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WTF Google, you stole my $5 (programmerstrouble.blogspot.com)
210 points by jtwaleson on Dec 30, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 114 comments

Google, for a company that reputes to perform services, is probably the single most consumer-unfriendly company on the planet. Their customer care dept. consists of one crazy cat lady in a cabin in the hills of California. They've sold enterprise services for years (or pretend enterprise services, at least), sold multiple phones and devices, have the largest ad network on the Internet and they STILL don't have anyone you can call if things go wrong. Unless you're Kevin Rose and Google will get bad pub, they absolutely do not care about your problem. Shut up slave, or go back to Hotmail.

Your experience is not even irregular. I'd say this is the typical experience for people dealing with Google when everything doesn't go 100% correct.

Actually, their core enterprise services - Google Apps and AdWords do have phone support, which I have used extensively:

http://contact.googleapps.com/?&rd=1 and http://support.google.com/adwords/bin/answer.py?hl=en-GB&... for example.

AdWords support is outstanding. As a client getting started with Google advertising, I had a dedicated account manager who set up the entire campaign for me, who would call me back whenever I had any questions I'd email to him and was very intelligent and helpful.

I am not surprised that their free services don't have a phone number to call. Can you imagine providing call-centre support for 400 million Gmail users, or 1 Billion+ Google search users?

Of course, if they want to enter other customer facing businesses like selling hardware or broadband Internet, they will have no choice but to set up call-centres for those departments.

    Google, for a company that reputes to perform
    services, is probably the single most consumer-
    unfriendly company on the planet. 
They're really not. This is overstated.

Try dealing with some kind of loss-making monopoly, where the people who work there don't care or may even have a perverse grudge against customers and want to cause them harm.

Look at the way united airlines treated a passenger whos guitar they busted up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

There are companies who wage campaigns against their customers. They have a policy of not paying credit notes except under extreme pressure. But they might also have call centre staff with no job tracking system call you to chase you for your bill, where the staff don't even know whether you've paid it or not. Why? Because some stats somewhere said that bullied customers are more likely to pay.

Google is flawed but has some endearing things going for it: the employees are intelligent people, they tend to be caring types.

Ah yes, the mythical intelligent and caring Google employee. At least United Airlines has a fucking phone number.

Google has phone support for a wide variety of products. Google Wallet is at 1-855-492-5538, Google Play is at 855-836-3987, and other products support numbers are available in the administration console (Apps, Ad-related products, etc.)

They are real people and they do care.

Worse examples have never ever been a good excuse.

Worse examples are useful when someone starts by saying silly things like "probably the single most consumer-unfriendly company on the planet."

At least those bother to acknowledge their customers, even if their response is wrong. At least it gives you a chance to fight back.

Google simply utterly ignores any kind of complaint. There is no worse way to treat people than to completely deny their existence.

At the risk of being slightly cynical I'd like to point out you can actually phone and talk to someone if you're having problems paying them (i.e payments via Google Wallet) just not after they've taken your money.

For example I was having problems with a payment in Google Wallet for something off the play store. I was able to ring them, speak to someone from America and get the problem resolved in under 5 minutes.

> At the risk of being slightly cynical I'd like to point out you can actually phone and talk to someone if you're having problems paying them (i.e payments via Google Wallet) just not after they've taken your money.

Two Nexus 7s I ordered for Christmas were not delivered and then returned to sender without contacting me. Google not only sorted this out within a day or so, I spoke to people on the phone and by email with a quick turnaround.

I've heard many horror stories, but I just wanted to add that they're definitely not universal. The fault was not with Google but they still sorted it out to the best of their abilities within a day or two.

To give them credit: Google does a lot of things right, which is why I like using their services (avid user of search, analytics, adwords, blogger.com, gmail, android, chrome etc).

In a way, that they do so many things right makes the terrible support harder to swallow ;)

I had some issues with my Nexus 7 which i bought in the Netherlands and was a bit peeved to find the contact us page for the Nexus 7 is literally an empty page. No contact information whatsoever. This was a few months back. I just checked; it's still empty: http://support.google.com/googleplay/bin/request.py?contact_...

