For the average person, having access to something for free is the best, but it's when those average people become power users that the problems begin.
Everything online is free. The truth is that everything online is not free (it just is for the vast majority). When you live online (yes, I'm looking directly in the mirror), you quickly begin to realize that you're never better off with a free service, and that was validated twice this week. Both Chris Brogan (co-author of the best-selling business book, Trust Agents with Julien Smith and author of Social Media 101) and C.C. Chapman (Managing The Gray) got shut out of the Google accounts.
- Read Brogan's gripes here: When Google Owns You - A New Chapter.
- Read Chapman's gripes here: Google Has Forgotten The Customer.
By doing some quick online searches, you'll see that issues like this aren't exclusive to Google. Almost any and all companies that offer up free services have tons of issues like the ones Chris and C.C. experienced. People constantly get shut out, shut down, locked out, etc... and there's usually very little they can do about it. All of us know one person (or more) who had their account flagged in spaces like Facebook and MySpace and how helpless they feel/are when trying to navigate the FAQ or using email forms to try to get to some point of resolution. When something is free, customer service is usually non-existent. And, while it's cool to have all of these free tools and platforms, imagine what it costs the users in productivity when they can't get into the platform or access their own data? Multiply that with their lack of knowing how long it will take to get back into the platform (or if they ever will). Ouch!
Why aren't brands grabbing all of this free money?
For all of the people using the free services, why don't these brands ramp up a small (but smart) customer service group and start charging a premium for things like:
- Guaranteed up-time.
- Front-line communication should the service be disrupted.
- Pre-emptive notification if the service is going to be shut down or if your account is at risk.
- Someone human to speak to.
- Extra storage space (if they don't already offer unlimited space).
- The ability to have an off-site back-up of the data that is always accessible by the creator.
Paying for a service that is free is not going to be for everybody... and that's the point. There must be thousands and thousands of folks just like Chapman and Brogan who would be willing to pay (and it's probably not a small fee either). In fact, one of the main reasons I (and probably many others) don't use these free services as my core business tool is because there is no expectation that it will always be there when needed. Imagine the business model in providing that professional level of comfort and security?
When something is free, what does the supplier really owe the people using it?