Google Apps tech support falls short

A reader asks the Gripe Line to help solve a problem with Google after being left in limbo by the company's Postini service

Gripe Line reader Dana recently reached her wit's end with Google Apps and Postini services -- though her problems started when the company transitioned its billing system about year ago.

"When I signed up for service, I was supposed to get an activation email with instructions on setting up a billing portal," she explains. "I didn't get that email. And the billing portal seems to be the only place where you can tell Google not to automatically renew service."

[ For a look at where tech support is going, read Christina Tynan-Wood's "The (better) future of tech support." | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

To make this frustration worse, she got nowhere when looking for help online: "I inquired on the Postini forum, where I got a reseller who played a classic game of 'blame the user' rather than offering to investigate. I was able to get hold of a Google representative by going to Google Checkout and making an inquiry about the original purchase transaction. But the person there who offered me a ray of hope eventually told me Google's support team would not help me because I hadn't signed up for service at a $1,500 level."

Because of her inability to reach support, Dana moved her customers to another service, one that offers phone, chat, and email support to customers of all sizes. But she was so frustrated with the simple act of trying to cancel her service that she wrote to the Gripe Line.

I contacted Google on her behalf and quickly found myself on the phone with Google's enterprise support. Bruce Pine, Google's enterprise support manager, thanked me for bringing Dana's dilemma to his attention. "This sounds like a frustrating experience," he says, "and we're sorry."

Dana, it seems, was part of a small group of enterprise customers who got caught in a technical snafu.

"During last year's transition to a new billing system a small handful of our active customers didn't receive our update on the process," he says. "We've tried to contact the affected customers, but we apparently didn't reach them all."

He assures me that Dana need not worry about her unused account being automatically charged. "None of these users were charged renewal fees," he says. "If any of your readers is experiencing this issue, they can contact us here."

As for the unhelpful forum monitor and the cold shoulder from phone support?

"Our support goal is to give customers the fastest answer with the best possible experience, and that is most often through online support," Pine says. "For Postini customers requiring higher-touch support, we offer phone support at no additional cost above a $1,500 minimum purchase price. Or they may purchase phone support directly from a reseller partner. But clearly our online support wasn't good enough in this case, and we'll do better."

I checked back with Dana and she tells me that support has, indeed, improved. "In the past week or so, support improved vastly from what it had been," she says. "It is now easy to open a support case online. A nice, unusually helpful woman took care of another domain that I was having the same Postini problem with and she promised me the domain would not auto-renew. I feel badly that their earlier lack of responsiveness prompted me to leave."

Dana was also impressed that this giant company listened to its forum customers, the Gripe Line, or whatever it was that brought this problem to its attention and turned it around. But she issued a warning: "Google shouldn't forget that DEC, IBM, and Microsoft all got a little too big for their own good. And that led to big problems for them."

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