Google+ Could Revolutionize Customer Service

Last Updated Jul 8, 2011 2:17 PM EDT

Even though we don't know a lot about Google+, the fledgling social media initiative that launched Tuesday, one thing is certain: If only half of the promised features are widely adopted by Internet users, it could change customer service forever â€" and for the better.

I know, I know. Google has made several failed attempts at social networking, including Buzz and Wave. But this could be different.

Many of the early reviews say Google got it right this time. I've spent this morning reading them, and they're almost all positive. I've also been kicking the tires on the new social network. You can find me right here.
As a consumer advocate, I've watched social media level the playing field for customers â€" just yesterday, I discussed the implications of Customer 2.0, for example â€" and overall, I believe Google+ has the potential to level it further.

Let's look at each feature and what it could mean for service.

Circles is a feature that allows you to group your online connections so you can share information with only that group. It will allow you to create a group of like-minded users instead of broadcasting everything to the same group of friends or followers, like you would on Facebook or Twitter.

Creating a "circle" is far easier than setting up a group in Facebook. Within seconds, a disenchanted customer could rally a group of friends to protest bad service â€" or gather a cluster of fans to support a new product. Think of it as having all the grassroots organizing efficiency of a Washington lobbyist, minus the expensive retainer.

Hangouts is a set of communications tools that allows real-time chat, including instant messaging and groups of up to 10 people by video. This appears to be incorporating some of the features of Google's now-defunct Wave service, which was years ahead of its time.

I think that while Hangouts could be an excellent platform for resolving disputes between several parties, it will be used primarily by customers who are leveraging social media for better service. Combined with Circles, it could give consumers unprecedented organizing power to pressure intransigent companies into doing the right thing.

Instant Upload does exactly what it says. Once a picture is taken, it's in the cloud. Companies used to be able to negotiate with a customer who photographed evidence of bad service, like a moldy hotel shower curtain or a fly in the soup, but no more. Once the picture is taken, it's as good as shared.

Businesses have always relied on a technology-induced delay to dissuade would-be photosharers (or, God forbid, YouTube posters) from uploading images of their questionable products to the Internet. With that lag time gone, they'll have to get it right the first time.

Huddle takes many of these features, like Hangouts and Circles, and takes them mobile while also adding other location-based services like Google Latitude. Again, this adds a sense of immediacy to the customer service equation. If a group of well-organized customers can find each other while they're still in the store, then it gives the term "flash mob" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

I have high hopes for Google+. Facebook and Twitter had an almost immediate and profound effect on how customer service was delivered. This could do the same.

Early technology adopters benefited the most, because they were able to leverage social media before corporate America had a chance to respond. But this time, something tells me companies will be paying close attention to the way Google+ is deployed and how customers interact with it.

Chances are, Google+ will help customers â€" and even companies -- in a way no one has thought of yet.

Related: Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: brionv/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.

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