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Thought of the day:

If you have a billion users, and a mere 0.1% of them have an issue that requires support on a given day (an average of one support issue per person every three years), and each issue takes 10 minutes on average for a human to personally resolve, then you'd spend 19 person-years handling support issues every day.

If each support person works an eight-hour shift each day then you'd need 20,833 support people on permanent staff just to keep up.

That, folks, is internet scale.
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60 comments
 
You also need to hire more people to figure out what to do with all the money you're making.
 
The Internet is the single greatest invention of all times.
 
In other words, a company can't afford to be that big...
 
Wow, I love seeing breakdowns like this. It puts things in perspective and at the same time opens our thinking to finding new ways to operate with such info. Thanks.
 
You assume a 40 hour work week? In the Netherlands, they address their unemployment issues using division of labor, with workers averaging 28 hours per week, up from 26 in 2007 per gapminder.org. The Netherlands not only has less unemployment, they have fewer resulting problems with income inequality, consumer spending, stress, and many other quality of life issues.
 
Sounds like it's much cheaper to simply not have any problems that require support. :-)
 
Let's phrase that another way: one support person per 48,000 users. That, on the face of it, doesn't look unreasonable. (Not disagreeing about the scale issues, but – 20,000 people is a smallish town. 1bn is one in six people on the planet.)
 
niiiiiiice! 7 billion tho now i think
 
And that perfectly explains why Google can't care about any single, individual user issue of a free service which conversely explains why any user of a free Google service cannot rely on Google.
 
+James Hancox, if something breaks it'll take multiple people considerably more than 10 minutes to fix. But, yeah, your general point stands. :p
 
+Brett Morrison, that doesn't really follow. I think you may be mis-using the word "rely" to mean "fully rely on X to fix every issue that they hit". I can certainly rely on Google's free search to return decent search results for the vast majority of queries.
 
+Brett Morrison, if you assume that each individual user has a pretty low ARPU (true for Google and most non-subscription Internet services). But taking the 1/48000 figure above, let's assume you're paying $100k per support staffer (and that's generous). Call it $150k with overheads. The marginal cost of a user is, let's say, $5 in server costs a year? (Again, generous). So, $150k/48k users is roughly three dollars. So cost-basis, $8/user is about right. Leaving yourself a healthy 50% margin to pay for everything else, particularly customer acquisition, that pretty-much suggests it's impossible to have decent customer service if your service's ARPU is under $20/yr.
 
I am talking about the other free services that Google offers in hopes of driving you to more search. Gmail, Blogger, Plus, etc which are all free. Search will continue to be the core and will continue to be great. But if you have an issue with any one of the free services that is only an issue for you, good luck to you if you don't have some clout somewhere, somehow with Google or its reputation.
 
Wal-Mart sees 200 million customers a week, worldwide.
Wal-Mart employs 2 million people, worldwide.
 
+James Salsman Thanks for that insight. We've most places been pretty conditioned to believe working all of the time will get us further, buy us more, and keep these economies flowing... I think it's pretty amazing what we'll learn and experience when we regulate ourselves to spending less time on tasks, stop doing the same thing over and over again, and put concentrated effort to getting the essentials done in less time. Your statement brings Tim Ferris's 4 Hour Work Week to mind. Still I kind of can appreciate a difference in income equality for those willing to do more or at least do things more effectively.
 
"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

19 manyears every day would be in fact several hundreds maydays every day in just one year. Users do teach other users. They solve a 10 minutes avg issue in 5 eventually, and so on.

Guesstimations aside, I can see how internet scale is the biggest scale .. ever, I'm just saying that maybe mankind can evolve collectively - leaving the corporations to win by innovation and not by hiring 20k support people to offset support sold to 1billion users.

My 2cc for the tought of the day :)
 
There's a lot of talented non-Googlers who dedicate a tremendous amount of time on the numerous help forums to assist with the many one-off situations.

Encouraging that enables scaling.
 
Keep in mind too that 99.9 percent of users not having an issue is going to create a tremendous flow of both capital and learning. One billion users given the right revenue system could easily support a workforce like that spread all over the world... not to mention bring in tremendous profits that could in time lower the cost of dealing with the issues.
 
I know what seems like dozens of people who have never had a reason to open a support ticket in years. I wonder what the distribution would look like.
 
+James Hancox Really good points. I suspect one of the reasons companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are as successful as they are is because they've a plan & short of a potential mass mutiny they stick with it. I have certainly learned it's impossible to please everyone, but if I deal too much with those not pleased then I get very little done.
 
