by Tom Kaneshige

Google’s Mission Impossible: Matching Apple iPhone Customer Service

Jan 12, 2010
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Where are the Google gurus? They'll get back to you in a day or two over email.

Google’s comeuppance is at hand, as two of the most innovative Silicon Valley companies face off. I’m betting the veteran Apple iPhone clobbers newcomer Google Nexus One in the early rounds.

It won’t come down to cooler technology, nor better battery life. Wireless carriers? Nope, despite a great many iPhone owners and wannabe owners begging for Apple to end its exclusivity deal with AT&T. Google’s arrogance will lead to its downfall.

For whatever reason, Google is selling Nexus One directly to end-users. That means many users are turning to it first, reports IDG News Service, and the search giant doesn’t have the kind of customer support that mobile-phone users are accustomed to.

Wireless carrier T-Mobile lacks Nexus One support documents and refers people back to Google, according to a customer going by the name of Roland78. IDG News Service also reports that Google appears to be only accepting email customer queries and pledges to reply in one or two days.

Among consumers, that’s not going to cut it.

Sure, Google serves up a search engine for consumers but the money-making end of its operation has little to do with consumers. Google’s soaring revenue comes from advertising deals. In these business relationships, Google dictates terms and wields enormous power.

Only a handful of business titans like Rupert Murdoch have defied Google. Murdoch’s take on content aggregators: “These people are not investing in journalism. They’re feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others … To be impolite, it’s theft.”

Google recently made it easier for news sites to opt-out of Google News, yet it’s still fair to say that Google isn’t known for great customer service. But Google better change its ways with Nexus One—with smartphones, consumers sit in the driver’s seat.

Apple, on the other hand, has a cadre of Apple gurus in Apple Stores nationwide at the ready. Its vast customer service outlets have evolved over the years. For the most part, the iPhone is supported extremely well. Apple is perhaps the greatest consumer-focused tech vendor on the planet. (For business customers, Apple customer service lags behind nearly all major competitors.)

All of this means that Google will go through growing pains as it learns about direct sales and supporting consumers. In the emerging smartphone market, however, a learning curve can turn into a death knell especially when you’re going head-to-head with Apple.

I should mention that there is a precedent. Years ago, chip giant Intel decided it wanted a piece of the consumer’s heart and mind. Intel, which already owned a lion’s share of the market, apparently felt that simply creating the best technology wasn’t good enough to ensure its future success.

So Intel launched a marketing campaign that called for putting “Intel Inside” stickers on all computers with Intel chips. Prior to this, most consumers had no idea what processors drove their computers. Intel put itself squarely in the headlights of fickle consumers.

Then a techie found a bug in the Intel chip during massive computations. Never mind that virtually no consumer would ever run into the problem. Consumers cried foul. Intel didn’t have any experience containing consumer outrage.

The end result: Intel dumped millions of dollars worth of chips. (For many reasons, Intel eventually cemented its position as the king of chips while underdog AMD continues to run a distant second.)

Google will likely receive a giant dose of humility, too. While Apple may not be an angel, at least it knows how to keep consumers happy.

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