I'm not sure if you're talking about the current state, but right now it does seem to have information on contacting them, including a 24/7 call center number: http://i.imgur.com/oonDP.png

You can't have both free (or extremely cheap) services and have highly available tech support. I'm not sure if you've ever been part of a company building a call center for tech support in the US but it is a nightmare. It can easily be one of the most expensive elements of having a service-oriented business.

The chap in the post isn't seeking highly available tech support. And it's not a free service - he paid.

Customers/users should never be left guessing about whether they've been forgotten or not. If you have users, have some flow like this:

1) Receive the customer communication. If you can't fix it immediately, then you immediately respond to the customer to tell them what you're doing, and clearly indicate when they will receive their next communication from you. It might be "we can't even look at this for six weeks", but if you've taken their money you should give it back.

2) Set a calendar event for your team so that they know about this if you get hit by a bus.

3) On the date, you contact the customer. If you haven't fixed the issue, then you indicate what you're doing at the moment, and give a new date by which the customer will hear from you.

If the customer is unlikely to be happy with the resolution then you describe why and describe their options.

IOW, you get what you pay for. That said, Google could do much better in customer service -- they indirectly make money on the backs of these customers. It seems deceitful to let people invest heavily in your ecosystem, knowing you won't help them when stuck (and they're so entrenched they just can't leave).

>you get what you pay for

Unless you do not, as in this case.

> indirectly make money

Indirectly? Read the blog post. $5 moved from the customer's credit card to Google's bank account. Clearly, Google is directly making money from this person.

It's a nominal amount. There aren't too many people who are developers, and the amount is likely dwarfed by several orders of magnitude by the 30% revenue on purchased apps. The $5 is purely an anti-spam mechanism. If it were free, spammers could flood the app store with cruddy apps.

Not that this excuses their behavior. App developers are a source of revenue, and treating them as such would be less evil.

What about paid enterprise services with tech support?

I work in a remote IT office and I would absolutely pay per incident for support as a user. I don't expect a free meal ticket.

Echoing other posters' comments, I have received excellent Play Store support both by phone and email. In both cases I had no rouble reaching a real person and the issue was resolved within hours. So you might want to dial back the hyperbole. Or maybe not, since I'm guessing you knew your claims were outrageous to begin with.

The point of whining is that it gets better. Nothing gets better when you making a pragmatic point.

As someone who used app engine a few years ago but also used the much better customer service recently, I still choose to whine. And I will for a long damn time considering the shit I put up with.

To play devils advocate: Does this mean that customer care isn't necessary for big success?

It means you can have big success in an industry (search results) that doesn't require customer care.

The problem is Google is trying to approach other industries the same way they have with Search: If it can't be solved by a group of engineers and a rack-full of servers, it shouldn't be solved.

>The problem is Google is trying to approach other industries the same way they have with Search: If it can't be solved by a group of engineers and a rack-full of servers, it shouldn't be solved.

Is that a problem, though? If people in a particular market segment value high quality low cost services over accessible customer support, the strategy succeeds. If customers in that market segment value accessible customer service enough to pay extra for it, it fails when another competitor comes in to provide that and takes all the customers.

But what Google is providing seems to be what most customers want most of the time: People bitch about bad customer service when something goes wrong, but they still choose the free service over the paid one pretty much knowing that that will be the case going in.

The market decided that what Google is doing is what people prefer. The general population could have a change of heart and decide to start patronizing companies with better customer service who charge correspondingly more, but they probably won't.

> Is that a problem, though?

It's a problem to the OP, and it's a problem to a lot of users who suddenly lose access to their GMail accounts and don't have the luxury of getting to the front page of HN. Just because it's not a problem for 95% of people doesn't mean it's not a problem.

I'd also argue that most people aren't aware Google doesn't have customer support going in. Did you explain to every person you recommended GMail to, if you've recommend it to anyone, that there isn't any customer service should they get locked out of the only email account they might be using for the next few years? You might be a smart hacker and know to back up your mail on multiple drives each night, but most folks assume good faith about a company they deal with.

>Just because it's not a problem for 95% of people doesn't mean it's not a problem.

It's not a problem for 99+% of people. That means it's not a problem for 99+% of people. It's like any rare but unfortunate event that people rationally choose not to insure against. And it sucks to be you if you're the statistical outlier, but you already know what to do if you're worried about that: Choose a different service that has a worse overall user experience because they spent their money on giving you someone to talk to on the phone instead of on producing a well-engineered service.