Geez James and +Greg Billock I am not talking about the page layout. I do not expect them to change the page layout because of my whims or personal preferences. I am talking about full on unrevokable, uncorrectable account lockouts, data loss, account hackings, bans due to violation of some obscure ToS, etc. Maybe I could have made myself more clear, but surely you have been around enough online to see issues like this occur to decent, reasonable users of services who in the end can get no resolution from a large company like Google, Yahoo, Facebook etc.
bish s
 
I'n sure that they have (or, should, if they don't yet) a way to semantically categorize problems and deal with them as a group of complaints. On a given day a large number of the 0.1% will be complaining about the same limited number of issue, I think.
 
Very nice explanation. The challenge to me is: how can we scale as much as possible in supporting our users?
 
On a related tangent (mostly because I think the line of questioning may be prone to ending in a cul de sac rather than an answer :) ), I often wonder if users want personal support or effective support that seems personal. Rael's "I Want Sandy" service was one that I think succeeded in the latter. I think the challenge for many massive customers is resolving issues in the way that user's need and accept rather than in the way that they say they want ("I say I want a person, but what I really mean is that your automated systems aren't working the way I expect them to and I'm frustrated" is a common example).
 
And that, folks, is why you don't impose policies on users that you can neither enforce reliably nor provide adequate redress when mistakes occur.

For example, you could save everyone a lot of bother if you did not impose a "real name" requirement on users when the company clearly does not recognize a large number of real names and goes around closing their accounts and making users supplicate to have them restored after providing far more personally identifying information than most web sites usually require.
 
probably why Google never responds...
 
I spend a lot of time in Google Places and have spent a lot of time in the Google Places Forums. Real people with real businesses and real business websites have had endless problems not because Google doesn't have the manpower. It is because Google has decided NOT to address that issue. Google maps/Google places is endlessly buggy. Google knows it. On top of that over the years the Places algo's have been shot through with problems. Some of the uglier issues are that Google creates Places information with absolutely FALSE information. That is and has been a death knell for businesses.

Often Google ignores the issues. I could go on endlessly on this issue. Currently I end up checking my various business G Places records twice a day because Google decided to allow anyone to change the reported status of a business from open to closed at a moments notice (I believe 2 notifications.) That means any vindictive spammer can cause havoc in a moments notice.

Did google change that status??? I don't know. Google won't say. It costs me a lot of time.

Simply no other business in the US gets away with this. Its the height of irresponsibility and is astonishing that it continues to this day.

Here is a suggestion. Add 10 people to the Google Places Forum. 10 Get them very interactive. Lets see what happens.!!
 
Google search (the 1 billion number) doesn't need support - it's idiot proof. It's the other services like AdWords and Analytics that need it - which should be a much more manageable number.
 
I get the intention, however the original math is off by an order of magnitude.
Most inbound problems are not going to take that long.
1- inbound emails could be scanned and a list of 40-50 default actions on a flyout could appear on cservice help screen based on the email content. Most of those emails can be read by a human in under 30seconds.
2- inbound cservice requests could further be filtered by 'where they came from'. eg: various good service contact emails. This would further hone down #1.
3- decision trees and cservice flow charts can cut time even more.
4- automation - you guys do this to a degree already, but there are alot of issues that could be resolved (search quality or serp problems) that could be resolved without human intervention (eg: here's faq #44, if that isn't it - then here is an escalation email adr).
5- I've heard google has some smart people working for it? Find people - fix it - and repair the brand damage. If I can get an answer out of Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple in under 3 hours - why can't Google rise to the same level?

Given those things, if a customer service rep took more than an average of 1 minute per email, they should be let go. That gets you down to about 2k people in cservice. For a company Googles since and bank - thats pennies on the dollar.

How is that possible? I worked in cservice at a major computer manufacture for a year. Even on the phone - at the peak of the absurdly broken Windows 3.1 - we were allowed no more than 5 mins average on a support call and it worked. If 5mins worked on the phone, I can't imagine cservice taking more than 1 minute per email. Thus, you are off by a factor of 10 to begin with. After that, it is simply degrees of support G would be willing to 'live with'. Something - anything, is better than the current next-to-nothing.

With google tech resources, it's monetary resources, Google is not lacking for the ability to provide quality customer service. It is only lacking the WILL. This is not about internet scale, it is about the founders DNA and being too chicken, or too arrogant to talk to their customers. Even when it was L&S, a closet full of legos, and a dorm room of users, they didn't answer user emails.
 
