It would appear that Google is learning something about customer service: Google is selling the phone directly to end-users. That means many users are turning to it first, and the search giant doesn’t have the kind of customer support that mobile-phone users are accustomed to.[…] Another [customer] using the name SouthFlGuy was also sent back and forth between HTC and T-Mobile after finding no help from Google. “I guess I was under the wrong impression but I thought Google would handle the service on the phone,” he wrote.
This goes to the “dumb pipes” argument we often hear: that our dinosaur-like carriers (AT&T et al) need to stop trying to be clever and just offer raw bandwidth. No software, no upsells, just give us a pipe.
The carriers, not surprisingly, want to control the customer relationship, and so do what they can to “value-add”. This might take the form of their own app stores or media subscriptions. Being a commodity bandwidth provider is a low-margin, undifferentiated business.
When you are dealing with a mass customer base — this might be consumers or it might be large enterprises — support is the unsexy thing that no one wants to talk about. Answering the phone for millions of customers is no small task, and it’s not something that you can do well at the flick of a switch.
And so Google is discovering what Microsoft and AT&T have known for a long time: support is a whole business unto itself. “Owning the relationship” means “answering the phone” — these things are synonymous. Anybody can write decent code or put up cell towers — but really handling customers requires a more mature company.
Google is taking a page from Apple’s iPhone playbook: take back the customer relationship. It can be great for consumers and for the companies that succeed in doing it. Just be careful what you wish for.