Google's Growing Pains of Becoming a Solutions Company

Things are a bit bumpy with the introduction of the Nexus One, with some customers complaining about difficulty of getting the phone running on T-Mobile’s network, slow connection speeds, and complaints over T-Mobile’s pricing policies for existing customers. The press is all over it:

Nexus One a Test of Google’s Customer Service

Nexus One Complaints Mount, Honeymoon Over

Google Nexus One Leaves Customers Sour

And so on… Ah, schadenfreude

This is the other edge of the solutions sword: when you set yourself up as a provider of holistic solutions and ecosystems, customers want one throat to choke when something goes wrong. Their expectations go way up about how everything is going to work, and they want a real person to talk to when it doesn’t.

Having people available to talk to is not one of Google’s strengths.

John Battelle as usual hits the nail on the head:

[H]ow many real live customer service reps does the company plan to have tasked to this product? That, to me, is a Very Important Question. It’s the essential human question that drives Google. I bring it up all the time. Community. Media. People. How do you make people scale?! How does Google, a company driven by algorithms and scale, find its Voice?

If I were Google, here’s what I’d do:

  • Ditch my left brain rationality and get on the empathy train as fast as possible. Customers want to know they are being heard and understood, and that someone (a real someone, not an algorithm) is paying attention). We have to have real people lighting up the forums and manning the support phone lines, and keeping frustrated customers up to date on what we’re doing to fix the problem.
  • Get Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer, Sergey and Larry out in front of this. Get them out there apologizing, being humble, saying that they are attending to this personally. Doesn’t matter if we don’t think Google is to blame - customers don’t care, they just want the problem solved, and we put ourselves out there with the target on our back, so it’s us who they’re shooting at
  • Wrangle HTC and T-Mobile so that we can all be on the same page, and provide unifeed fixes. But Google should be the front, it’s our phone, and we own the problem. We’re promising an integrated product, we need to service it in an integrated way. All for one, one for all.

I’m confident that Google will get through these teething pains. But it is a good lesson for any company that wants to set itself up as a real solutions provider, and stretch into pieces of the ecosystem that it has not engaged in before: be prepared for a whole bunch of new issues, complaints, and expectations from customers that you’ve never had to deal with before.

This requires getting all parts of one’s own company working together, as well as all partners who helped bring the ecosystem to life. Not easy, but absolutely necessary. Especially, as is Google’s case, that they are playing catch-up to a market leader.