It's only been about a month since Google introduced its Nexus One smartphone, seemingly without putting a whole lot of thought into how it would handle customer inquiries about the device. Google opted to handle Nexus One questions online and via e-mail, a decision that frustrated customers and led to lots of highly public venting.
Now Google has rolled out a customer service phone line for the Nexus One, but oddly will only handle inquires about the status of phone orders and shipments. (Of all the questions likely to be asked by customers, these kinds of inquiries would seemingly be the least likely to require speaking with a human being. They could easily be handled by customers themselves via self-service channels.) Device maker HTC will provide support for troubleshooting, device repair and returns, and carrier T-Mobile will offer phone plan support, though Google reportedly plans to add technical support, software inquiries and pre-sales support soon.
As IT Business Edge's Lora Bentley wrote yesterday, Google also cut early termination fees for folks who opt to return the Nexus One.
Kudos to Google for attempting to address some of the early complaints about Nexus One. But why didn't it give some thought to these issues beforehand? Although companies understandably want to cut their customer-service costs by moving as much support as possible to the Web and other self-service channels, some issues are best dealt with by human beings. As I wrote in a post about a customer-service glitch at Amazon last spring:
Sure, [total automation] is cheaper and more efficient. It's also simply not possible. Yes, it makes sense for companies to use self-service channels to reduce the considerable costs of customer service. And yes, I realize that some people are too lazy to read a FAQ and will pick up the phone and wade through voice prompts to get a living, breathing person to answer a boneheaded question. But sometimes you really need a human to help you. Companies should provide a reasonable escalation process for such instances.
Is a customer support line offering limited information like shipment status enough? Not really, says Patrick Gilbert, president and CEO of 4SmartPhone, in an E-Commerce Times article. Google needs to provide a better customer support experience because, unlike the buyers of other phones, Nexus One owners don't have the option of going to a local store for help.
Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group says customer support expectations for a pricey device like a smartphone are far higher than expectations for the Google's free online services. Its ability to meet the higher levels of support that paying customers expect was an early question mark for Google when it rolled out a fee-based version of its Google Apps.
The support question is further complicated by Google's need to work with partners HTC and T-Mobile. Unlike companies like Microsoft, Google has shown a limited ability to work with partners. As IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle wrote in a recent post about the iPad, Apple tightly controls all aspects of the iPhone, from product design to marketing, while Google offloads most of the Nexus One heavy lifting to original-equipment manufacturer HTC and carrier T-Mobile.
Arvani says Google will have to try harder if it wants to boost Nexus One sales numbers, which haven't exactly taken the mobile world by storm. She says:
HTC, T-Mobile and Google have made some agreements and put out a product with an accompanying service -- and the end-to-end user experience issues have fallen through the cracks.