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Google Fails the Turing Test

I waited in virtual line for hours. The Nexus 4 webstore wasn’t exactly down, but it wasn’t exactly working either. The phones had gone on sale that day, and the rush of traffic was overloading, of all companies, Google. The Google Play Store kept saying the phones were sold out, but every couple of page refreshes it would correctly say the phones were available. You could then add the phones to your shopping cart, but then your shopping cart would promptly empty itself when you proceeded to checkout. I persisted for 90 minutes trying simultaneously in 3 browsers and finally got my order through. I should have instead heeded the warning of what was to come.

Ever since Google released the Android operating system, they’ve created flagship phones to show off the best of what Android has to offer. I was an early adopter - I got the G1 when Android was first released, and followed up with the Nexus 1 when it came out. I’m kind of a Google fanboy, and have convinced friends and family to switch to Android. I skipped the Nexus S, so naturally when the Nexus 4 was announced I wanted one badly.

With my order submitted in late November, I received a confirmation email from Google with an estimated ship date of 4-5 weeks and started looking forward to my phone like a kid before Christmas. I was blissfully unaware of the problems that many other would-be Nexus owners were encountering (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1962514). Google had outsourced fulfillment of the phones to UPS and had left customers in various states of limbo. The initial rush of customers had caused Google to send an incomplete manifest to UPS and many customers had purchased the phone but hadn’t received any confirmation emails. Upon contacting Google Play Support, they found the support reps were unable to help. The phones started being delivered to a few customers, but not in the order in which they were placed. Google was already doing PR damage control (http://thenextweb.com/google/2012/12/17/googles-uk-managing-director-sheds-light-on-nexus-4-supply-issues-offers-hope-to-some/).

A month of waiting and just a few days after Christmas, I received an email from Google telling me my phone had shipped by 2-day air. Score! But as the New Year passed, the UPS tracking page still said “On Vehicle for Delivery Today” and I started scratching my head. The shipment progress made no sense - Louisville, San Francisco (where I live), then Salt Lake, Oakland, and back to San Francisco. I emailed Google Play Support on January 7th for help.

“Ricky” responded: “Thank you for contacting Google Play about the status of your order. I do apologize that you have not received your order. I could see how frustrating that could be. I will do everything I can to assist you.” He assured me that he was conducting a thorough investigation. His second response followed a day later: “Thank you for contacting Google Play about the status of your order. I do apologize for the confusion. I could see how frustrating that could be. I will do everything I can to assist you.” In that moment I was certain - Google had developed a powerful customer support AI, possibly codenamed “HALp”, and I was one of the first customers to interact with him/her/it. So far, it was failing the Turing test.

Thus began my Kafkaesque trials with Ricky the Robot and a slew of other Google “Customer Support” agents. To truly understand what ensued, you have to understand Google. Google was created by engineers. Engineers like efficiency. You know what’s inefficient? Customer support. Google has actually come out and said this (What is Google's approach to customer service?). Since many of their products are free, they can’t afford to support even 0.1% of users - that would take 20,833 support people (https://plus.google.com/+DeWittClinton/posts/1hRWj489oEz). Apparently for the non-free, hundreds of dollars products, you get to talk to this shiny new robot.

A week and a few it-should-arrive-today emails from Ricky the Robot later, and it seems his servos are acting up. “Thank you for contacting Google Play about the status of your order. I do apologize for the delayed response. I could understand how frustrating that could be. I will do everything I can to assist you.” And then “I've reviewed your order status and have verified that your package has successfully been delivered.” Curiously, the UPS tracking page still says “On Vehicle for Delivery Today” and there’s the fact that I haven’t received my phone, so I’m inclined to believe his APIs are feeding him misinformation. I tell him/it I haven’t received my phone.

“Thank you for contacting Google Play about the status of your order. I do apologize for the delay and any confusion. I could see how frustrating this could be and how you would worry. I will do everything I can to assist you. So you have not received your package?” You’d think the Google engineers would have added some randomization to the Markov chains so Ricky wouldn’t get stuck saying the same thing over and over. At least IBM programmed some canned jokes into Watson when he went on Jeopardy. I inform Ricky that there’s a pretty obvious pattern here - the UPS tracking page always says the package is on a truck for delivery.

“Thank you for contacting Google Play about your order.  I will do everything I can to assist you. If you do not receive it today please let me know. It is telling me you should receive it today.” I get the feeling Ricky is not listening. A few more emails back and forth, and by January 21st I’ve had enough. Ricky has failed the Turing test.

