1.27.2010

Innovation or Abdication - Google Dodged a Bullet

There are those times that an organization can only hope for a really, really good crisis.  A big one.  One that captures the attention of the news media and, even better, the imaginations of the public.

A crisis that takes the customers' eyes off the ball that the company just dropped.  Big time.

Google just had exactly one of those experiences - and they couldn't have asked for more.

What's the newest news about Google?  Ask pretty much anyone and they're going to tell you that Google was cyber-attacked by some nefarious people/entities/government(?) hackers in China.  The bigger news?  That Google is reversing its years-long decision to self-censor to appease the Chinese Government.  They may even exit the country altogether!

Yippee!!  Google has remembered its creed:  Do no evil!  They're holding up the side!  Doing the right thing!  Standing up for freedom and the freedom of information all over the world!!

Googlers are heroes!

Maybe.  Maybe not.

But what Google definitely is, is lucky.  Because during the same week as the China debacle, the company released its new smartphone, the Nexus One - and things went really, really badly.

For the most part, no one is remembering that bit of news.

Here's the situation in a nutshell:

  • Google did a deal with HTC to build their new mobile phones using the Android operating system (a Google product).  
  • Google also did a deal with T-Mobile in the US to provide the cellular service.  
  • Whether customers were buying the two-year contract and getting the phone for free or buying only the phone, they were paying loads of money.
  • The phone didn't work.
  • When customers called T-Mobile for assistance, they were told they needed to speak with HTC Customer Service.
  • When customers contacted HTC customer service, they were told they needed to contact T-Mobile.
  • The only way customers could contact Google was through their message boards online - where Google said very politely that they were working on the problem but that it would take between two days and two weeks for customers to get any reply...but keep watching those message boards and forums!
  • The messages got angrier and angrier.
  • Phones started to be returned.
  • Google promised it would do better.  So did T-Mobile and HTC.
  • Hackers attacked Google's Gmail in China.  (That was Google's happy ending to the story.  HTC and T-Mobile are still on the hook.)

Sadly, this was a predictable story.  (They usually are.)

Google is a pure-play technology company.  They are online.  They only do online.  They don't do customer service.

But they're moving their model to include humans - and that's a problem for them.  As an engineer-created and engineering-driven company, outside the bounds of the company, itself, they don't know how to interact with the rest of the world.

(For a really excellent discussion about Google's history, culture and how they do business, I highly recommend Ken Auletta's excellent book, Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.)

What's worse is that Google still doesn't altogether take responsibility for what it did - or, in this case, didn't do.  Google really doesn't understand humans and the concept of customer service - with human interaction involved - still escapes them.

Google's strengths are amazing and plentiful.  But they don't do humans.  Still, because their goal is to change the way that information is provided and accessed via the mobile/cellular platform (among others) - which will increase their potential views and advertising revenues - they're having to find new ways to provide their services.

To humans.  Their weak point.

It may be that Google never figures out how to do humans.  That's okay - because, if they're smart, which they are, they'll learn from this mess and figure out how to ensure that either they (probably not) or the other players involved in the deal (which would be a better solution for everyone) guarantee the best possible experience.

It's actually no different from Google's thinking about searches.  From their targeted algorithms to their targeted ads to their multiple servers all over the world, they are constantly trying to figure out how to do more, better and faster than anyone else.  In every possible technological regard.

Now they need to extend their thinking a bit outward.  Or have their partners do this particular thinking for them.

And that takes it back to you and how innovation is handled in your organization.

What are your great strengths?  What are the possibilities that you can exploit from within and do better than anyone else?  What strengths require partnership and alliances so that, combined, you take on the world and create new products, services and markets?

And, whether alone or in partnership, how do you ensure that from product/service design to customer experience and use, every 't' is crossed and 'i' dotted so that the thing you can count on is your customer coming back to buy more?

Innovation isn't just about the new, new thing.  It's also about how you deliver that thing so that everyone is ecstatic - from your users to your shareholders to everyone within the enterprise who made it happen.

Google dodged a bullet when the hackers hit their system.  Most companies won't be that lucky.  If there's a screw-up, it will be on the radar and stay there.

Don't let that happen to you.  Don't hope that if something goes wrong, something worse will happen somewhere else.  Frankly, the odds aren't with you.

You'll be much better served if you figure out what you need to know well in advance to ensure that everyone wins.  No bullets involved.