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KELLNER: Google, Apple ‘get’ customer service

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Though the notion might evoke thoughts of an old "Twilight Zone" episode, a book titled "How to Serve Your Tech Users" should be required reading in many precincts.

The folks at Google and Apple, among a few others, probably could just skim such a book. These two firms are among the very few that "get it" when it comes to meeting the needs of their users. In Google's case, individual customers pay little or nothing for the bulk of the firm's services, and yet such folks often are treated as if we're royalty.

Ditto for Apple, whose next version of the Macintosh operating system, code-named Lion, should arrive for upgrades/downloads any day now, along with a new iOS operating system for iPhones, iPads and the like.

These two firms stand in stark contrast to, for example, the Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) firm that has supplied me with service for the past seven years or so at a cost of about $300 a year. This company, which will remain nameless for now, has a help desk so unprofessional, it makes the fictional Dunder Mifflin look like a case study for the Wharton School of Business. I'm sure I'll get my issue resolved, eventually, but not without aging a bit in the process.

The no-stress way of doing things is what's so very appealing about many aspects of Google's and Apple's interactions with customers. Take software: With Google's Chrome browser, updates are automatic or easily suggested. Clicking on the "About" button in the Mac version of Google's Chrome Web browser, I got a reminder to restart the browser and upgrade, a process accomplished in what seemed to be nanoseconds. (Mostly, the upgrades are even less intrusive, occurring when the program starts.) Fast, easy, no fuss, a sharp contrast to, well, anything in Microsoft Windows, where a series of permission requests for most upgrades could tax even Mother Teresa's patience.

On the Apple side, I'm usually greeted by periodic messages from Apple saying my programs are ready for an update. At most, I might have to enter a system password to authorize the changes, or restart a computer for the changes to take effect, but that's about it. The "fuss level" is way below what it once was. As I was writing this column, five Apple-created applications on my iMac were updated without a hiccup.

In both cases, of course, Internet connectivity is essential: Because I have a live link to the Net, my computer and the servers at Apple and Google can communicate and do the update tango with ease. To be fair, the same can be said in many cases for my wife's Windows-based notebook.

But the Google and Apple connection seems a bit more seamless, and not just in updates. Consider Google's launch of Google+, a social-networking portal that's already claimed about 10 million users, according to news reports. It's supposedly a "Facebook killer," allowing users to share bits of news, links and whatever else in a manner that seems more elegant than Facebook.

I haven't explored Google+ to its full potential yet, but I am impressed that once on board, it was integrated with anything else I had from Google, including the aforementioned Chrome Web browser and even Google's iPhone app. A simple tap of agreement, and I was connected there, too.

A final kudo goes to Google's Gmail service: That site is undergoing a redesign that users can try now. It looks neat and clean and is highly customizable. Giving such a level of control to the user can only be a good thing in this reviewer's opinion.

As more services venture into the computing "cloud" of network-based applications and storage, this kind of user focus is essential. Few customers will happily suffer uncooperative or hard-to-use platforms or companies whose idea of customer support turns into a self-parody. There are tons of other suppliers out there, and allegiances can shift quickly.

Ms. Tech Businessperson, you've been warned.

• Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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