If theres one issue that consistently cheeses off consumers, its being unable to get a human being on the phone when you have a problem with a company. And few companies make this tougher than Google.
Steve Gillette, 61, in Orange County, Calif., recently found himself receiving strange text messages and calls from the Silicon Valley search giant. They seemed to be prompting him to disclose personal information.
He tried to contact Google to see whether the company was really reaching out to him or whether a scam was being perpetrated. And he wanted to speak with a real person.
Google, however, doesnt want to speak with Gillette or with any of its millions of other users. The company makes it virtually impossible to get an actual employee or service rep on the phone.
Its an issue thats become increasingly common in todays business world, especially among technology companies that seem to assume their customers are as comfortable with digital communications as they are.
Google, Facebook, Twitter good luck getting through to anyone at each company, let alone finding a number you can call that a real person will answer. They go out of their way to keep their millions of customers at an electronic distance.
We think its a faster and better experience, said Andrea Freund, a company spokeswoman. Because we have so many users, we can scan the issues users are having and determine how to fix them and make them better.
But what if someone really, really wants to speak with a human being? Doesnt Google, which boasts more than 1 billion unique visitors monthly and which pocketed nearly $10 billion in profit last year, have a responsibility to make itself available to customers in need?
We have 350 million Gmail users alone, Freund said. Its just not feasible to offer phone support.
Gillette, who works as a retoucher of digital photos and thus knows a thing or two about technology, received a pair of text messages recently providing a six-digit Google verification code. He ignored them.
A few hours later, Gillette received several robo-calls instructing him to press 1 on his cellphone to confirm his Google information.
It seemed like the smart thing to do at this point was contact Google, Gillette said. If it was a scam, I wanted them to know about it.
I conveyed Gillettes issues to Freund, including copies of the mysterious text messages and the nature of the robo-calls. She said shed look into the matter.
Apparently the whole thing was due to a typo. Someone had signed up for Googles security-verification program for his or her Google account, but entered the wrong cellphone number. Gillettes number was entered instead. So the texts and calls were legit. They were just going to the wrong person.
If you go to the contact us page on Googles website, youll find a snail-mail address for the companys Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. Youll find links for searching online help queries or to participate in online forums.
What you wont find is a phone number, or even a simple email address to report potential fraud. The entire system appears designed to keep you from actually reaching the company.
Call me old-fashioned, but any business that specializes in providing services to millions of customers has a responsibility to be accountable to those customers.
DAVID LAZARUS Consumer columnist and contributor to American Public Medias Marketplace radio program