Time For Google To Get Serious About Enterprise Tech Support

We are in the final stages of completely switching Foundry Group to Google Apps. This began as an experiment in August 2010 when I decided to Try Gmail for a Week and evolved into an actual plan after Gmail Won Me Over in September 2010. We took it slow to make sure it was actually possible to easily switch from a legacy Microsoft Exchange environment where everyone’s brains were hard wired with Outlook and Windows and shared calendars managed by multiple assistants were a critical business function for a relatively small number of people who travelled constantly.

It’s been a huge success. Oh, and a bunch of Mac’s crept into the organization at the same time. I’m now 100% Mac and am amused by myself whenever I try to do something on a Windows machine (after using Windows or DOS for my entire professional life.) And the integration / proliferation with iPhones and iPads is entertainingly sweet.

For all of the success with the migration to Google Apps, there is one very big obvious thing missing. Google doesn’t have an enterprise support approach. We are lucky in that we have lots of friends at Google so when we need to do weird things (like – ahem – port my Google Voice number from my Gmail account to my Google Apps account) we are able to find someone to do the magic for us. Or when the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange tool crashes in the middle of the night on a mailbox migration that is 10 hours into its conversion, we can find our way to someone that actually works on this tool who makes some changes to the backend processor that fixes the problem. And, when this happens on another mailbox migration, we can get to them again to help us fix the problem while they debug the tool for our error case.

Now, there is a Google Enterprise Customer and Partner Site and there is plenty of Google Apps enterprise level help on the web. But that’s not the issue. At 7am, when the guy doing the migration checks in and sees a error message that says something like “Failure: While migrating Email for [email protected] to Google [email protected] Error:80041065” you kind of want to call 1-800-HELPMERIGHTNOWBEFOREANYONESHOWSUPATTHEOFFICE.

There are nice, well proven pricing models for either (a) per instance support or (b) per user annual support. And, if Google wants to be price disruptive, just charge 10% of whatever Oracle or Microsoft charges. Or be like WordPerfect and charge nothing. But put a real enterprise level support organization behind this with humans to call.

The really cool thing about Google Apps is that once you are migrated, there doesn’t seem to be any need for support. I’ve been using Google Apps for four months and I don’t believe I’ve had a single issue that I couldn’t figure out myself. I’ve seen a number of new features automagically roll out and I’ve just started using them. Basically, the post conversion / deployment experience has been superb. And, someday, when Google finishes a real single sign on approach between my Gmail and Google Apps account and finishes their migration to their new infrastructure so I can really use things like Youtube on my Apps account without having to log out of apps / log into gmail / logout of gmail / log into apps to save stuff, I probably won’t even notice that there is any complexity.

Regardless of if and when Google ever gets around to this, I want to thank all of my friends at Google for their help whenever issues came up. You guys are awesome.

  • Completely agree, Brad. This is a pre-requisite for growing the enterprise business. However, the same issues exist on the consumer side of the business, as evidenced by the challenges faced by owners of the original Nexus phones. Google was simply unprepared to provide adequate support/service. Hopefully they’ll think twice before launching consumer-facing businesses that require “real” support without doing the requisite preparation in advance. Sometimes I get the feeling that Google truly doesn’t understand (or more likely, chooses to ignore) such fundamentals as a proper product launch and alignment of services/support with the users of the products. Given that the average user of Google tech doesn’t have the insider connections your team does, perhaps a bit more “adult supervision” is still needed….

  • One of the biggest issues I have with Google, despite being a big fan of Google Apps, is that there’s no obvious way to port my Google Voice number from Gmail to Apps without connections to make it happen as you have done, Brad.

    There are lots of small businesses like myself in the non-tech field and without help or support you end up with a mish mash of functioning, but not connecting stuff, which of course is a big pain.

    • They are close to rolling this out to everyone – expect it soon.

      • Now that makes me very happy, glad to hear it!

    • Actually, there is a way to migrate Google Voice from Gmail to Google Apps (it’s unofficial, but works):


      Migrating Google Apps accounts is very painful. For email, even though Google offers free migration tools for Premier customers, we still get many customers who prefer to use our service (http://migrationbox.com). And try migrating your Google Docs… that’s outright impossible.

      • Yes very true re: migrating Google Docs. I had to resort a low tech solution, ie sending all my work docs by Gmail and re-saving them on the Google Apps account. Took ages, when it really shouldn’t have done 🙁

  • Completely the same experience except we migrated all the way back in Jan 2007!

    Same things:

    1. we’ve had only maybe 2 or 3 situations in 4 years where we actually needed support which is amazing for an enterprise app that is used so intensely by all our team.

    2. We needed a lot of support when we migrated but had to get it from friends working in google so not sure what happens if you don’t have those connections.