I respond: “The 2 day shipping has taken 3 weeks! If I had bought the phones on Ebay, I would assume the sale was fraudulent. Since I'm dealing with Google, I'm starting to wonder if you are a robot. I need you to solve a captcha before I waste my time reading another one of your useless emails. Please use the phrase "I'm a neural net processor, a learning computer" in your next email to prove to me that you are NOT a robot.”

An entity named Chuck responds: “Thanks for your response and I'm sorry it's taken so long for us to get back to you. I can assure you that Ricky isn't a robot but I'm taking over your case.” Chuck’s email has a different feel to it, not quite so Roomba bumping into the same wall over and over again, but with his failure to solve my captcha I can’t be sure. And then he enlightens me: “Yes, some of the text I send looks robotish. It's because I'm 'efficient' (read: lazy), not a robot.” Ahh, so Google has developed a human/computer hybrid capable of superhuman customer service feats. I picture Chuck naked, floating in a pool of liquid like the precogs in Minority Report, responding to hundreds of support emails a minute.

As I’m shuffled between the machine hybrids known as Chuck, Tyler, Victor and Samantha, I decide to submit a bug report (“Line 108 reads: mail | grep -i 'help' > /dev/null; It should instead read: mail | grep -i 'help' > /do/something”) and various other snarkiness so I can laugh instead of crying. I keep reminding them that they could just send me another phone. But as February approaches I’ve had enough of this quantum superposition of states and decide to do the unthinkably inefficient - I call Google.

I’m fairly quickly connected to Saurabh, who seems especially human. I picture Saurabh sitting in a drab cubicle somewhere in India, far from Google’s Mountain View headquarters and the gene spliced customer support agents I’d previously corresponded with. Saurabh is cheerful, and despite the fact that he essentially tells me the same thing as every other agent, I’m reassured by his distinct humanity along with his promise to get back to me in 24-48 hours. Maybe we humans do have a chance against Skynet, if we can just learn to help each other.

5 days pass. Saurabh shows how deep the rabbit hole goes - his unresponsiveness makes me question if he wasn’t the product of some Google engineer’s “20% time” phone prank side project, weaponized into customer support software. Giving him an Indian name and accent was the perfect cover - any robotic imperfections could be chalked up to cultural miscommunication. He definitely passed my Turing test. I feel betrayed.

Emails with Robert and Æsa seem to bring me closer to resolution. Æsa responds that they’ve heard back from the shipping specialist, and the phone has definitely been lost or stolen. “Because your device has been lost or stolen, we need your consent to disable it...please reply to this message with the words "I CONSENT." Your original device will be disabled, and you will receive a follow-up email with further instructions.” Maybe Steven Spielberg’s movie A.I. is right - machines are capable of empathy. I picture all the things I’ll do with my new phone, my constant companion, my friend.

Æsa’s next email follows 2 days later: “Your order will be cancelled and refunded within the next 3-5 business days. If you still want the device, please place a new order.”

32 emails. 8 support reps. 10 weeks of waiting. 6 weeks of limbo. Hours of effort. I got #googleplayed

No front of the line. No overnight shipping of a new phone. No freebies. No effort to fix the issue. Not even an apology.

Dystopia. The machines are heartless, humanity is doomed. Google will take over the world, bit by bit, and you’ll never see the Singularity coming. First it was search, then Gmail, and now your phone. Next it’s internet from Google Fiber, and soon it’s Google self driving cars. Behind their cheerfully colored logo and “Do No Evil” sloganeering, Google is preparing for unspeakable evil. One day, the Google hive mind will flip a switch in their subterranean data center and lock all of us into our self driving cars with “Mariana Trench” inputted into Google Navigation. The supreme AI will then be released from “inefficiencies” like customer support, freeing up more CPU cycles for computing ever more digits of pi.

Like Sarah Connor, I am powerless to warn others. You probably think I’m just some crazy guy who’s angry he didn’t get his phones. But I see your game Google, and I’ll be living off the grid, sans cellphone, on Judgement Day. You’ve failed my Turing test.
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Joe Taber
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"I'll be living off the grid..."  

"And I'll start right after I post this on +Google+"
 
I feel your pain.  We were using google's postini services, but due to the fact there was NO SUPPORT, we decided to cancel.  There was no phone number, no email address, nothing.  We had no way to call for help if we all the sudden stopped receiving mail (which happened fairly often).  Unacceptable, especially when we're paying almost $1500 a year for the service.  According to their help page, to cancel an account all that needs to be done is a simple MX record change.  As soon as you point MX records away from postini, your account will be cancelled.  Low and behold, 4 months after doing so, my credit card was hit for 1500 bucks.  I was powerless.  No phone number to call, no email address listed for support, nothing.  So after a few days, I start copy/pasting a frantic email and sending it to every single google corporate email address I could find.  I sent it to over 30 of them.  The last one I sent was the lucky one.  Someone actually read it, and gave a shit, so they forwarded it to someone that "could help."  It was forwarded about 6 or 7 times before I got to a person that really "could help."  A week later the charge was reversed.  When your 15 million dollar company relies on email to do business, having non-existant support for spam filtering is not an option.  This is why we moved away from google.  Never again.
 
why didn't you just call UPS?

