Google has long received mixed-to-negative criticism for its customer service — or lack thereof. But Francoise Brougher is changing all that. Perhaps the least well-known senior executive outside Google, the VP of Global Advertising and Product Operations has quietly built an impressive telephone customer support organization for Google AdWords advertisers.
Telephone support for AdWords was first announced earlier this year in April and it saw some coverage. However since that time Google has been silent about it. I spoke to Brougher roughly a week ago and was surprised to hear how large and sophisticated the operation has become.
A Thousand Reps Servicing 60 Countries
Google has invested heavily in building an organization that can address calls from 60 countries around the world. The company has more than 1,000 Google-employed customer service people divided between email and phone support. The phone reps are now handling “more than 10,000 calls a week,” according to Brougher. The reps are located in several regional call centers around the world.
Google is learning a great deal about its customers through these phone calls. This may seem an obvious point but it’s giving Google more insight into advertiser needs and issues than in the past. And many of these insights can be used by marketing and product development people. This offers a kind of virtuous cycle or loop between customer care and marketing and product development. Too many companies treat their customer care organizations purely as a “cost center” and fail to see customer service as a strategic asset with a wide range of organizational benefits.
Brougher understands very clearly the benefit of this organization for Google. She lobbied the executive team to make significant investments up front that now appear to be paying off.
“People Like to Talk”
One of the surprises for Google is the nature of the inquiries it’s receiving on the phone. Google has had email-based support for AdWords for a long time but the calls coming in are qualitatively different. Calls are more expansive, friendly and less pointed. “People like to talk,” Brougher joked. Beyond this, she explained, calls coming from different countries are also quite different from one another, reflecting various cultural differences.
Google is encountering numerous first time small business advertisers who want education and help. (Roughly 20 percent of the calls Google is receiving are from new advertisers.) With telephone calls Google is in a much better position to provide small business support than with email and online tools exclusively.
Brougher is also the one who leads the group that manages AdWords reseller relationships, Google’s network of publishers and partners that sell to small businesses. As with Google’s move into direct small business sales (Offers, AdWords Express) — the customer support reps don’t do any outbound sales — the creation of this customer care organization reflects a “cultural shift” and maturation within Google.
I asked why Google didn’t simply outsource customer service to a third party, as so many US companies do. She said that Google is able to deliver a much higher level of quality and service by having all the reps in house.
Positive ROI from Customer Service
Beyond the fact of its existence and size, most impressive perhaps is the rigor with which Google is tracking the ROI of its customer service investment. I asked Brougher about ROI because service is often a “fuzzy” and intangible thing that doesn’t map directly to the bottom line.
She outlined several ways in which Google uses data and analytics to track the efficacy of its individual reps and overall customer service effort. According to her, Google is definitely seeing a positive ROI and spending lift from advertisers touched by Google AdWords customer service.
Postscript: Google contacted me to clarify that the 1,000 reps include email support people. Accordingly, they’re not all dedicated to phone support.