I'd bet that the customer service for google's actual customers is top notch.

Haha, no. Take a look at how the customer service for the Nexus 4 went. You have customer service making shit up to get people off the phone. You have people not having any way to figure out the status of their order (or even if their order actually went through).

Actual large budget customers, maybe

What, I just created an account in Ad-Sense, and got a thread of emails explaining to me how can I use it, with a dicount coupon. After I failed to use it, I got another thread of emails, each time more personal, with hints and phone numbers I could call to get a personalized campaign, and an increase in the coupons discount. Now, about each 6 monts I get physical mail from Google with phones and coupons, each time with a more elaborated impression (they tought about nice paper, credit-like cards, nice envelopes).

All this time I've given Google no money at all.

I think you meant AdWord. Adsense is for publishers. Create an Adsense account and you won't receive a single mail with a phone # listed in them.

It goes somewhat like this:

If you paying money, you might have luck getting a phone support based on your investment. However, if you are on the other end of receiving money, good luck having someone respond to your email or on the forums.

Apple prides itself on good customer care, so I wouldn't say so.

I had a similar issue with my Apple Developer License. My address wash Spanish, my credit card from the UK (as I was working there in that time) and they systems locked me out of everything because it wasn't normal.

I shot a mail address using a contact form and in less than 24 hours I got a phone call which solved all my issues in that same call.

I've been locked out of my AdSense account for breaking the TOS, but they won't tell me which point of the TOS I've broken (which, as far as I can tell, was none) and the only way to get around this was just to create a different AdSense account. Which is against their TOS BTW.

PS. That interaction with Apple was not the first not last, but the only related with an online service. They've fixed hardware, dealt with recalls and even took care of stuff outside warranty.

He said isn't necessary, a counter example does nothing to argue against that statement.

Apple's developer support on the other hand, is atrociously bad. This article is about a developer account.

Unless you are trying to get an app past App Store reviewers.

Well, hey, look at Zynga. They even treated their employees terribly and got their success.

This kind of thing is one reason I trust others (eg Apple) more than Google with my computing services.

Apple is a retail business and they can deliver tech support at scale by doubling their retail locations into support centers.

It's unfair to compare a retail company's availability to a SaaS provider such as a Google. It would be wise for Google to start opening retail locations if it intends to get into the retail game for this very reason.

This isn't an unfair comparison at all. From the consumer's perspective both provide many similar services. And products, for that matter.

And (serious question) what's stopping Google from providing support, when other SaaS providers can (and do, profitably) and other ad/media companies can and do?

Specifically, paid support would be nice.

According to Steve Jobs' biography, this was a deliberate decision on their part, to better control the user experience.

They didn't need to become a retail company, but they understood that the customer would be better served that way.

With the frequency that this comes up, I'm a little surprised that no one has tried to build a start-up around this. I'm sure there's enough latent demand for customer service for Google that you could probably charge a fee for it - not sure how much it would be but still something.

Also you've probably got a willing acquirer in Google, providing you can prove out the model.

Only thing is you would need to have plenty of connections into the inner workings of Google to actually be able to serve your customers.

You can't build a startup around this because:

1) it would instantly flounder due to an overload in requests

2) a service department only works when it can deliver customer satisfaction, and you couldn't

The only party that can fix this is google, and they'll only fix it under competitive pressure.

Your post needs a giant asterisk. Everything you said is completely fair, excluding AdWords -- which is where Google actually makes its money. As an Adwords customer, I have absolutely no problem getting my account rep on the phone if I have a problem.

For Adsense, in contrast, the user is told:

>We offer email support for our higher-earning publishers. To find out if email support is available for your account, visit How can I contact AdSense support? [1] Publishers who have access to support via email will find a contact form where they can email our specialists.

It turns out I'm lucky enough to be "eligible for email support". How flattering!

[1] https://support.google.com/adsense/bin/request.py

Why is 'flattery' part of your vocabulary of businesses relationships?

I don't get any email support from a soda vending machine.

Vending machines frequently have a number you can call for support if the machine malfunctions.

Add devices to the list, too. If you have a hardware issue with a Nexus 4 / Nexus 7 / Nexus 10, clicking through the support center will eventually drop you at a phone number to call. Returns/exchanges and warranty repairs are handled by phone.