I'm glad David responded. Google ignoring the problems of business users is not a small, trivial thing - it affects small businesses around the world. And people who want to work for those small businesses.
 
To say that all users of Google would get support is ridiculous, but the substantially smaller branches the company aimed at the business sector and not the general internet could absolutely be made more useful by the inclusion of a support staff. As well, from this angle, the staff needed no longer seems like such a big number.
 
I believe the main reason is the core business of Google----Search, it doesn't need any support person.
 
Reminds me of the early days of Linux, when the only help you could get was in forums and the usual response was RTFM. It was a specialized IQ test as much as it was an operating system. I see similar attitudes from Google whether the problem was a toolbar function that stopped working or a desperate problem a business user of G.Voice needed a rapid answer to. Problem one, there is no "fine" manual to read. Problem two, these aren't open source projects. If we have a problem we aren't free to modify the code, nor do we have access to it. Problem three, Google's response in the forums is haphazard when it should be systematic. There is nothing quite like being sent to the forum to search for an answer to a problem only to discover that scores of people have had the problem for months and months with no resolution.
 
If you want to be the best, you have to offer the best service as well. Adwords customer services are far from being great, even though that's your money machine.
 
I'm with +david oremland on this all the way!

Free services are one thing. If it's buggy - use a different product. If there is no support that's the breaks sometimes.

HOWEVER WHEN GOOGLE SCRAPES YOUR BUSINESS DATA FOR IT"S OWN BENEFIT AND FEATURES LOCAL LISTINGS AT THE TOP OF SEARCH AND TELLS EVERY BUSINESS TO GET SIGNED UP WITH GOOGLE PLACES - THE STORY IS DIFFERENT. When Google creates a product that can make or break a business - support is necessary, not optional. Especially when the product is as buggy as Google Places is - support is needed.

When Google takes YOUR business listing and merges it with a competitor across town that steals your customers - you need support.

When Hospitals, Police departments and other emergency services have the wrong phone number on their Place page due to a bad Google scrape and cannot get any support to get it fixed - lives are sometimes even at stake!

When Google merges bad data into your claimed listing and changes address or phone so customers can't reach you - it's a bid deal.

When your small business discovers it's been marked PERMANENTLY CLOSED by a competitor and your phone stops ringing and you can't get support - it's a bid deal. (When a business is allowed to be marked closed, without any verification at all - when Google could EASILY fix that problem, but doesn't - that's criminal negligence in my book to begin with.)

When negative review spam and outright slander by obviously fake reviewers is allowed to ruin a company's reputation without any checks and balances and with no direct support to rectify the problem - it's a biggie. (Especially in cases of blatant review spam, when done by overseas accounts posting hundreds of obviously fake reviews so they can sell reputation management svcs.)

I could go on and on. I just pity all these small business people that have to deal with all these problems that literally affect their livelihoods and there is virtually no support.

I've suggested many times that Google could make Places support a profit center. When someone's phone stops ringing due to a Google bug, or they are hit with 25 fake slanderous reviews in one day - most would be happy to pay for a support call to get it fixed.

However the other option with Google Places is to simply fix many of the core problems that have been around for so long and that continue to cause problems for tons of users every day. Most problems above could be fixed with a simple tweak in coding and policy. Take the advice of leading pros who have offered solutions to many of the problems. Just make the product work right and a lot of the need for support is minimized.

/end Google Places rant
 
+DeWitt Clinton Scale can also minimize how the magnitude of an issue is viewed outside of places like line operations. .1% failure is three nines (99.9%). Operations mantra is five nines. The problem is that execs outside of the operational chain look at that number and say, ".001%? That's insignificant."

I've always found it useful to convert issues into dollars where possible. Nobody gets that .001% is a problem. Everybody understands that x million dollars a day in lost revenue is a problem.

Also, your initial math is useful but flawed. It assumes all of those users call in their issue and that is very far from the case. A significant majority of users suffer in silence and just do something else...depriving you of revenue, and, more importantly, trust.
 
+Lasse Wassermann: Thank you very much for the nice note about us Top Contributors. The global TC summit indeed covered exactly this thread's topic - manageable support. There's a little point missing in +DeWitt Clinton's calculation: Those helpers would need to be educated to be very savvy and experienced users of the related products and to speak more than 20+ languages. And of course, they'd need the time to always be up-to-date with their product. I guess, any other solution than volunteering must fail.
Conclusion: The existing and working TC program should be extended to the max to improve the situation instead of replacing it.
 
