Is the reason Google support is …. because they can’t fix anything?

If you’ve ever had an issue with Google Assistant, chances are Google’s support has advised you to do things such as factory reset a speaker, set up a Nest Hub device from scratch, change the Google account that you’re using with the speaker, give them the firmware version of the speaker, switch the Wi-Fi access point, change internet providers, change DNS settings, and otherwise jump through a series of hoops that will never resolve anything but will keep you busy until Google eventually fixes the problem on their end.

TL;DR – editorial on lack of logging, vague useless error messages, and a history of pointing the finger at the user for screwing up

Assistant is a walkie talkie

Correct me if I’m wrong here, please do so nicely, but the firmware on Google Home, Nest Hub, Etc. has mostly one purpose – to relay information (your voice,) at the correct time from your device, to Google’s AI cluster, and get back a result to execute. There’re some limited smarts on the device. For example the Nest Hub Max has enough processing power to tell who you are and when you’re looking at it. The devices are smart enough to only start processing when they’ve heard the wakeup trigger word. But mostly you can think of them as a smart walkie talkie talking to an AI out on the internet that will do voice processing and context recognition.

Seriously, try and use one without internet and see if it can even recognize your voice beyond the trigger word.

One of the reasons I created routines in the Google Home app was to cut down on the chances that google would mis-hear me. One of my routines involves the text “play white noise on master bedroom home.” This is how I prevent the bedside speaker from randomly mishearing and blaring out “this is what an elephant sounds like! BLARRRRRRT.” Master Bedroom Home is a Home device, in the bedroom.

This is why I know when crap like the creepy hissing lady starts playing, it’s not my side mishearing me, it’s Google’s side mis-processing. The command is the same, every time. The account is the same. Every time. Google’s AI has decided to change the response and no amount of turning my Google Home upside down, beating my chest, or throwing the unit through a window is going to change that the cloud AI has decided I want creepy women hissing at me. I mean no problem if that’s your thing, but yeah, doesn’t get me to sleep.

There’s nowhere to go

I recently took great pains to document a problem. I contacted Google’s support and asked where I could send the information. I was asked to reset my unit and tell them how that worked. I reiterated that I had exactly the problem laid out, how to reproduce it on anyone’s devices, and was told to give voice feedback if I wanted to get the problem to the right people.

I asked if they were unable to relay a bug report I’d so lovingly crafted to developers, and no. I was told I had to do voice feedback. This is a problem because there’s no way to get that amount of feedback into a voice message. Asking Google to give feedback generally cuts off after you get halfway in or you get all the way to the end and it tells you that there’s an error.

Worse yet, there’s a freaking long delay and you get me screaming “come on fucking google, your feedback is a shit sta…” before realizing that it had started recording… once again, sorry whoever had to hear me cursing at a 15 second delay trying to report a small easily reproducible bug.

I mentioned the the CSR that it was a page worth of text, and was told to go find the developer forums and post there. I asked if there was any way to just escalate me to a higher tier where I could email this and nope… asked which developer forum and given something like Android.dev – can not remember at the time but it was a labyrinth.

This sort of thing mirrors most of my experience with Google’s support. I mean seriously, just see any of the Nest Wifi + Mesh stuff I wrote. With the Nest Wifi, one of the big problems seems to be there’s no logging that can be given. Just a page that tells a little bit about the system and then recommendations from support to do something that never works for more than a week.

A long and logless world, Snuffleupagus just wanders away

I started looking back at my encounters with Google’s support over the past few years. You’ve got to understand that due to this, and my attempts to work with their other brands, I have a whole ecosystem of Google owned products and services. We’ve got Business, we’re dealing with Fiber, I’ve got enough Android devices to scare you, Nest camera systems, a house littered with connected consumer gadgets. I deal with problems with Google a lot.

The overwhelming theme of the past 20 or so contacts with them has been that the problem eventually went away. Corrected on Google’s side. Except for that one time they sent me two cameras after trying to get me to change Wi-fi, blaming my network, blaming my ISP, and then it being a bad cable that had shipped with the Nest IQ Cam. This one was quite a different experience as it was an actually bad piece of hardware. But they had no logging, no ability to see that there was no bandwidth issue, and kept claiming it was obviously my fault.

And that’s where I think the problem is. Google’s gone so consumer hands-off and security minded that there’s no logging visible client side. Looking at even the logging history in Google Home, it only seems to log things occasionally. There’s next to no trail, which may be a security decision but it begs the question if you can’t see an intruder in your logs is this more secure or less?

Google’s AI has gotten great at giving non-errors. I ask Assistant to play “here comes the rain again” and get told that it either can’t be found or can’t be played. Uh, which is it Google? By the time I’m able to look it both can be found, and can be played. There’s nothing to work with in terms of troubleshooting.

There’s nothing to give to support to fix, and there’s nothing that Google’s support has been suggesting that takes responsibility or suggests initially even known problems. Hey Google, this is a piece of hardware I bought from you, running software I bought from you, on a Wi-Fi I bought from you, talking to an AI that is yours… so obviously we start with assuming the person having the problem is the cause of it.

It becomes extremely frustrating that something that should be so fixable based on open source has a user experience that’s such an attempt at hands off and security through obscurity that a basic log isn’t even available.

I understand the Google AI is its own thing, trying to teach it that people aren’t wanting creeping hissy ladies might take a whole lot of work as once the AI decides on something that’s not just flipping a switch. But the issues elsewhere…

Questions I’ve had

Every device I’ve ever owned that connects to Wi-Fi has things such as signal strength, dropped packets, transmitted packets, retries, etc. None of the Nest products do and yet the first hoops you’re asked to jump through involve moving your router closer because it’s probably your Wi-Fi. I mean sure, good guess, but no.

What exactly is the error, Google? Assistant’s vague errors such as “something went wrong,” don’t help anyone. How about “something went wrong, would you like to report it?” Gather a little log, send it to Google HQ… maybe it could stop the weird issues that Google has when playing news in driving mode. We got a connectivity issue? Something up with YouTube Music? Did the app crash? Give me a hint here. You can be consumer friendly and still give some diagnostic information.

Some sort of log for what went to google, and what google returned would be a godsend. I worked in call center tech support a long time ago, and what these people are asking straight up doesn’t help.

Something’s gotta change. It’s not being done right on so many levels.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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