I’ll have my free cake and eat it, too

29 May

Man yelling at laptop

Today in Slate, I’m mad that free services don’t provide me with free and seamless tech support.  Wait, what?  Yep, that’s it.  Slate’s Farhad Manjoo complains about the level of tech support he gets for Gmail, Mint, and other free online services.  Usually, I’m on the side of the individual consumer against the big, Afaceless corporations, but this article reminds me that the customer isn’t always right. 

Mr. Manjoo talks about the problems he faces which using online services (“Every day, it fails in some small but painful way. For one thing, it has gotten incredibly slow. The problem first began to crop up late last year, and over the last couple months it’s become a wreck. On a good day, Gmail’s search box takes five seconds to respond to my queries; on a bad day it takes 15 to 20.”)  and the ways that he’s engaged tech support and customer service to fix them (e-mails, phone calls, complaining on Twitter).  I’m sympathetic up to a point (who hasn’t had trouble reaching customer service at one point or another) until the end of the article:

Help KeyI asked Glotzbach (the director of product management for Google Apps) what people should do when they’ve exhausted these methods. What should I do, for instance, about my ever-slowing Gmail speed—is there any way I could get a Google support person on the task to find a definitive fix for my issue?

Goltzpach noted that there is a way to send a support request to Google’s staff, but that wouldn’t result in someone at Google personally taking on my problem (I knew that; my previous requests haven’t helped). What else could I do? Start paying. “It’s a difficult answer because my goal would be that as a power user you shouldn’t need to go pay, but your situation falls on the line—the type of service you’re looking for is as a business-related, mission-critical service, and we offer that for $5 per month.” Among the benefits of paying: 24/7 phone support.

I’m considering that option. Those who don’t want to pay, though, may be out of luck—there are some problems you’ll encounter with free, ad-supported software that you’ll never get help for, no matter how hard you tweet about it.

You want a free service to provide you with your own dedicated customer service rep?  You’ve got to be kidding me.

So, readers, this brings me to my questions for this post.  What (if anything) can you as a customer demand from a free service?  (Obviously you can ask for anything and threaten to take your business elsewhere, but somehow I don’t think they’ll care.)  As we increasingly find ourselves beholden to free services, what do we do when something goes wrong?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new on the Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about Internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a whole new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

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