I think this is just a pattern with companies that have high numbers of employees. Facebook is just as inaccessible. Although I suspect that it's hard to troubleshoot Facebook to begin with since the particulars of their product changes so often.

It's because once a company gets to be over a certain size, everything is part of a process, and processes tend not to care all that much about their participants. When you get really good service from a company, it's generally the individual service rep going above and beyond what the process calls for, rather than the process being one that delivers good service.

Amazons millions of customers and thousands of employees would disagree.

I've never had to call or email Amazon though. Not for retail anyway. Just getting into AWS and we'll see how that goes.

I don't know, it seems to me they're focusing a lot on automation (to reduce costs, among other things).

Sorry in advance for the rant but i think it is fucking stupid to charge developers at all. Yes, it is nothing, but the principal itself leaves a sour taste. I am improving your platform, you are going to take 30% of anything made, and you want me to pay you for that privilege.

I know this applies to others too (worse at times) and that there is some rationale behind this (reduce hoards of crap), but it just stinks, to me, in principle, and i'm sure there would be better ways of going about it.

It's an incredibly effective antispam technique. Metafilter does something similar, charging a $5 lifetime fee at signup. Existing accounts were not charged when it was introduced.

I would like to hear if it is effective because a) the Chrome Webstore is full of spyware[0] and b) its not like spammers can't spend $5 to verify an account

[0] My example search is always 'youtube downloader': https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/youtube%20download...

Its not about spending $5, it's about spending $5 x 10,000. Same reason credit card validations are $1 (which then gets credited back to the card a few days later).

Until just a year or two ago, there was no way to validate a credit card without authorizing a charge to it for a dollar amount. Some backend processing networks still don't support zero-dollar authorizations. The reason every site that needed to validate a credit card charged $1 to it was because that was the only way to know the card presented is real.

This isn't entirely true. You can auth $1 and then never capture it, which will result in no money being charged.

I thought that's what I said, and also what the parent said. I was refuting that the reason sites authorize $1 instead of $0 to validate a card was to stop spam/scammers -- that's a valid reason, but the root reason it was always $1 was because $0 authorizations weren't possible.

I have no problem with the charging a nominal fee to keep out spammers. However, they should just donate the $5 to charity like Atlassian does for their $10 starter pack.

With the Chrome extensions you can't actually charge any money yet, so I'm just doing it pro bono to help the users of the crappy website.

My flippant response would be to provide it to mozilla users where you are surely not charged. You didn't mention the site, so i don't know if you could just publish it there (surely that can be done with chrome extensions?) or just as a bookmarklet?

I could try that, thanks for the suggestions. The website is of the Dutch public transportation system, the part where you can view which trips you've made with your electronic travel card. It was designed completely from the viewpoint of the system, not that of the user. I.e.: Instead of seeing how much each trip costs, you see what got subtracted (a sort of deposit) when you checked in, and what you got back when you checked out. etc etc. Once I can publish the extension I'll write another post with the details...

Indeed, it sounds more like a way to verify an identity and having someone liable attached to the account.

Just a thoughts - May be they charge these $5 just to make developers value their accounts and not register just for fun or when they forgot their email address. Also, to connect extension author to real credit card data. In case of malware extension - this might be very valuable for LEOs.

I've been a google supporter for years, until they do something ugly to you, and now that love is gone. Fuck you google, if you don't listen to your users you're doomed to extinction.

You stole my hard earned money in adsense for over a couple of years. All of a sudden you decided to close my account for activity fraud. I swear to god I never clicked a damn ad. My stats show no abnormal visits (analytics from google) just a steady flow of a hundred visitors a day, just ten cents a day in adsense.

But you stole it without any explanation, just that you can't give any info to protect your algorithms and your sponsors.

Well fuck you, then who protects the user?

You stole just $100 from me, but I hope you lose it all. I'll do all I can to see you on your knees.

Fuck you google.

This isn't really related to this post. Also, this is just childish whining that your precious ad sense revenue account gets banned. Well, shit happens. 100$? That sounds like your first ad sense paycheck, so call me skeptical but you probably did click your ad, maybe without knowing or violated some other term of service.

Google can't answer the millions of cases like yours one by one specifically, nor should they since somebody who's trying to game the ad sense system shouldn't be told where they messed up anyway.