    3. Google should have some sort of paid support line for humans – even for piece of mind to encourage people to move

  • Interesting, basically what you’re saying is that it would have been impossible to migrate to Google Apps if you didn’t have contacts in Google who could personally help you. That actually doesn’t sound particularly good at all, does it?

    • I think we could have managed it – we would have just had to mess around with different import tools / approaches, probably sacrificed some historical data, and taken more time waiting for people to get back to us via email support (or not). I don’t think this would have caused us not to be able to finish the migration – it just would have been a lot more painful.

  • I don’t understand why someone with a gmail account can purchase extra storage for their mail (and pictures/docs) while a google apps premier account is limited to the 25 gb’s. So frustrating to have paid accounts that aren’t able to expand while the free accounts can grow infinitely. No one wants to delete email – please just charge me for more space!

  • Mark Phillips

    I also can’t figure out why they don’t have a serious contact management component to GoogleApps.

    • No luck in the Google Apps Marketplace? I like Batchbook alot. Capsule was alright. SF.com is expensive but the Apps integration is pretty sweet. Zoho is another decent option. Highrise is nice but doesn’t really play as nice with Apps as the others.

      Adding Rapportive is a really nice touch for some social CRM functionality.

      • Mark Phillips

        I haven’t looked at Batchbook or Rapportive. I’ll check them out, though. Thanks!

  • Concur with this, generally. I have actually experienced an issue post-migration – “Yes” replies to meeting invites from a colleague are never actually inserted into my calendar – but in general the experience is trouble free.

    But whether it’s pre-migration or post-migration, there need to be better support options than the underperforming forums.

  • Do you think this may be an opportunity for a third party to offer enterprise support for Google?

    • Possibly, although after my discussion today with the person running
      all of Enterprise Support for Google, I think they are very serious
      about getting this right and doing it quickly.

      • I’m not sure if it’s related but I know they’re also running partners through specific cert programs beyond what they had done previously. Organizing that better would help as well, it’s not really coordinated right now.

        • I disagree with this perspective. I think Google takes their
          relationship with their users very seriously and responsibility. In
          general, the performance and support dynamics I’ve experienced with
          Google are >= everyone else in the industry. My point with this post
          was to encourage them to step up to the next level, which after a
          phone call and a few emails from folks at Google today I think they
          are taking very seriously (not prompted by this email, but prompted by
          their desire in general to be excellent at this.)

          • Neil

            I don’t think it’s reasonable to use your experiences as a measure of Google’s overall support. Support at Google is predicated upon your ability to get the attention of an employee who can do something about your problem. You have both personal connections and have through your work and your blog you’re fairly high profile (at least in this ecosystem).

          • Neil

            I should add that I do appreciate you’re trying to bring attention to this problem to Google’s execs.

  • I bumped into this issue when we bought torbit.com. The guy who had owned the domain before had used Google Apps as well, but didn’t release it when he transferred the domain to us. This resulted in the domain going into limbo where we couldn’t set up Google Apps and there was nothing we could do until I blogged about it and someone on the inside flipped the switch.

    As far as signing into multiple accounts at once, it sounds like you might not have seen this:

    • I’m familiar with the two gmail sign on and used it for awhile, but
      it’s really clunky – too many stateless issues.

  • I’ll add the chorus of others in resounding agreement. One area in particular that has perplexed me for it’s complete lack of corporate support channels is android development. Say what you will about Microsoft – they have done a pretty good job at offering paid support contracts for corporate dev shops. For those of us looking at android dev in the corporate setting, we’d *gladly* pay for annual support. Android is such a new platform that I think most of could benefit from having someone to contact with our noob questions (and bugs). The current support model for the masses appears to be some combination of StackOverflow and google groups, which is far too unreliable for most corporate projects.

  • What have been the big positives in the Google Apps transition?

    What things, expected or otherwise, changed so dramatically for the better that you cannot imagine going back?

    • Google Apps is so much faster, especially when I’m on the road. The
      collaborative issues are much better, and the overall performance
      across multiple devices is incredible. It’s also much simpler to deal
      with once you know the ins and outs.

  • Pat

    OMG, yes. And sometimes even when you know someone on the inside “nothing can be done”.

    When given a choice, no sane business owner should rely on Google for a mission-critical app. Such a business has a serious risk exposure to Google, and no legal recourse. If that app goes down, is removed/deleted due to some mysterious ToS violation, or Google does an upgrade that breaks things, the business is relying on the kindness of strangers.

    More at: http://sworddance.com/blog/2011/01/24/no-sane-business-owner-should-depend-on-google/

    Oh and for those people who say: “Google is big. They will make sure everything is wonderful.”

    My answer is: “Google is big and you are small. The elephant is *indifferent* to the ants.”

    For mission-critical apps, businesses are advised to be in the right-sized pond for their “fish size”. Businesses need to have someone able to pick up the phone and respond.

    “Community Support” does not really cut it.

