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.
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.
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.
They are real people and they do care.
Google simply utterly ignores any kind of complaint. There is no worse way to treat people than to completely deny their existence.
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.
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.
In a way, that they do so many things right makes the terrible support harder to swallow ;)
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.
Unless you do not, as in this case.
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.
Not that this excuses their behavior. App developers are a source of revenue, and treating them as such would be less evil.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All this time I've given Google no money at all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
They didn't need to become a retail company, but they understood that the customer would be better served that way.
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.
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.
>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?  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!
I don't get any email support from a soda vending machine.