Google+ For Customer Service? Things You Should Know Before Jumping In
Google+ has garnered huge buzz and discussion, even though it's only in beta test mode, and excitement is swirling around its potential for companies to use to provide an additional contact point with customers. In fact Twitter and Facebook are also looking to garner a share of the market place in customer service, too.
But is it wise to jump in? Are there potential problems? What should you consider before committing yourself to using an "in the cloud" platform, and in particular Google+ We'll focus on Google+, but some of the issues pertain to Twitter and Facebook.
Control of the Platform -- Not Yours
When you use a customer service platform provided by another company, and you don't have a binding, legal contract, in effect you give up control over how things work, and who has access to data. This is not a theoretical problem. For example, a company using Google+ is not only subject to Google's terms of service, but the company can have it's account terminated for ANY reason, since there is no contractual protection.
Won't happen? It already has. William Shatner's G+ account was already cancelled (according to TechCrunch) with no public explanation. Whether the cancellation was justified or not is not relevant. What is relevant is that there is no recourse, since it's within Google's sole discretion to do so when and if it chooses.
Imagine that you've set up an effective customer service channel, and one day, without warning, it's gone. What next? You can't access your data, or communicate to your G+ followers and customers. You're just gone.
This is also the case on Facebook and Twitter. All three platforms use automated systems to identify and suspend or cancel accounts that appear (at least to the "bots") to be doing something unacceptable. If you are shut down by a "bot" then you have to rely on using the customer service channels of the respective company. Which brings us to the next issue.
Support From Google+ ? Terrible Track Record
So, what if you experience a problem with a customer service channel on Google+ (or Facebook, Twitter)? You contact THEIR customer support. But wait. Over its lifetime, Google has relied on a self-service model, and it's been very difficult to contact a real human being if there's a problem. This pattern of non-responsiveness and difficult access has been consistent, whether it's for their Android operating system and its App market, or its other programs like Adsense.
If you have a business critical problem that only Google can address, you're in big trouble. The more you rely on Google (Twitter, Facebook) for support for what is essentially a free service provided to you, the more at risk you become.
Is There A Real Risk?
Here's where you have to look at the company track record over time. You must ask questions like
- Can I backup, take and use elsewhere, my customer information and data?
- Am I likely to become a victim of Google policy changes if and when they occur?
- Will the platform offer the same features and capabilities over time?
- Will the platform, on which I will rely, actually BE there in two years time?
It's a bit hard to get one's head around the idea that a multi-billion dollar company like Google could "go away" or change drastically in a way that might affect your company's use of their platform. If you are aware of Google's history, though you have to tread with caution, particularly with programs designated as "beta".
Except for its search engine and its revenues, the overwhelming majority of Google initiatives either have not made money, or have been closed down completely. Google has simply not been successful at initiating, and making profitable, other offerings, whether it buys them or develops them in house. Like a young child, Google tends to create huge buzz and then lose interest in its most recent shiny new toys.
Here are just a few of the projects terminated:
- Google Wave
- Google Video
- Google Audio Ads
- Google X
- Google Answers
- Google Catalog Search
- Google Notebook Direct
Not withstanding closures of platforms Google, as would be the case with most businesses, tweaks what it does to improve its business position, adding features, removing features, changing policies and so on, and while the changes are often benign to users and companies, some have had huge impacts, sometimes even driving companies out of business. The 2011 changes in ranking of websites, referred to as Panda, has left some companies with no traffic to web sites, and no way to pay the bills. Again, the point is not whether Google is within its rights to make changes, it is. The point is that the more successful you become using someone else's platform, the more at risk you become due to the dependencies that result. And, Google's track record, in part a result of its longevity and power, is really not very good in ensuring YOUR investment in using THEIR platforms will be protected.
...And YOUR Data?
At this point we don't know how and if Google will make data about YOUR customers available to you in a transportable format. Cloud companies don't want you to go elsewhere, and we know that companies like Facebook will let you add information to their systems, create friends and followers, but they make it virtually impossible to take that information out of Facebook and use it elsewhere. In effect, the information -- YOUR information that you generated, really doesn't belong to you. Will Google follow this precedent? Probably. It's unlikely Google would make it easy to move your company's customer service channel from Google+ over to Facebook, for example.
Remember, if it's not transportable, it's NOT really yours.
But there's more, an issue once again applicable to most cloud platforms. Google+, Facebook and Twitter make YOU their product. It's easy to think of yourself as a Google customer, but you are not. You are in effect packaged, and sold to advertisers, and that's the basic business model in play. It kind of feels funny? You are being sold.
More to the point, your customers are being sold, because their demographics, and in fact any information companies collect is used to provide more incentive for advertisers to pay companies like Google to get out their messages to you. Ever notice when surfing the web that the ads seem to be similar and even reflect a site you might have visited several days previous? Google uses "interest based ads" that use your previous web behavior to predict what you might be interested in.
Apart from being sold, how comfortable are you with the idea that Google (and presumably Google+) will have access to your customer behaviors, habits, demographics to be used for THEIR profit? Information that you yourself cannot access?
Most of the risks and issues associated with using "free" cloud based methods to interact with customers are shared among the large platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, Google+ . All three companies have track records that indicate they will make changes for their own benefit, not yours, that they can cancel you for no reason, and can change their policies for whatever reason.
Google's past "failures", ongoing lack of support particularly related to issues only they can answer, and the basic rule that the more successful your company is on a platform, the more you will depend on it, and the higher your risk, suggest caution might be the order of the day.
Should you jump on the bandwagon of Google+ ? You need to decide based on a reasonable risk analysis that considers social media customer service as a LONG term investment that requires stability, control, and some guarantees you won't wake up one morning and find your plug pulled.