Why not start your own version of ad sense if you think you can do this better.

If that is stealing at all, it is on behalf of advertisers. Google doesn't get paid when you don't.

Not true - inventory availability and user data are gathered. Google receives value from a publisher using Ad Sense tags, if they chose to use that value by returning ad (getting paid by an advertiser) then Google makes money. At the end of the day an unused impression opportunity by Google may cost a tiny bit of computing resources, but its an unused opportunity for revenue by the publisher.

If the $5 is to keep out spam, doesn't the fact that he has already confirmed that he is not a spammer by paying the $25 from before for the android thing? Why keep asking for money and bounce him around like this? This is what you expect from a crappy company with outsourced customer support , not google.

> This is what you expect from a crappy companies with outsourced customer support , not google.

I'd expect you to expect algorithmic customer support from Google.

True, but even Google need some real thinking people in customer support. Algorithms are not enough for all your customer interactions, at least not for now anyway.

Sure, common sense suggests that they do need some real people in customer support, but haven't you read the horror stories of their algorithms banning people?

People had their accounts closed with messages like: "Your account is now closed permanently. We won't tell you why. Don't try contacting us, we will not respond. Fuck You."

They have some real people working with customers, but they're meant for big, rich customers-they-want-to-keep. You get the algorithm treatment, and you're not supposed to even reach the real people there.

I'm surprised Google act like this, on the one hand they want us to use Google for everything, apps, email, cloud storage. And on the other hand all we get is the algorithm treatment. Unless they change this I can see blog post after blog post slowly eating away at Google's reputation.

I bet we've only seen a small fraction of all the cases. As long as they can keep doing it without "too many" people knowing, they're fine.

I've actually had the same issue with Google for over a year. I can't use Google Wallet to pay for anything (including Android apps on the phone)! I've tried removing and adding my card back. It gives me the same error. I've resorted to asking family members to use their accounts to purchase items on my devices. This error is really frustrating!

Google is not anymore a company it used to be. They are now just in the process of streamlining their profits - closing down products that are not creating huge amounts of money , making free products into paid ones , over-promoting their social network and making lives of webmasters into roll-coaster rides by frantically updating their search algorithms .

I suppose Customer Support is the least of their concerns

But ironically enough as you have posted the problem on HN , it will surely be solved very swiftly less in the sense of customer goodwill but more of a PR move. This just reminds me of how are governments work - You have to know somebody from the inside to get the work done - and this is what Google is becoming.

This is nothing new, Google customer support has always been terrible.

I had a similar terrible experience spending $10 to transfer my number on google voice. Got the whole "Uh oh. There was a problem" error. Waiting for support like you, and then I found some obscure google group post that suggested my address on google wallet was wrong. After fixing that and waiting a day or so I finally made purchase successfully.

Google checkout/wallet is less than good, combined with virtually non-existent support is a terrible combination.

Another example of how Google does not (or is not willing to) do customer support.

If it works: great, if there's a glitch, well, tough.

Isn't this what your credit card company is for?

I had an issue where Paypal never refunded the $2 fee for verifying my account and instead pocketed the cash instead. I got my bank to issue a chargeback over the phone - it took all of five minutes.

Then your GMail account is instantly locked for fraud activity, since you foolishly used the same account for everything. Good luck contacting them for support to fix it.

This is why you should avoid Google when you can.

They're eating the Internet. The more you depend on them, the harder it'll be to cut ties when they give you crap.

Has this actually ever happened to anyone?

That can only get the money back, while the author would clearly prefer he get the service he paid for months ago (and be able to deploy/promote his software).

Complicating the transaction with a dispute/chargeback could make that real goal even harder to achieve, not just by making the previous purchase attempt appear 'unpaid', but also perhaps giving his account/card a 'uses chargebacks' flag within Google.

Well, I was a Google Apps customer and paid my money for a year of paid GMail with my own domain. There was a technical error, my card was indeed charged and despite countless e-mails and trying to call anywhere for a resolution nothing. E-Mails just like this article had.

I wonder how many customers Google owes money to for things like this? Maybe we could tally this up and petition them to pay out.

I would not be surprised if they get hit with a Class Action someday. For their long tail products, the impact to single users is small but across the board, i'm sure it adds up.. reminds me of that evil scheme to take .0005% of a penny from everyone.