  • Gregg Dourgarian

    Worse yet is Google support for Adwords. We’ve radically reduced our adword spend because – not having friends on the inside like many of the posters here – we are left bereft of support regarding issues like click-fraud.

    Microsoft in comparison is the Zappos of tech support.

  • I wonder whether the lack of customer service on Google’s end will be detrimental when it comes to their entrance into group-buying (i.e. Google Deals). I know that Groupon has gone above-and-beyond when it comes to customer service both on the merchant and customer side of things by responding within 24 hours to inquiries and having their phone numbers available to anyone who calls.

    You might have a little bit more insight to the group-buying space since you’ve mentored Deal Co-op here in Seattle for TechStars. Would love to get your thoughts on this. Thanks.

  • Lot’s of partners out there for people interested in support. Google Apps Marketplace lists dozens.

    How come you don’t mention the telephone support or enterprise portal to log support tickets?

    Personally I’d like every company to invest more heavily in support. We have direct access too and tons of practice so we don’t have any problems. If we do we ping folks directly.

    Any particular reason you didn’t mention the current support options? Even if you had a bad experience with them, I think they’re at least worth acknowledging… more support is always good too though.

    • All good points. We’ve worked with one (Cloud Sherpas) and they’ve
      been good, but there are definitely dead ends where they just say “try
      it again.”

      Re: Google’s current support options – after a call together with the
      person running all enterprise support, I am very encouraged by the way
      they are approaching this / thinking about long term enterprise level

    • Agreed with Joe. I took a bit of time to outline the various levels of support offer both directly by Google and indirectly by their channel. http://infuzeit.com/blog/google-already-has-serious-enterprise-tech-support

      IMO, Google is progressing in very similar ways that IBM, EMC, Microsoft, etc. have matured in these areas… leverage and nurture the channel. Finding them is tough, the Google Apps Marketplace is a bit like the wild west (similar to the Android Marketplace). But that is the same for Microsoft and their Certified Partner program.

  • Here’s where it gets interesting… I decided to follow Eduardo’s link and try it out. There was no Google Voice link in my Google Apps account. I checked that the language was set to English (US) and downloaded the Voice package. Nothing appeared in Safari. Tried again in Chrome and Firefox. No Voice phone appears each time even with opening and closing the browsers and rebooting my Mac. Never mind porting a number to G Apps, it would be nice to even get the phone icon appear to start with!!

    It works fine with Gmail but not G Apps and moot to Brad’s point, I’m now stuck with no help from Google getting this fixed. At least with Apple I can book an appointment with a Genius and get their things fixed, with Google you’re on your own and no remission for good behaviour.

  • Simple solution: Hire a couple of key Support execs from my old boss Salesforce.com. They are the best in the business. (Note, I’m not encouraging anyone to leave Salesforce, per my confidentiality agreement; merely pointing out that SFDC has A-player enterprise SAAS support talent).

    I don’t think enterprise third party support works that great. Some have tried, none have succeeded that I know of.

  • “Go fuck yourself and here’s a forum to help.” That’s the best way I’ve heard Google tech support described.

  • Michael Gates

    I’ve never tried Google Apps but I’ve heard the same stories about their customer service. I currently use Microsoft’s BPOS which consists of their cloud versions of SharePoint, Exchange, Live Meeting and Communicator. The technical support from Microsoft on this product has been outstanding.

  • Brad, I sit on the outside of the problem. Google have not yet got their heads around their Enterprise Partner (EP) Program as of yet. My company has been an EP partner for sometime now and we are frustrated having spent a fair bit of cash building up the expertise to help companies like yours. Yet we do not get to hear about it and they do not have an easy way for end users to get in touch with us.
    The majority of our accounts, as mentioned in the comments, do not need much support after migration. But during the migration stage there are a number of tricks and best practice ways to make for a pleasant migration.

    For those that are thinking about migrating or are in the middle of migrating, there is a EP partner network out there that have the experience and skills. Use them as they can also flick the switch for you.


    • As a customer, I’ve had similar challenges. If it wasn’t for fantastic partner’s like Artec Cloud (Andrew’s company), I would have had many more challenges trying to get Enterprise Support from Google. My advice is to leverage the EP partner network as Andrew suggests until Google steps up their game.

  • This is hilarious and so true.


  • Adrian Meli

    Agree with the post, I have been surprised Google hasn’t evolved into the customer support world given that they are trying to crack Microsoft on the enterprise side. On the one hand, letting outsourced providers of their service fight over Google installation dollars is pretty intelligent as the outsourcers will compete returns down and allow Google to extract all excess profits without doing the work. On the other hand, if the goal is to take share and extract power from Microsoft this may be a penny wise pound foolish approach. As your post references, it seems clear that many more organizations would consider switching if Google had great support. – Adrian Meli

  • Bob

    if you’re in chrome, open the links in incognito mode … lets you access google products without logging out of your google apps account