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Google’s Call Center Paying Off—Search Giant Gains New ROI, Customer Insights

Brian Cantor

While many companies are committed to moving customer service operations from the call center to the Internet, online giant Google has endeavored for the reverse. Over the past year, it has finally rolled out call center support for its pivotal AdWords service, expanding upon a customer service platform that had previously revolved around email support tickets and an online help center.

And the effort is already paying off.

Google’s need to put a live voice behind its customer support was likely unclear to some. After all, the popular brand has a great rapport with customers: as of July 2011, it had the highest customer satisfaction score for any e-business. What happened to "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?"

But to those whose businesses rely on services like AdWords—or even on offerings like Google News Search—the service was "broke," and the change was a long time coming. Google’s answers via support tickets have been criticized for sometimes lacking the urgency and personalization users desire from an entity that, in many ways, holds their success in its hands.

In an April announcement confirming the availability of phone support for AdWords advertisers, Francoise Brougher, Google’s VP of global advertising and product operations, attributed the offering to customer demand.

Five months later, Brougher, who says she personally lobbied the Google executive team for notable upfront investments in the call center project, is very happy with the results.

Speaking to Search Engine Land, Brougher touted that the customer support organization, which includes over 1,000 Google employees, addresses more than 10,000 weekly calls from more than 60 countries. Believing it necessary to guarantee high levels of quality and service, Google’s call center operations are handled entirely in-house—no outsourcing providers are used.

The introduction of call center support is evidence of Google’s commitment to acting on the voice of the customer and can, in and of itself, take credit for boosting customer satisfaction. If the goal of introducing the call center was to maximize customer loyalty and engagement through an improved experience, its existence, alone, is a positive.

But Brougher believes the impact of the call center on Google’s overall business is even more substantial.

According to the Search Engine Land story, "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." Calls from different regions reflect cultural differences, while about 20% of support inquiries are from new advertisers seeking product education and help.

Collectively, the profile of phone inquiries provides opportunities that cannot as readily be created using email or self-help support. The "expansive" nature of the calls simultaneously gives Google unparalleled insight into its customers (to improve future support, enhance marketing and better the product development cycle) and the opportunity to forge real relationships. The cultural differences can clue Google into strategies for marketing to global customers. Though Google’s customer support reps do not actually sell goods or services, their conversations with new advertisers position Google to maximize CRM and, eventually, drive customers to spend more money on AdWords services.

In addition to touting the aforementioned abstract benefits of a call center service, Brougher confirms that Google is already seeing financial ROI. Google actively tracks the performance of its call center representatives, and early results already show increases in ad spending "from advertisers touched by Google AdWords customer service."

Observers sometimes inaccurately portray C-level hesitation towards using social channels for customer management. While there are indeed some executives who do not believe in its value, others eagerly await the day they can move the bulk of their operations out of the call center. For them, the traditional call center is either a "cost center" or, at best, an inefficient driver of business goals. Once new channels show signs of a truly-profitable infrastructure and substantial traction with support-seeking customers, they will gladly—and significantly--scale back investment into the old-world forum.

The success Google, an online company, is seeing with its call center operation should serve as a nice reminder that the channel can absolutely deliver ROI through invaluable CRM opportunities.

Google is not the only company still reaping the rewards of global call center support. Get award-winning strategies from award-winning contact center leaders--from companies like Capital One--at the International Contact Center Summit. Get the details now!