Their B2B services is also lacking, turn over for their employees is high y/y.

..maybe this is the new of state internet services at scale?

edit: grammar

I'm not excusing it, but it seems plausible to me that the Android charge is separate from the Chrome charge because they are different projects that probably have completely different systems. It's the same poor experience you sometimes have with tech support phone trees with e.g. a credit card company, where each time your call is redirected they ask you for your information again -- poor integration between different wings.

Google may actually penalize their phone support for being on the phone for over 3 minutes.

Story: An acquaintance got on the phone with support department to troubleshoot a problem. The support person was struggling to help. As the 3 minute mark approaches, the support person gets increasingly anxious. Finally, he straight up confesses that he has a 3 minute call limit beyond which he may get penalized.

And then hung up on my acquaintance seeking help.

I've been bitten by googles non-existent customer support too while dealing with my adword account(s). Somehow I had two accounts, but one of them was transferred to my friend by changing all the info + have him verify the new bank account. Sure, I probably messed up somehow.. but it should be easy to fix but it's impossible to get in contact with them. I mailed multiple times over 1-2 months.. with details what I had done. Never got a single reply. Extremely frustrating. I want to put their ads on multiple sites, but they wont let me :).

Google really need to sort their support out. When evaluating Google Apps for our organisation, we couldn't even get through to a human. This pretty much killed the evaluation up front.


I had a friendly human call me shortly after I signed up for a trial for work, and had good impressions of the onboarding process. But they didnt give contact numbers before that initial contact...

The problem here is that it's not just a Chrome Developer account, it's a Google account. There may well be an automated process to lockout users that owe them money.

Steam has a similar flaw. If you file a chargeback on any game you purchase then you'll be locked out of every game you ever 'bought' until you resolve the issue.

Why the hell would you invest in something so risky then?

I refuse to pay for anything which can be taken away at the whim, process or incompetence of another.

Because it gives me the best odds. Store-bought: can lose or break the disc, sometimes the DRM won't let it install on my system. Pirate: might be missing some of the data, might be invalidated by an update, always that slight fear of viruses.

You get my upvote. It's long overdue that Google overhauls this.

Seems like an open-and-shut case for a chargeback.

The trouble is its only $5 and it's not even worth worrying about getting the money back, it's not going to hurt Google doing a chargeback anywhere near as much as this blog post will hopefully hurt them.

Unfortuanlty for Google, because they have essentially no human face, public shaming is our only option to open up a dialog with them.

If Google merits enough charge backs, credit card companies will notice.

Only downside of that is that it might flag the account as being fraudulent.

That's why google is working so hard on AI, that way they don't have to staff a proper customer service department.

Hopefully they'll get that done in time for them not to be out-competed by a company that actually cares about their audience / customers.

Can't he (or couldn't he) dispute the charge with the credit card company?

I could but I really can't be bothered. The fact that I can't publish my extension does bother me.

It could have taken less time to call your CC company than to write this blog post.

The author wants to publish a Chrome extension. Disputing the charge will not help in that goal.

Unless Google retaliates somehow. I’d be surprised if they didn’t immediately ban or somehow freeze all of his Google accounts and services in response to a chargeback.

That's what we do where I work. If someone wants money back, all they have to so is ask, and it will be done, with no hard feelings and they will be welcome back if they ever change their mind.

Do a chargeback, and they go on the "never do business with this person again" list.

You'd go on a rampage destroying customer's personal files if they call for a charge back? That puts you on my "never do business with this person " list.

1. Where did I say anything about destroying a customer's personal files?

2. Customers do not call for chargebacks. When customers call, they get a refund from us. A chargeback happens when a customer does NOT call us, but rather goes to their credit card issuer, and claims they did not authorize the charge on their credit card (which is generally a lie).

Wen that happens, the credit card company reverses the charge, AND accesses the merchant (us) a fee of around $20. Even if we were able to prove to the credit card issue that the customer is lying, and so the chargeback would be denied, we'd still have to pay the $20 chargeback fee.

Doing a chargeback without even trying to contact the merchant when you wish to undo a purchase is a very scummy thing to do, except in cases where it was definitely a fraudulent charge.

And it probably would get your Google account locked for fraud, brah.

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