Trouble with getting support from Google Inc. for that Nexus One handset? Never fear, Google said on Wednesday. It’s working to make sure issues will be resolved “quickly.”
It’s unclear if consumers will buy that promise. Google has had a rough first week since the launch of its Nexus One “superphone,” managing to rack up customer complaints and draw fierce criticism for its online-only support approach. Wireless consumers are completely unused to the lack of live phone help, an import from the Web world. But users who have purchased the high-end Android-based handset have only a support forum to turn to with issues.
And the volume of those issues is mounting: Users used to talking to a real person are posting concerns, asking for help with everything from spotty 3G service to battery problems, and are expecting immediate responses. Unfortunately, those are responses that anecdotally have not been forthcoming.
Nonetheless, “we work quickly to solve any customer support issues as they come up, and we are trying to be as open and transparent as possible through our online customer help forums,” the company told InformationWeek. “We’ll continue to address all issues in as timely of a manner as possible.”
The situation has raised the question of whether Google’s lack of a live technical support and service organization will serve to be its Achilles Heel as it attempts to shake up the accepted carrier delivery model for wireless.
The Internet specialist is selling the Google-branded device directly to consumers via a Web storefront, giving Google control of the customer relationship, and relegating the carriers to connectivity partners. For now, users can buy the phone unlocked or bundled with T-Mobile USA service; Verizon Wireless, Vodafone plc and other carriers’ service will be offered by Google from within the portal later in the year.
The model puts Google at the heart of the customer experience by allowing it to be directly involved in the management of core applications, OS capabilities and updates.
Analysts were initially bullish. “What Google does better than any other high-tech company is change the business models of the high-tech market while promoting innovation,” said Jim McGregor, analyst at In-Stat. “Google has changed the way we use and what we pay for software. The company changed the entire advertising industry. Google created a new revenue model for a high-tech company. And, Google continues to enhance the dynamics and innovation of the Internet. Entering the cellular market in this fashion may finally break the walled gardens that the OEMs and carriers have created to protect their markets.”
But this latest move also puts Google into the position of being the front line of contact for customer support – a role it seems unprepared for, even as wireless carriers have spent millions of dollars to perfect support through software and training. The customer support experience in fact is the subject of a great many differentiation strategies, and is known to be one of the top reasons users churn. Poor customer support, in other words, could take the wind out of the Nexus One promise.
In fact, mobile application market research firm Flurry published sales estimates that indicate first-week sales of the much-anticipated Nexus One have been disappointing.
Only about 20,500 of the new phones have sold so far, Flurry claims. By comparison, Verizon’s Motorola Droid, benefitting from an unprecedented $100 million advertising blitz (and top-notch customer care, it must be noted), has been a fly-off-the-shelves success.