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What Google Can't Do: Customer Support

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Search giant isn't prepared for such a large complaint volume on Nexus One.

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For the first time in recent memory, Google (GOOG) may have stepped into an enterprise it's not equipped to adequately handle.

With the release of its much-anticipated Nexus One smartphone, Google has opted to market the phone to the consumer directly -- rather than going through a mobile provider. By doing so, it has invited Nexus One customers to approach the company online whenever they run into an issue with the device.

"Invited" to the online support might be the wrong term. It's more like "succumb to".

Fielding customer reports would normally be a headache, even with a phone that exhibited no glaring issue -- technical questions and comments alone are capable of that. However, the Nexus One -- like many early device models -- has a few notable flaws that have brought users to Google's online help forums in droves. And unfortunately for those unlucky users, that looks to be the only place where they can find help from Google.

No customer support phone number. No brick-and-mortar shop. By selling the Nexus One directly from the site, customers are forced to wait an average of one to two days for Google to address a problem by email. In short, Nexus One owners better get used to scouring help forums and FAQs to find a solution.

Even though Google isn't the only company behind the new smartphone, customers are finding little assistance from T-Mobile (DT), the current mobile provider, or HTC, the hardware designer. According to one complaint thread, customers who called T-Mobile were told to contact HTC, and anyone contacting HTC was told to call T-Mobile. Google is left standing in the middle and online assistance is the only option, though it does provide handy links to the other two companies.

Although several issues are being discussed, Google is currently suffering through a deluge of customer complaints about a specific problem -- one that the company ironically tried to alleviate by offering an option to the iPhone (AAPL) and AT&T (T).

Many Nexus One owners are finding themselves at the mercy of spotty 3G service. It looks to be not an issue with the cell provider but with the hardware, as evidenced by a Gizmodo article comparing a Nexus One and a G1 side by side. The G1 displays 3G access, while the Nexus One is relegated to the slower EDGE network. No viable solution has yet been offered.

Making matters worse, one support thread cited an instance where HTC reps erroneously claimed the Nexus One doesn't support 3G and Google responded to a complaint five hours later with the infuriating "Try turning it off and back on again" -- a phrase that fans of The IT Crowd should already be familiar with.

Other issues include confusion over T-Mobile's upgrade policies, delayed purchase confirmation, and unusual onscreen error messages.

At last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Google's Vice President of Engineering Andy Rubin admitted that the company needs to improve its assistance with customers. "We have to get better at customer service," Rubin said in a conference. That would have been the pull-quote for the evening if he didn't later mention his aversion to multitouch displays, implying he's the reason why the international Nexus One has it but the US version doesn't.

As if Nexus One owners needed more to be aggravated about.

Google's foray in direct marketing has produced a fumble impossible to ignore. The company simply wasn't ready to adequately field complaints over a product Google itself hyped to an enormous degree. No matter how perfect a device can be, more customers equals more complaints. And until Google establishes a dedicated help line -- or, at the very least, HTC gets on the same page over 3G coverage -- it can't expect its customers to be any less irate.

Google did not reply to a request for a comment
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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