Customer disservice and the Google ecosystem

Customer service is not the kind of thing I like to think about, let alone write about. But I’m starting to see more and more absolutely appalling examples in my personal life.

There was that time when, having acquired a Google Pixel 5, a dual Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), dual standby (DSDS) phone, I wanted to move both my Verizon and AT&T accounts onto it. AT&T put me on hold for so long that they actually closed down for the day while I was waiting; when I went to a store to try to get service there, they were just completely confused, constantly on the phone to somebody else who clearly also didn’t know what to do, and I just gave up and moved the number to Google Fi, which is all about eSIMs, which are how, generally, you get a second SIM onto a phone with only one SIM slot.

There’s my unfortunately ongoing experience with Uber support, which consists of a bunch of idiots who pick random words from what you send them, match them with pre-canned responses of varying length and very often of no relevance, and reply with those responses. Uber is performative in many ways: their alleged concern about COVID-19, their recent alleged concern about passengers wearing seat belts, and in their customer and driver support. But that’s another story.

And lurking in the background of all this is an ongoing problem I have with AT&T in my new car. If you want a WiFi hotspot in your Toyota, that deal is with AT&T, yeah, the same outfit who gave me trouble with my Pixel 5. I paid for “unlimited” service, but in practice, they’ve been rate-limiting me hard; this problem eased somewhat after they reportedly did away with 3G, but I’m still experiencing it, so I’m still heavily dependent on my cellular data connection while driving for Uber.

Driving for Uber doesn’t just require a car; it puts a lot of miles on that car—my spreadsheet this morning calculates it at 63,561 miles per year under often punishing conditions. It also requires a smartphone to run the app and a reliable data connection to get orders, to tell the company when you’ve picked people up, tell the company when you’ve dropped them off, even to tell them when you’re available and when you want to quit for the day or even to just take a break. I’m running the smartphone continuously like I’m running the car, and yes, this is hard on the phone, just like it’s hard on the car. So I’m paying attention to my smartphones like I am my cars.

But there’s one big difference: A car can generally be repaired. A smartphone has to be replaced.

Late last year, I acquired a Google Pixel 6 Pro. And part of this is likely that I cut myself on bleeding edge technology (I think I first heard that aphorism from Jim Dennis or Heather Stern); there’s apparently a new chip they designed in-house that they’re sticking in these phones. Last year, right after I got it, the phone worked fine.

This year has been abysmal. First there were two delayed security updates; these are supposed to come out monthly, usually around the 5th of the month. The first of these got pulled back before I could get it on my phone, apparently because it was causing problems. But also about this time, I started seeing reports of connectivity issues.

I never experienced bluetooth connectivity issues, but I was having problems with both WiFi and cellular data connections. Rebooting the phone seemed to resolve them temporarily. This was supposed to be fixed with the second of those delayed updates and Google did not see fit to release an interim update to fix it.

That update finally came out, if memory serves, on March 21st, and it seemed to have resolved the problem. Then, remarkably, the April update seemed to come out on time.

But Saturday night (April 9th), my connectivity woes returned. And rebooting wouldn’t solve the problem.

So I found my way to a Best Buy parking lot and used the store’s WiFi to get on the Google Store support. I tell the story on Twitter because I want their attention:

The part I forgot to say here was that the third of these agents had not even identified themself as a Google Fi agent. I was wondering how, even if I logged into that account I never log into, I was going to get back to where I was without wasting yet another hour of time that I really can’t afford to lose. They never explained that. I surmise that I’m actually supposed to do this through the Google Fi app on a cell phone that doesn’t have a data connection because it broke.

So after venting my fury on Twitter, they replied asking me to direct message them with the transcript identification number, to which they eventually replied that I would have to go through Google Fi support. That didn’t go well; Google Fi simply didn’t respond.

I have bought and paid for Google’s flagship phone. This is what I got.

And really, my problem isn’t just with their phone or with Google Fi. I rely on Google’s ecosystem for all of my email, my article archiving, my business record storage, my calendar, my contacts, practically everything. I’m now left wondering if I can continue to do so and what, in god’s name, I will do if I can’t.

For the moment, I’m back on a Samsung S21 Ultra 5G that I’d previously used and stashed in a drawer for precisely this contingency. My Google Fi number is history (see revised contact information here), because 1) when I was using this data connection, it didn’t really seem like I was having a problem with Verizon (this is different from my experience with dead spots in California); 2) the Samsung phone won’t accommodate a Google Fi eSIM; and 3) I really don’t want to subsidize customer service that is this dismal.

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