In an August 5 post titled "When Google Owns You," Chris Brogan wrote:
"Nick Saber isn’t happy now. Monday afternoon, after lunch, Nick came back from lunch to find out that he couldn’t get into his Gmail account. Further, he couldn’t get into anything that Google made (beside search) where his account credentials once worked. When attempting to log in, Nick got a single line message:
Sorry, your account has been disabled. [?]
Chris Brogan posted a follow-up on August 6 with a more complete reply from Google:
"Our specialists performed a thorough investigation of your account ID: firstname.lastname@example.org. It appeared that your account was compromised on 08/01, and an unauthorized charge of $490.30 was attempted in your Google Checkout Account. For security purposes, we suspended this account to prevent additional activity and charges. We’d also like to assure you that the security and confidentiality of your personal information, including your credit card number, is our highest priority."
Why didn't Google send Nick this explanatory response in the beginning? It explained an effective response to an important situation. Why did Nick have to write Google repeatedly to get this explanation? That's no way to treat a customer. And, Nick is a paying customer, since he paid for additional storage space.
I'm sure that Google executives see their treatment of Nick as consistent with the Google Terms of Service:
"4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you."
"4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account."
So, Google has hidden behind some nifty legal language. It may help them avoid liability, but is it good customer service? Why take a position that is poor customer service, when it can be easily avoided?
A better first response by Google would have been, "We have noticed some unauthorized activity and charges on your account, probably due to identity fraud. While we are continuing to investigate, we have temporarily suspended your account to prevent further fraud and charges. The data you have with Google has been backed up and will not be deleted. If you believe this account suspension to be in error, please contact us at XXXX@google.com or toll-free at (XXX) xxx-xxxx. Thank you for your patience while we investigate this situation."
Google would have received extra points if its response also explained whether or not Nick's account suspension was related to the data breach at Colt Express Outsourcing Services, which also affected Google employees.
Now, that would have been a more timely, comprehensive, professional, and customer-friendly response. According to InformationWeek:
"It turns out that Nick was able to restore access to his account after several hours of dealing with Google customer support. Until his account was restored, his business was at a loss. Without access to his Google account, he couldn't get anything done."
What lessons can a consumer, or a SOHO business owner, learn from Nick's experience?
- The old saying, "Don't place all of your eggs in one basket" still applies. Bad stuff will happen, even with state-of-the-art Internet applications. Don't be bamboozled by the new technology
- Have a backup e-mail address with your ISP, Yahoo, or Hotmail (if you use Gmail), and a second web site measurement tool (if you use Google Analytics)
- If you must use Gmail and other Google applications, back up important data
- Supposedly state-of-the-art Internet companies aren't any better than brick-and-mortar retail companies at notifying consumers about a data breach or identity fraud
- If the application is free, the quality of support you are likely to receive will match what you paid