+Roberto Goldammer I haven't been able to find you in the forum but I'd be happy to troubleshoot the issue with you - can you post the link back here so I can take a look? In general, loading issues may happen for short periods every now and again during maintenance. It sometimes seems like it's happening for longer periods when new people continue to add to resolved forum threads - in your case it sounds different so I'll be able to help more once I know which thread you're referring to!
 
I will stress that although this is the /reason/ Google's support sucks, IT IS NOT AN EXCUSE. I continually hear complaints about Google's customer service from paying customers who are significantly impacted by Google's lack of support. Android Market publishers have their software removed for invalid reasons and get no response when they try to reinstate their software. (See SNES9x, despite most SNES emulators violating copyright by copying /their/ software for commercial gain without permission.) Google Checkout merchants have their accounts limited in ways that they shouldn't be, making it difficult for them to support their business and, yet again, can't get a hold of any support staff. (See accesscoin.com which is about to go under due to their account being restricted to monthly payouts despite a notification otherwise from Google.) That's just two examples that I am personally familiar with. These aren't people with Gmail accounts who are complaining that they lost an e-mail. These are paying customers with legitimate problems. They deserve support.

Currently, Google is rated as one of the worst companies on the internet for customer support. This needs to change.
 
Then hire 20,833 people

You have more money that several governments.
 
I can see that they don't have the manpower to handle support requests like "How do I read my emails?", but to ignore the entire userbase is just irresponsible. There are legitimate users with problems out here, too, and there is no useful place to report them. All we have is public forums filled with people that wish they worked at Google, responding with worthless un-researched answers like they are on Yahoo Answers.

For example - this is the kind of "support" I got trying to resolve a REAL BUG in google groups. Spam control is mandatory and there is no way to disable it. Real messages to the group get declared as spam and moderated - no message is sent to managers of the group. End result? Messages are delayed indefinitely unless a manager happens to navigate into the moderation queue.

When reporting the problem, all I got was "Some Dingus" saying "The answer is in the FAQ". No it's not. Read the FAQ, answer is not there. Answer is not anywhere, that's why I posted a message.

https://www.google.com/support/forum/p/gmail/thread?tid=5c44bdd2c177785e&hl=en&fid=5c44bdd2c177785e0004b46809d342cc

I think I will try yahoo groups, they seem to have a better handle on what they are doing.
 
Hi +Jeff Simpson, I'm the Gmail Community Manager. I spend a lot of time in the Gmail Help Forum and I work closely with the Top Contributors and other helpful users there. Together, we solve problems and bring back user pain points and feature requests to the rest of the Gmail team at Google.

I'm sorry you had a disappointing experience in the Gmail Help Forum. Since it's the Gmail forum, our helpers are more knowledgable about Gmail than about Google Groups. I see that Dingus pointed you to send feedback to the Google Groups team about this feature. +Teresa Wu may know more about this issue as well.
 
+Sarah Price I think there's a more fundamental point here that Jeff wasn't thoroughly articulating. I have a ton of respect for Google, avid user of products, participant in trusted tester, etc. but social interaction (in which I include Groups) is adding a support dimension that, as an organization, you're really not ready to take on...or at least it appears so from the way it's handled. Look at the way responses to issues over the name policy have been addressed (or more to the point, the ways in which they haven't). This kind of boilerplate isn't going to cut it and you haven't built a public-facing support organization capable of backing it up with a solid layer of knowledgable support. You can't crowd source this forever, IMO.
 
Yeah, I should be more clear. The issue I linked to is just one example, and certainly not the only time I've been disappointed by the lack of support from Google. The fact that the only reason I got a response at all was posting the issue on here (and speaking directly with people at Google) speaks volumes about how things really work. There is no customer support, and only the squeeky wheels get grease.

The "Send Feedback" option (which doesn't exist on the google groups settings page, btw) doesn't seem like it was ever intended to be a two-way communication. That might work for bug reports, but what is the point of asking a question when you know you will not get a response? I assume that "Send Feedback" is more meant for feature suggestions and comments about how a page appears, given the emphasis on taking a screenshot of the problem.

It's actually very hard to even FIND the appropriate help forum for Google products, even if there is one. They have been "transitioning to a new forum" for years now for a number of them. For an example of what I mean about finding help, with Google Groups, here is the main help page: http://support.google.com/groups/?hl=en

If you were to follow through this, you might start by clicking the helpful problem description of "I'm not receiving my groups emails". That will bring you here: http://support.google.com/groups/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=7908&topic=2383651&ctx=topic

Lots of information on that page, but none of it describes how to handle email that is marked as spam by google groups rather than gmail. At the bottom it says:

"If you've tried all of these suggestions and you continue to not receive email, please report the problem." Report the Problem is linked here: http://support.google.com/groups/bin/request.py

Click that link and look where you end up. Not helpful. If you continue through and lie about the category, it still says not to expect any reply unless it is a legal issue.

