Hey Google Support Forums—Don't Be Evil

Have you ever tried to interact with a human being at Google when you encounter a problem that is beyond your capacity to resolve? It’s impossible.

A problem a buddy of mine has been going through the past four weeks illustrates a customer support problem that Google simply must not be aware of. It is unfathomable that the support process my friend has faced is working as designed.

I really didn’t want to write about this, but I have no choice at this point. Read on and you’ll understand why. My fervent hope is that Google will reach out to correct my friend’s problem, and, ultimately, improve its processes to better serve their partners.

Jeff Werner was living his dream of creating entertaining videos for young children and getting paid for doing this. Google's YouTube is the critical enabler of Jeff’s business model, which allows for videos to be monetized (provided, of course they meet Google YouTube’s monetization criteria).

As of March 16th, Jeff had a total of six monetized videos available on one of his YouTube channels, Sun Rise Film and Video.

As of March 17th, at 4:30 a.m. PT, Jeff discovered that all of his videos were no longer available. Boom! Jeff was out of business. There was never any indication or notification of a problem—they simply disappeared.

On the afternoon of March 18th, one video mysteriously reappeared as though it was brand new, e.g., it had not been officially posted. The others never reappeared.

Jeff has posted numerous questions in the YouTube support forums but has been unable to get any assistance to either understand or correct the problem. It’s rather contradictory to use the name "support forum" if you can’t get support from a YouTube employee. [Note: Google has about 36,000 employees, yet not one has helped Jeff via the support forums.]

He called Google (yes, they really do have a phone number!) and the operator informed him that the only way to get support is via the support forums. When he informed her that he’d been trying for days to get assistance and no one responded, she told him that was his only avenue. Imagine how that felt! Boom!

Google, this is evil. The only path to getting a problem resolved isn’t working. Your support process can’t be working as designed.

Google relies on Jeff and thousands of people like him to make money. Google’s operating philosophy #6 states:

#6 You can make money without doing evil.

Google is a business. The revenue we generate is derived from offering search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on our site and on other sites across the web. Hundreds of thousands of advertisers worldwide use AdWords to promote their products; hundreds of thousands of publishers take advantage of our AdSense program to deliver ads relevant to their site content.

This monetization process is key to Google’s and Jeff’s business success. And, that’s why it so confounding that both Jeff and Google YouTube are losing a revenue opportunity each day this problem is unresolved, yet no one seems interested in helping Jeff with this problem.

Here’s a recap of what I tried over the course of last week:

  • I asked in Twitter, "What is a person to do if Google's support forums don't respond to a request for help?" I received no answer from either Google or anyone in the Twitter universe. Doesn’t Google rely on social media to mine for issues where customers need assistance? It appears not.
  • I asked some developers in my office complex if they knew how to get in touch with a human being at Google since my friend was in distress. The response: laughter. They told me, "It’s not possible to speak to a human at Google if you need support."
  • On March 21st, I reached out to someone in Google sales I’d worked with previously with an email headline "How to escalate a YouTube customer service issue: "An associate of mine—a Google partner—is going through absolute fits trying to get assistance on a YouTube problem. He's posted questions in support forums for up to 3 weeks now that seem to be completely unmonitored by anyone at Google. I have a hard time believing that Google's process is working as designed. What is a person to do if the self-service tools aren't fulfilling the promise of support?

The sales person didn’t respond to me.

The middle of last week, I encouraged Jeff to repost all his videos on his channel so as to not further irritate his fans suggesting that, perhaps soon, we’d be able to get YouTube to reset things back to where they were on the 16th of March.

As of March 24th, Jeff had a total of two monetized videos available on his YouTube channel. For reasons that Jeff doesn’t understand foiur videos that were monetized before were not allowed to be monetized when he reposted them. There, again, is no process of appeal to correct this. Everything is automated.

Someone might claim that what happened to Jeff is an aberration. It isn’t normal for things to be deleted or suddenly disappear. I know I don’t get up each day to check what’s missing in my life, e.g., are my WordPress blog posts all still there, am I missing any emails, are any calendar entries missing out in the future? I trust that when I post something, it will persist unless I ask that it not.

My consulting practice has evolved to the point where I am now 100 percent dependent on Google Gmail, Google Calendar, and my Android phone. I thought about how I’d feel if I awoke one morning and all my emails and calendar had vanished. To me, these aren’t just emails and calendar entries—this is my business. Would I be able to call anyone at Google to get help? Would I be able to get help to restore this information that is so critical to my business? Or, am I as exposed and vulnerable as Jeff?

What needs to happen? YouTube needs to:

  • Reach out to Jeff to make him whole again.
  • Try to root out the cause what happened.
  • Look into the support breakdowns in the support forums—I’ve provided a case study here.
  • Have a support escalation process for unresolved problems.
  • Make human beings accessible to work the issues that can’t be accommodated via self-service.
  • Finally, Google needs to start using social media to learn about distressed customers to assist them.

It is frustrating beyond belief that Google lives behind a firewall. Not every issue can be resolved with help systems and FAQs. Sometimes, a human being needs to intervene. Google’s process needs to accommodate that need.

Fast Company readers: If you’ve experienced problems requiring human intervention from Google, please share your insights on this blog. If you received the help you needed, I’d love to hear about it. If you couldn’t get help, I’d love to hear about that, too. Let’s help Google provide better, more timely, humane support. Thank you.

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Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. He can be reached through his website at www.gardnerandassoc.com or via Twitter @Gardner_Dave.

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