Greetings. There's been a lot of buzz around the Net recently about Google Gmail outages, and this has brought back to the surface a longstanding concern about the public's ability (or lack thereof) to communicate effectively with Google itself about problems and issues with Google services.
I'll note right here that Google usually does provide a high level of customer support for users of their paid services. And I would assert that there's nothing wrong with Google providing differing support levels to paying customers vs. users of their many free services.
But without a doubt, far and away, the biggest Google-related issue that people bring to me is a perceived inability to effectively communicate with Google when they have problems with free Google services -- which people do now depend on in many ways, of course. These problems can range from minor to quite serious, sometimes with significant ongoing impacts, and the usual complaint is that they get no response from submissions to reporting forms or e-mailed concerns.
On numerous occasions, when people bring particular Google problems to my attention, I have passed along (when I deemed it appropriate) some of these specific problems to my own contacts at Google, and they've always been dealt with promptly from that point forward. But this procedure can't help everyone with such Google-related issues, of course.
I have long advocated (both privately to Google and publicly) that Google establish some sort of public Ombudsman (likely a relatively small team) devoted specifically to help interface with the public regarding user problems -- a role that requires a skillful combination of technical ability, public relations, and "triage" skills. Most large firms that interact continually with the public have teams of this sort in one form or another, often under the label "Ombudsman" (or sometimes "Office of the President").
The unofficial response I've gotten from Google regarding this concept has been an expression of understanding but a definite concern about how such an effort would scale given Google's user base.
I would never claim that doing this properly is a trivial task -- far from it. But given both the horizontal and vertical scope of Google services, and the extent to which vast numbers of persons now depend on these services in their everyday personal and business lives, I would again urge Google to consider moving forward along these lines.
Blog Update (February 28, 2009): "Google Ombudsman" (Part II)