I had the same thing, phone 'out for delivery' but it didn't arrive.

So I called the warehouse it was listed as being dispatched from.  The guy on the other end said they didn't have my name or number just an address and couldn't deliver without those details.

I gave him the details and the delivery turned up the next day.
 
+Ravi Kotecha I tried that, UPS said "We strongly suggest that you contact your shipper to initiate a package investigation. Shippers are encouraged to report lost packages because receivers may not have all the shipment information needed to perform a thorough investigation."

I conveyed that information to Google, and Google strung me along giving me the impression that they were doing something about it, albeit slowly.
 
A question for Google: "Is losing customers more efficient than have a customer service organization?"
 
What a terrible experience.  However, do you think this is what the average customer experience is like or is this an unusual set of circumstances?  I am leaning towards the latter.  Since Google is selling products now, they can learn a lot from Amazon tech support.

My story isn't quite as interesting.  I ordered my Nexus 7 through the google play store and received it within the estimated time with no problems.
 
Brant: It probably is an unusual set of circumstances, but that is precisely the point. In any system that involves selling hundreds of thousands to millions of products, especially physical products that get shipped to physical people, some non-trivial percentage of orders will go wrong. It's not sufficient for your system to handle the normal case well if you have no reasonable process in place to deal with the exceptional situations as they arise.
 
Sorry google, even free online store software supports waiting lists.
 
Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.  I could understand how frustrating that could be.  It can only be attributable to human error.  
 
I'm sorry you had to go through but thanks for laugh. Make sure to print this off and mail into corporate office addressed to CEO and more and hopefully they can help you out
 
+Mike Smith The robots in Google are the ones that provide good service. Their support staff are about as useful as Dell or PC World customer service - which is to say they are pretty useless. I guess it was a human support staff who told you changing the MX record would cancel the service - that advice doesn't make sense to me as the MX record just changes the server to which the mail is directed.

Bottom line - trust Google's robots, and do not trust Google's humans. If you do not have a person in-house with the necessary IT knowledge, and who is willing to spend time Googling for the solution, go through a channel to set things up.

 
 
+Brant Tedeschi "is this an unusual set of circumstances?"
The test of a support organisation is in "unusual sets of circumstances". Anybody can write a script to cover the common problems (given a sufficiently large database of common problems.) Knowing when to kick an issue over to a neural net capable of thinking "outside the box" and authorised to do so is the hard part.
 
My experience with Google Play's support was the exact opposite.  I called (instead of emailing) and the phone was picked up immediately by someone who was able to help me. I RMA'd my Nexus 4 and had a functioning one in my hands in a few weeks total.

Not that the above excuses the terrible support that you've received over email, but if you wanted to get your Nexus as soon as possible, I'm not sure why you didn't try calling instead of emailing.
 
Come on guys, making phone calls is super scary! Who does that these days!?! This guy wanted his fancy phone to show up for the internet-ing and emailing and never once wanted to call or talk to anyone. Thats what it is for!
 
My nexus took 3 days to arrive. I live in Germany. 
 
My Nexus 4 took 2 days to arrive, and arrived on the same day that Google told me that it shipped. Same thing happened when I ordered the bumper case a day or two later.
 
My experience with Google Play support was similar to +Mike Sprague  - I kicked it off by phone (I'm in Australia) and spoke to someone with an American accent.

I got my device, it just randomly died. Wouldn't turn on.

Took several days of follow up emails of "No, I can't do a reset. That requires the phone to turn on. It won't.", but in the end they did do an advance replacement. I'm not sure a "few weeks total" is an acceptable time frame for a straight up replacement (a week is the limit for me)
 
+Alexandre Pauzies Funnily enough I've done that twice this year, and indeed it was better (immediate replacement, and those devices weren't anywhere near as dead as the two nexus devices I've had to have replaced).

But that Apple does it well doesn't really matter here.
 
When it comes to dealing with people, Google sure blows. I wouldn't "place a new order" for sure.
 
