All I wanted was the free movie! Adventures in Google customer service

July 31, 2015


Last week I read that Google was offering a free movie to Chromecast owners to celebrate the streaming device’s 2nd birthday. So I went over to my Galaxy Tab S 8.4, connected to my Chromecast and went to offers. I had six offers available. I was interested in the Google Play content: a free movie rental, and a free movie.


The free movie rental appeared to work, telling me I had until the end of the year to redeem my rental. However, redeeming the movie to celebrate Chromecast’s 2nd birthday was an entirely different and more frustrating experience. I was told I could not redeem the offer until I had used a previous offer for an eligible purchase.

I assumed this was referring to a $6 credit in my account from an earlier movie offer. So I thought: Well, I will try buying something and that will clear my account.

I purchased the 1961 classic, When Worlds Collide. Credits could be applied at check-out, I was informed. The movie, however, was more than the existing credit. With tax, it came to $10.85.  I thought Google would just apply the credit balance and charge me the difference. Nope. My Google Play credits remained at their current level. The entire amount was charged to my credit card on file. (I would learn later that Google Play can’t split transactions between Play credits and credit cards, something Apple’s iTunes does routinely.)

Now I was intrigued and frustrated. Let me try this, I thought: I purchased a Star Trekepisode in HD for $2.99. That worked. My Google balance was reduced. After tax, that left me with $2.75 in my account.

I tried redeeming the new “gift” again. Same error message.

The “Customer Service Experience”

Having never tested Google Customer Service, I said to myself, Let me ring them up and see how it goes.

I can say one thing positive about my Google Customer Service experience: everyone who was unable to help me was positively nice, even when I became a bit irritated at their lack of ability to do anything to remedy the situation.

The initial call landed at Movies. A very helpful but confused woman listened curiously. She had never seen anything like this. She put me on hold a couple of times but was ultimately unable to solve the problem. So I was escalated. Transferred after a hold. “Sorry for the long hold, but we’ll get you taken care of.”

The escalation didn’t work. After another hold for some sideline investigation, the next person suggested that it “Seems like a Wallet issue.” So I was transferred to a very enthusiastic gentlemen who was sure he could solve my problem. He asked a number of account verification questions. He put me on hold a couple of times to confer. He couldn’t fix the problem. “It is beyond what Wallet could do,” I was told.

Now, this one baffled me, because to me, the solution was pretty simple. “Gee, sir, it appears that the redemption code we linked to your Chromecast isn’t working, let me just put in a $6 credit on your account. That should take care of it.”

In fact, no one ever made a solid customer service make-good offer of any kind, not even after I suggested it. (And BTW, they never asked for the redemption code in question).

So I was escalated to a specialist, who would be able to do whatever was needed.

Whatever was needed was above his pay grade. After verifying my account again and listening to me tell my increasingly lengthy story (because it appears the customer service history doesn’t travel with the calls) he put me on hold a couple of times. Eventually he informed me the issue would be escalated again (even higher I’m assuming) bu, this guy needed the serial number of my Chromecast. After nearly an hour on the phone, I said no. “I am not tearing apart my TV set-up for $6. So let’s get me credited for the When Worlds Collide purchase and I will disengage from Google Play and document my experience (which you are now reading). He put me on hold one last time, I’m guessing to see if he could get around the Chromecast serial number, but no, he needed that to escalate further. I reiterated my request and was transferred …

…to another “Movie” person, which is where I started. She listened to my story of woe, obviously nodding but not caring. I could almost hear her thinking, “Are you done yet?” In my recounting, I said I wanted a refund for When World’s Collide. The second I took a breath she jumped in with, “OK, I’m giving you a credit for When Worlds Collide,” followed by, “Will there be anything else?”

I was suffering from customer service fatigue, so I said no, and we kind of mutually hung up.

What Google Should Do

Google needs to figure out customer service remediation options that go beyond just trying to solve a problem. The entire experience felt very techie, because what they wanted to do was apparently fix the bug rather than make me happy. Not surprising, but disappointing. Google needs to not only find a more empowered approach to customer service, they also need to assign an owner for an issue that has bounced around the system. Somebody should have been made accountable and contacted me when the original issue went unresolved.

On a more tactical level, Google also needs to get some big boy accounting that can split transactions between credits and credit cards. Want to compete with Apple? Be as good or better, but not worse.

What should have happened after they didn’t figure out the quick fix was a $6 credit to my account? After all, that would have left them up $4, because I would not have asked for the movie refund. The last person should have said, “Sir, it appears you have been transferred to five different departments over the course of about an hour, so I’m going to credit you for the movie but just leave the movie in your account. I really apologize and I hope our technical people have taken good notes so we can avoid this issue in the future.”

That would have been nice. Again, everybody at Google customer service was very nice — I was calling for customer service though, not nice, and I never felt that as a customer my issue was ever serviced.

Epilogue – Day 2

I don’t give up easily on problems like this. So the next day arrives, and I think: Well, let me see. I will add $5 to my Google account and if it uses the oldest applied credit first, which is logical, if I buy something for more that $2.75 (my current balance) it should clear the previous “gift” from Google and let me load the new “gift.”

I acquired another couple of HD Season 2 episodes of the remastered Star Trek original series, taking my account balance down to $1.25. I then tried applying the code again, and received the same error message. Even after all of the previous “gift” credits were consumed, some accounting error naggingly remains unable to apply the gift code to my account.

So as a good Chromecast and Google customer, I’ve been left out of the anniversary celebration. In fact, trying to get into the party cost me a couple of hours of time I won’t get back. I have nothing to show for the effort except this blog post as documentation of the journey.

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