If I'd posted on the gmail forum and gotten no reply, I wouldn't have been too surprised - it was in the wrong category, after all (but like I said in the message - there IS no forum for Google Groups). I guess I should thank "Dingus" for his extremely frustrating and unhelpful "answer" to my problem, because the fact that he responded was what prompted me to share my frustrations, which in turn got my question answered.

Unfortunately, after all that, the answer to my problem was pretty much just "nope, we don't do that. deal with it.", so now I'm looking for an alternative to Google Groups entirely anyway.
 
This is an interesting breakout. However, as others have pointed out, there are free services from Google and then the services people pay for. I wouldn't expect attentive customer support for issues with Google Calendar, but AdWords?

My company is an advertiser with Google, which costs a significant amount of money. But when we have problems--which costs both us and Google revenue--we get no response, terrible customer service, no escalation process, minimal or contradictory explanations and just regurgitated FAQ links that we have already read before calling.

And now Google is switching to paid inclusion for their Shopping platform. Try getting someone on the phone over there who can adequately explain requirements for participating in the program. I have yet to get someone on the help line who could explain the whitelisting process or provide information about their Trusted Stores policies for marketplaces. 

I have tried to resolve issues revolving around getting reviews to appear in Google Shopping results, and I get nothing in return.

Or, the coup de gras, Google suspends our ads on a whim based on FTC regulations regarding Penny Auctions. Never mind that we are most definitely not a penny auction. But try explaining that to the people who answer the phones who often sound like they have no experience using the applications themselves, are completely unaware of Google policies, and don't have the knowledge to have a competent conversation about the problem. 

These are all issues that are not just quirks of free services like Gmail, but fundmental revenue streams that keep Google afloat. Fortunately for them, they have limited competition in the space so they can seemingly afford to be obstinate in their refusals to accommodate customer needs and concerns.

The bottom line is that it may be impossible to provide 1:1, concierge service to your customers. But swinging the pendulum the other way and providing apathetic, completely impersonal service is unacceptable. 
 
so users and profit can scale but support cant...duh.  also i had an issue which only someone with access to accounts could fix, yet i had to beat off with some randy in the support forums for an eternity before they forwarded my issue...stupidest shit ive ever experienced

googlers are mindless fgts

http://www.seroundtable.com/google-support-staff-limits-13916.html
 
...speaking of issues with Google products...
 
If you have a billion users you need a million support staff.

Simple math.
 
Eleven days before DeWitt Clinton whines about Google having too many people to support (and therefore ignoring all of their users completely), Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, announced that 1 billion people worldwide now use Microsoft Office. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2012/jul12/07-09WPCDay1PR.aspx.
This just in: Other companies can accomplish what Google says is impossible to do.
 
cute story bro, but my sent messages are still missing and anything I send from gmail doesn't go to sent messages. Checked all of the super useless....er helpful, advice on your product forums page - that's always fun- but alas there are no solutions anywhere and as this article makes clear Google just doesn't give a F**ck
 
Nice try, but not an excuse...if you can't do customer service...stick to search and don't offer services that require customer service...like gmail, google wallet,etc.
 
My AdSense account just stopped. I used Google's form to report a problem and got an email that the email address/account I was using wasn't associated to my AdSense account. Weird thing, when I try to re-create one with the same account it said there was already an Adsense account associated to that account. So pray-tel, how are a bunch of bloggers going to help with that one? Google keeps sending me canned responses that, by the way, cannot be replied to. There is zero way a blogger can help me. This kind of problem requires someone on the INSIDE. That person has no means to be contacted. This is FAIL.  I see many people tying business opportunities directly to things like Google+. This is a mistake. Unfortunately, is a risk most people almost have to take. It's a brilliant system for Google: build lots of products and services, profit from your customers but don't serve them when there's an issue. The answer is silence and the solution is start over with another Google service.
 
Damn you Larry!! You cheap sonovabitch!! Hire some staffers to take my calls....
 
Google support is a joke, they literally don't have a clue what they are doing. Sick of ringing them and telling them what the problem is for them not to listen and waste another day whilst they 'analyse' the situation. 

Ive been dealing with them for a week now, and we are no closer except i'm now demanding for the case to be escalated to someone who knows what a computer is.
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