You are the product

The Verge recently ran an article about a lawsuit against YouTube by a company called Ripple. The details are unimportant to my point here other than to say it stems from the great difficulty Ripple encountered when trying to get effective support from YouTube.

The same article also mentions a user who tried for five years to recover her Facebook password via Facebook support without success.

The thing is, getting effective support for big tech is way harder than it should be. In fact, getting support from any big company is way harder than it should be. By and large, smaller companies provide much better support. You might argue that it's easier for smaller companies to do so because they have fewer customers, but that should scale up because larger companies make more money.

However, larger companies often have people in corner offices with panoramic views whose job it is to trim the fat from their company. Selling products brings in money but supporting them doesn't, at least not in the short term. You could argue that companies that provide top quality support would benefit in reputation — and thus more customers — in the long term, but that doesn't seem to work for the people in the corner offices.

These fat-trimmers can't all be dunderheads so presumably the long term financial benefit of providing excellent support really doesn't make it worth their while.

I'd still press a point, though, that a lot of the companies that provide poor support get away with it because they have some market advantage. They either have a monopoly (or partial monopoly) or have their customers locked into a long-term contract. If a large company that provided fantastic support was in the same market — and trading at roughly the same prices — I can't see why any customer would go anywhere else.

Of course it's never that simple. The large company that doesn't invest in support will probably be able to offer its products at a discount to the company that invests in good support, and many people shop on price alone.

There is a further problem where some of the big tech companies are concerned. A lot of the people who need support are their users, but users aren't customers for many companies. This is particularly true with social media companies, search engines and sites like YouTube. Their customers are their advertisers and, to borrow a phrase from Tim Cook, their users are the product.

It makes no financial sense to support the whims of the product. That would be like Tesco answering support calls from a tin of baked beans. The product is merely a commodity. The idea of having free access suits a company perfectly. They get 'product' willingly signing up at no cost to the company and they don't have to provide any support for them. In fact, if people paid for access to things like social media they'd have a stronger case to expect support for their outlay.

Maybe it's just me but, regardless of my attempts to look at both sides here, I still find it hard to believe that being a big company and providing quality support are mutually exclusive. Perhaps I'm being naive but big tech in particular is awash with money and I think they have the means to provide good support and still make a massive profit.

Everybody hates trying to hunt down a company's (often deeply hidden) contact details. They hate robots answering calls, asking them to trawl through multiple options before they reach a human. They hate waiting hours to talk to a human and then finding they just read from a script somewhere in Bangalore. What they want is to make one call or send one email and be immediately connected with someone who can solve the problem.

Again it might just be me but that doesn't seem like a lot to ask.