If there's one issue that consistently cheeses off consumers, it's being unable to get a human being on the phone when you have a problem with a company. And few companies make this tougher than Google.

Steve Gillette, 61, in California's southern Orange County, recently found himself receiving strange text messages and calls from the Silicon Valley search giant. They seemed to be prompting him to disclose personal information.

Troubled, he tried to contact Google to see if the company was really reaching out to him or whether a scam was being perpetrated. And he wanted to speak with a real person, not just send an email and hope for a response. Google, however, doesn't want to speak with Gillette — or with any of its millions of other users. The company makes it virtually impossible to get an actual employee or service rep on the phone.

It's an issue that's become increasingly common in today's business world, especially among technology companies that seem to assume their customers are as comfortable with digital communications as they are.

Google, Facebook, Twitter — good luck getting through to anyone at each company, let alone finding a number you can call that a real person will answer. They go out of their way to keep their millions of customers at an electronic distance. "It's very frustrating that a multi billion-dollar company like Google will go to such lengths to keep you from talking to a human being," Gillette said. Google offers no apologies for its catch-us-if-you-can approach to customer service.


"We think it's a faster and better experience," said Andrea Freund, a company spokeswoman. "Because we have so many users, we can scan the issues users are having and determine how to fix them and make them better."

But what if someone really, really wants to speak with a human being? Doesn't Google, which boasts more than 1 billion unique visitors monthly and which pocketed nearly $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion) in profit last year, have a responsibility to make itself available to customers in need? Apparently not.

"We have 350 million Gmail users alone," Freund said. "It's just not feasible to offer phone support." Call me old-fashioned, but any business that specialises in providing services to millions of customers has a responsibility to be accountable to those customers. And that means being accessible.

Here's my proposal: Any publicly listed business earning more than $100 million in annual revenue must provide the resources for customers to reach the company by phone. That means having a working number that's actually answered by a human being.

Yes, that's more expensive than steering people to online help forums. But in the long run, it's how you keep customers happy. Remember when that was a priority for businesses? Not all progress, it seems, is a good thing.

— Los Angeles Times