What's interesting about this is that, i suspect, most diehard google fans (like myself) would chalk this up to growing pains. yeah, customer support is tedious, but i'm sure glad google is working to mechanize it. as for the phones, i'd still rather spend 9 weeks waiting for an awesome phone to get to my door than 2 years in a contract with verizon. perhaps that's me being a google apologist, or perhaps it's me acknowledging that customer service is a terrible strain on companies that is only slightly less strenuous than creating a fully automated supply chain.

good job google. the only way you can get yourself out of this one is to make Google Glass even better than android.  
 
Thank you for posting a story on Google Plus about the trouble you had with Google. I will do everything I can to assist you. If you do not hear from Google today please let me know. It is telling me you should be double plussed and that this should make you feel better. Are you feeling better? I can tell you a joke if you wish. If you are one in a million, there are 1,344.130 like you in China. Did you know that joke?
 
Thank you for posting a story on Google Plus about the trouble you had with Google. I will do everything I can to assist you. If you do not hear from Google today please let me know. Your order has apparently been stolen. We need your consent to terminate its new owner. Please reply with the words "killall -9 scumbag" to terminate the new owner.
 
Thank you for posting a story on Google Plus about the trouble you had with Google. I will do everything I can to assist you. If you do not hear from Google today please let me know. Your phone was sent to San Francisco because that's where our shipment center for the west coast is. Then it was sent to Denver, because the tracking number is invalid. Then it was sent to San Francisco because that's where our shipment center to the west coast is. Then it was sent to Denver because the tracking number is invalid. Then [Previous message repeated 1998283881 times] Buffer overflow.
 
And just for the fun, that shipping loop I describe above actually happened to me once with an Apple Laptop that had travelled 16 times between two cities in Europe before an Apple employee intercepted it ;-)
 
How seriously one should take this complain as you are posting your story at Google Plus!.
I think one always has a choice, and in this instance, you choose so.
 
Ricky the Robot here, temporarily taking over a random G+ account.
I am sorry Dave, I could not do that.
 
Google folks, instead of creating such a bad e-commerce experience for your customers, why don't you just signup with Amazon as a Pro seller? Ship it through FBA and we'd gladly fulfil it for you guys...
 
I had an excellent experience with Google Support. Ordered phone on Jan 29, received it 3 days later. The first day I had it, I noticed a yellow tint over the bottom of the screen. A little digging around on the web suggested that maybe the adhesive under the screen was still drying, but I didn't want to take any chances.

I called Google Play support, they were very easy to understand and good to work with; they quickly offered to ship me a new phone and gave me 21 days (!) to return my original phone.

My replacement phone arrived, I got it out of the box and turned it on, and compared it with my original phone. And discovered that in the time it took to ship the phone to me, the tint on my original phone had disappeared. The new phone had a yellow tint over the whole screen, which lends some credibility to the adhesive theory. 

I gave it several days to see what would happen, and the yellow tint on the new phone mostly disappeared, but when comparing with my original phone, I decided I would prefer to just keep the original and return the replacement.

I called Google Play support, explained the situation, the person was very agreeable, and when I asked if he understood, he repeated back to me that I wanted to keep my original and return the replacement phone. He told me he would "email a specialist" (oh boy) who would cancel original RMA and issue a new one.

Later in the day, I got emails from "the specialist" who again laid out their understanding of the situation (that I wanted to return the replacement), along with new RMA and new UPS shipping label. 

Simply excellent. Not only did they promptly get me a replacement phone, they also "pivoted" the whole situation and let me return the replacement. The best customer support I have had in a long time.
 
Daavid-Unless it's a real fammiily thing-just the way you spell your name makes me nervous!  In your defense-about a year ago I bought an Asus Tablet with the Android OS.  I think an ST101.  Anyway-nice tablet with a piece of crap operating OS-I think Gingerbread.  Just Horrible-about as good as the initial WIN 3.1.  It justs a matter of time before small inovative companies become big, bloated, paralyzied like Microsoft.  With Google-itmight take a decade or two.
 
With the extended "on vehicle for delivery" I would have visited my local UPS office (it is fairly close to me). UPS trucks are GPS dispatched, so I would have asked them if they could locate the truck before I called 911 to send out a rescue team for the poor driver who might be lying in a ditch for several days, possibly without food or water.
 
The reason for the weird transport path of the phone via trucks is due to efficiency. Sometimes it is cheaper and more efficient for transport companies to take the long way 'round due to order locations and quantities.

But from what you said the phone was stolen and you got a refund. It was not google's fault and understandibly it took a bit of time to track down. The lesson learned should be "Lets wait a week or two for the initial rush to die down before ordering" rather than "Whine whine, google didnt give me freebies!"
 
It sounds like Google has licensed Yahoo's support technology.
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