The article tells the tale of Gmail users and their travails as they try to find a human being who can figure why their Gmail accounts are no longer working as expected. Days, hours, weeks even pass before resolution takes place.
Meanwhile Google representatives stick to their guns, insisting that the poor sap who complained to the New York Times about the four weeks it took him to get help with his Gmail problem was actually the beneficiary of the companys strict security policies, which are intended to prevent unauthorized use.
Take that, victim.
This assumption is equally absurd whether youre a user of Gmail, Yahoo mail, eBay, Craigslist, or any of the most popular and unpopular free services.
Ready for a dose of reality: If its free, youre not the customer, youre the mark, as in, to quote Merriam-Websters, a victim or prospective victim of a swindle.
Okay, that was a little hyperbolic: Its not all a swindle, by any stretch of the imagination. But you, the user of free services, are actually the one every vendor is betting on to be begged, cajoled, marketed to (or yes, even defrauded) into buying goods and services that they're peddling on the Web sites of the eBays and Gmails and Yahoos, et al. You are definitely something in the view of these free service providers, but customer is not the right word.
In other words, the real customer is someone, or something, that is paying well for the privilege of being a customer unlike you and, in most cases, is getting the high-touch customer service that the marks in the New York Times article mistakenly think they deserve as well.
Over at Google, the customer is the advertiser, as is the case at Yahoo. In Craigslist-land, the customer is either the buyer of advertiser of employment opportunities (in most of its primary markets), or broker-offered real estate in New York City. At eBay, the customer is the seller, and, in particular, the 13 million premium sellers who are doing major business on E-bay.
Thats not to say there isnt some version of customer support out there in freebie land. Unlike some, eBay actually has a number you can call when you have a problem, and its not even that hard to find on their website. But dont mistake phone support for customer support: eBay may support its buyers, but it absolutely coddles its sellers, I mean customers.
Against this backdrop of who is the real customer, theres a bit of a crisis going on in freebie land, and that was exemplified by the announcement on October 6 that eBay was laying off ten percent of its workforce, which totaled 16,000 before the cuts. Part of the reason for the layoff was a certain problem with, to quote the Times, declining single-digit growth rates while online commerce has been growing at a double-digit clip.
The Times attributes this drop to a shift in buying preferences away from eBays auction model to a fixed price model, but I have a different take. eBay, which has preferred to pass the buck, literally, when it comes to fraudulent dealings on its site, is having a bit of a brand erosion problem. Particularly against arch-rival Amazon.com, which has an entirely different attitude about the quality of the transactions it enables on its web site.
In other words, Amazon spends a lot of effort knowing who the buyer and seller are, and, in general, ensuring that the kind of fraud and bad dealings that go on over at eBay arent permitted at Amazon. Its not about auction or fixed price, its about, well, customer support.
And over at Amazon, by the way, guess who they consider the customer? You only get one guess.
So, dont be dismayed if youre treated like last months chopped liver by someone youre getting a free service from: after all, why should they invest in your well-being when theres money to be made worrying about the real customers?
The bottom line is that if you want customer service and support, youre going to have to pay for it. And if youre not paying for it, stop complaining. After all, youre getting exactly what you pay for. And not a drop more.