The Perceived Arrogance of Google

Google seems to be letting its arrogance dictate a position of indifference towards customers. I argue this is not a wise move.

Google arrogantly thinks their customers have nothing to say.

It would seem Google bloody hates their users.

How else can you explain they way they make feedback and dialog between users and themselves darn near impossible? Even using a solution like GetSatisfaction.com would be many steps ahead of their current mix of help pages (typically lacking any sort of “contact” link) and groups (in which users are supposed to guess at Google’s intentions and/or solve each other’s problems). I say GetSatisfaction would be quite an improvement because it not only smartly attempts to consolidate multiple questions about the same thing into one page/discussion with a keyword matching algorithm based on questions users type, but critically, it provides the company (Google, in this case) a means to designate an official reply or status at the top of the page. Compare this to scrolling and paging through up to hundreds of posts in Google Groups, hoping you can skim fast enough and well enough to see which, if any, posts are from someone claiming to be a Google employee.

Again, the technology is there. Google has money. So the only reason they would be treating their customers so badly is that Google is so arrogant that they don’t think their users matter.

I don’t just mean users of, say, Gears, or even Gmail. Even customers generating revenue for Google, those using AdWords and Checkout, can’t get a real human to help them out.

The value of listening to customers

I’m sure many others have stated the value of listening to customers much better than I, but here is a quick list of benefits from my experience:

  • They catch bugs and regressions that developers miss.
  • They can have great ideas for your product (and are frustrated they can’t share them).
    • 425Walker has one for Google’s Blogger service.
    • I had a number of ideas for Gmail back in 2005, some of which were eventually implemented; but I never was able to actually suggest them to Google.
    • Update (July 15, 2009): As @JamesGecko points out, there actually are suggestion boxes for Gmail and Blogger (in fact, I have used the one for Gmail in the past). However, not only are they hard to find, but apparently no one ever receives personal feedback (is anyone listening?).
  • They can help you decide which features to implement. (Prime example: UserVoice)
  • They won’t feel like your company is a giant, unfeeling corporation if you actually talk to them.
  • Problems can pop up for a particular user, and if these are not taken care of, that user can complain very loudly and/or the service is less functional for them. Additionally, these users’ problems may illustrate an edge case or bug your developers overlooked.
    • Example: When Twitter Search didn’t index my tweets due to a simple server-side caching issue, my pleas for help went unanswered for half a year, coming back with robot-generated replies and frustrating me to no end until @tiger graciously helped me out. In the meantime, I began to resent Twitter’s central authority, yearning for a distributed alternative. I also avoided #hashtags altogether as they were pointless; no one could find me on Twitter Search even if they searched for a hashtag I used. Presumably their caching mechanism needed improved.
    • Example: Google Calendar’s ICAL feed, which I ensured was not being cached, contained recurring events which I successfully deleted from the web interface; no one at Google ever replied to my requests for help. Obviously, though, there was a bug in their system which made using it highly annoying for me, as I had to ignore events that should have been deleted.

As my last example makes clear, Google could use the feedback of its users.

The cost of listening to customers

Assuming not too much weight is lent to users’ feature requests, the only real cost of listening and replying to them is money (in terms of staff).

Google has plenty of cash.

Google not so feel-good anymore

It seems to me that problem of ignoring users (like their anticompetitive tendencies) is contributing to an overall trend of increased distrust of Google and and increased perception of them as another faceless big company. I hope to write more about this in the future. If anyone has seen data showing the trends I expect, or disproving them, please let me know.

Update (July 15, 2009): Just today, Ani reported that Google’s public perception of being “reliable, distinguished, and the best quality” slipped below Microsoft’s in a British survey.

Update (February 14, 2010): Google Buzz, which will fail, is another example of Google doing whatever it wants and not caring what users think, even if it jeopardizes their very safety.


July 14th, 2009. (Updated: July 15, 2009 at 1:40pm.)
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About