Don’t confuse users with customers

This post on Web 2.0/Startup focused blog “Mashable” seems to make a classic mistake.

A fellow got locked out of his Google account, and couldn’t get the company to respond to his requests for support.

This guy’s experience sucks and Google should fix it, but maybe not exactly for the reasons that you. Always remember that unless you’re paying somebody money, you’re a user, not a customer. Customers pay for service, and Google’s customers are by and large, advertisers.

I have a hunch that Mashable and the commenters on that post are confusing being a user of a Web site with being a customer of that Web site.

One could argue that you are a customer of Google’s because you see the ads they serve. But from that perspective your actions contribute such a negligible amount of value in that manner that it’s not economical for Google to care that much about what happens to individuals. Your Lifetime Value as a viewer of Google advertisements probably doesn’t add up to the hour it’ll take some technician to fix your problem.

Ads are paid for in “CPM”– that means “Cost Per Thousand” views. The “M” stands for a thousand; I presume they use roman numerals for some reason you could look up on Google. So an advertiser gets paid every thousand times you view a page. Over your lifetime, you will view thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pages of ads. But even though Google doesn’t release the prices of their ads, and some ads are worth more than others, lemme tell you that it doesn’t cost all that much to buy a view thousand CPM ad. So Google’s gotta weigh the probable value of your ad-viewing vs. the time it’ll take to fix your problem.

Actually, they weigh the average value of the average user vs. the average time it takes to fix the average account problem. Apparently, that calculation adds up to only a certain amount of customer support per single-user-affecting incident. They do try, as the Mashable post attests, but they don’t try very hard.

In the case of this poor guy locked out of his account, as Rob mentions below, he’s actually a paying customer of Google– he pays for extra storage. Does the calculation still return a result of ignore-him-’til-he-goes-away? I think it might.

Google isn’t necessarily looking to create the most robust and dependable service online, even when you’re willing to pay them for it. I think Google’s primary focus is page views, and throwing things onto the Web that will increase their page views as much as possible. So the calculation of “should we go the extra mile to fix an individual extra-storage customer’s problem” probably still comes out negative.

Do you think advertisers on Google’s network suffer the same lack of response to their problems?

Now, if everybody on Gmail got locked out, well then Google would respond, because it would impact their volume in a tangible way and pinch their REAL customers in a very painful place. Even then, the user clamor would only be a telltale alert that the ruckus that really matters is on its way from the corner where huddle the wretched masses of businesses whose ads weren’t being served. Ads they pay for in advance.

[Note: I failed to notice in the Mashable post that the person in question pays Google for storage, so now instead of being certain about whether the poster and commenters are making that “classic mistake”, the post now just assumes they are and makes its silly point anyway.]



  1. You’re totally right. I’ve modified the post accordingly. I probably should just remove the mashable reference completely, but my gut tells me that they still need to hear it.

    And besides, referencing Mashable might get another hit over here or two, right? I’m sure it’s totally acceptable to make dubious accusations merely for the sake of a few page views. I should add some AdSense real quick.

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