[Editor's Note: today's blog post is by guest author William Seebeck. During the 1980's, Bill and I worked together at Lexis-Nexis in Dayton, Ohio. Bill has a wealth of experience in online systems, banking, publishing, and public relations. Bill also blogs at Seebeck's View.]
By Bill Seebeck
Google, a household name. I use it everyday. I google this and google that and get a nice result. Google is my friend. I trust Google. Until...
Earlier this week, I needed to speak with someone at Google. You know like customer service. I wanted to ask them about some confusion I had about one of their online products that I use called AdSense. I had received some e-mail requesting very, very personal information for my AdSense account that those of us that are concerned about online privacy teach others never to respond to when they receive them. So, I was very confused when Google asked me for such data by e-mail. I needed to verify first that it was indeed Google that was making such inquiries -- and then why?
So, I went to the Google website and searched all over the place for information related to what I wanted and was unsuccessful. Then I looked for a telephone number so I could call and ask my questions. No phone number. You could send an e-mail, but since I wouldn't give anyone the information they were requesting, I wanted to hear a human voice tell me what this was all about. All of a sudden, I realized that the Google website was designed to keep me and others away from the company.
Then, I checked my BusinessWeek online, looked up Google, it is after all a public company, got the local phone number, checked the list of key employees, found the person in charge of products and services and gave them a call.
The call went something like this:
Google: Hello, this is Google, how can I help you?
Me: May I have Mr. X please?
Google: What is your business with Mr. X?
Me: I need to ask Mr. X about one of Google's products.
Google: If you have questions about Google products, you need to go to the website and use the e-mail.
Me: I don't want to use the e-mail, I need to speak with a person please.
Google: I'm sorry we don't do that.
Me: Well, let me speak with someone then in corporate communications.
Google: We don't have a corporate communications.
Me: Public relations then.
Google: Do you have a specific name in public relations?
Google: Well then I can't help you.
Me: Then, can you connect me to investor relations.
Google: Do you have a specific name in investor relations?
Google: Well then, I can't help you.
Me: Listen, this is crazy, are you saying that there is no one to talk to at Google?
Google: I have a very short list of people that people can speak with but, if you don't know their specific names and can't tell me what specific business you are doing with them, then I'm sorry I can't connect you.
End of conversation.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines a monolith as, "a large and impersonal political, corporate or social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform."
So, when you call Google, the monolith, it responds, "Welcome to Google. Go away."
Now I've been in the online business for 27 years and I have never experienced such behavior.
My next step took me to their most recent earnings press release and yes, I found a name of a person in corporate communications. I called but got their voice mail. I left a message and said I had two questions. First, was why was Google making itself so unavailable to the public, and second, I needed to ask some serious questions about their product AdSense. Well, I have yet to hear from them.
I have to admit that Google is not alone in its Internet strategy. They and others use their websites to inform but also use it to block the public and as a way to control access.
Now, I am sure that Google or others that have such a strategy will say that thousands of people will call if they give out a phone number. Maybe that is true, and maybe that's good. How do you know what your marketplace is up to? What are people feeling? Are you satisfied that e-mails provide you with the true trends with which to gauge your business in the future?
Thirty years ago, my boss at the time, J. Peter Grace, CEO of W.R. Grace & Company, put out a memo to all employees (numbered in the thousands) and told us to answer our own phones. None of us, he said were too big to do that and in our humility, we might learn something about our business. He also said that some of the calls might not be pleasing, but then that was the way we took responsibility for our actions in the course of doing our work.
Now, I realize that many things have happened since those days, but what hasn't changed is that when you sell to the public, you are responsible to the public. When you think that you are better than the public you serve, then someday it comes back on you.
Take a look around Google, you can see the carnage of many companies that didn't think they needed to be responsible to the public.
What do the readers think about this? Let us know below.
Copyright 2009 WBSeebeck. Reprinted with permission.