The Internet Routes Around Bad Customer-Service.

I wanted some technical information from my ISP, couldn’t find the info on the ISP’s poorly organized web site, telephoned, waited. . . The recorded voice kept telling me that I could find whatever I wanted on the web site, the help-desk guy didn’t know the answer, the customer-service email address didn’t work, and so on.

Meanwhile I decided to google my question and in 10 seconds had a link to a page, on the ISP’s website, that contained exactly the information I wanted.

Nowadays I usually google first. A programmer I know told me that since about 1999 he has used Google, instead of Microsoft’s bundled help software or online Knowledge Base, to get explanations of Microsoft error messages. Google is often the fastest way to get such information. And the Google method can return higher-quality results than you would get from official documentation. It turns out–surprise!–that users sometimes know more about products than do manufacturers. (For example, my recent search for a way to get PGP to run on my computer turned up an individual’s PGP info page that is much more informative about installation issues than is the manufacturer’s documentation and quickly solved my problem.)

It’s easy to carp about software companies that provide inadequate support for their products, but the Internet is making this a nonproblem. Google is, among other things, a distributed online help system that lowers costs for software producers and users alike. Many software and other product manufacturers now provide online forums to help customers resolve support issues. The manufacturers should go one step further and encourage use of Google. More service providers, including my ISP, should realize that customers value quick answers, that the conventional ways of delivering those answers (proprietary web sites and search engines, help desks) often fail, and that encouraging customers to go outside the proprietary system can be good for business.