that? Like an email that doesn’t bounce? Or better still A PHONE NUMBER??????”

Even Google’s own employees make fun of the company’s spotty track record with customer support.

“What we’ve heard again and again, what the customer wants more than anything else, any guesses?” Litsur asked the crowd. “They’d like to talk to us. And Google is very bad usually at picking up the phone.”

Sometimes, however, a situation crops up that isn’t funny. In June, an anonymous administrator overseeing a system that monitors “hundreds of wind turbines and scores of solar plants” posted a complaint to Medium. The admin, who was obviously panicked, said Google blocked the system’s website, app, and other services on June 28 without warning because it had detected “potential suspicious activity.” He said Google had threatened to suspend the account and he couldn’t get in touch with anyone.

The complaint went viral and suddenly hundreds of people took to the message boards to complain about Google’s poor customer service. To the credit of Greene and her staff, they responded to the admin’s complaint within an hour and solved the problem. Within weeks, they had rewritten their own rules on responding to suspicious activity.

Fei Fei LiDr. Fei-Fei Li, an associate professor at Stanford and Google’s chief AI scientist, speaks on an AI panel at the 2018 Next conference.Greg Sandoval/Business Insider

These included of course the 24/7 chat. They also ended the practice of allowing automated systems suspend accounts belonging to established customers. For other customers, Google said it would “institute a second human review for flagged fraud accounts” before suspending them. Again, a human.

Ironically, Google also revealed this week  a human-sounding software bot called the Google Contact Center AI. During a demonstration on Tuesday, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Google’s chief AI scientist, demonstrated the system designed to be the next generation of automated customer-service voices. Like Duplex, the restaurant-booking AI that made such a splash at the Google I/O developer conference last spring, Contact Center can engage in brief conversations and sounds very human. 

Li stressed that the technology is not intended to replace humans but “enhance human talent.”

So, maybe that’s Google’s play here. At a time when the company is competing  against Microsoft and Amazon for the cloud, they’ll be able to offer enterprise customers more support while cutting down the expense, thanks to Google Contact Center.

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