Most of you are probably aware by now that Google has reeled out its latest contribution to the internet in the form of Helpouts. But what are Helpouts, why has Google created them and are they actually going to be any help at all?
OK, So What Are Helpouts?
Helpouts are Google’s attempt at bridging the gap between the very intuitive, although incredibly impersonal, use of the search engine and social networking to answer our questions and solve our problems. Helpouts offer you the chance to talk to real experts across a range of fields via a video chat. This means that no matter what your problem is, or the advice that you need, you will be able to communicate with an expert in real-time; an expert who will be able to see and understand what it is you need.
The reason Google has introduced this platform is that sometimes we know we have a problem or we know we need advice, but we are not quite sure what to ask or what the problem actually is. Of course, this leads to long-winded searches and frustration as nothing we find just quite matches up to what we are experiencing (and of course the mini panic attack when we read that the sudden occurrence of dry skin or frizzy hair must mean that we are dying).
This lead to people turning to social networks like Facebook and Twitter to get a more personalised opinions or advice on their ailments and problems. Of course, as Google’s main goal is to rule the world and make all of us its bitches, looking for answers outside of Google just wasn’t acceptable and sure enough Helpouts were created.
How Effective Do We Think They Are?
At first glance, the Helpouts do seem like a nice idea. After all so many of us are turning to social media and video tutorials when we have a dilemma or want to learn or improve something. What better way to enhance this experience than to completely personalise it? There are, however, a couple of problems.
- Is it really instant?
Many of the times that we search for answers online we need an instant resolution to whatever it is we are looking for, whether it be an emergency car or appliance malfunction, or a dye-job gone wrong. When I was looking for a Helpout to take part in for this blog post, I found it really hard to be actually able to book a slot. And when I finally did, it wasn’t immediate; I had to wait a few hours (below you can read about my experience). Now, this is fine if you would like some fitness or nutrition advice (like in the Helpout I booked). But if you have a computer problem that you need to fix straight away, or something else that is urgent, this is no help at all!
This could of course be a disadvantage of Google Helpouts in its early stages. Perhaps as the platform develops and more experts join, this will become less of an issue and we will be able to grab a hold of someone as soon as we need to.
- Why pay for what we can find for free?
Now this brings us on to the issue of payment. Although we might be more than happy to pay to speak to a well-known expert, most of those that take part in the Helpouts are unknown. So why would we pay for this help and advice when, with a little more time and thorough searching, we could probably find the answers we are looking for ourselves?
Again Google’s answer to this is that these one-on-one sessions will be focusing purely on you, and the expert that you are chatting with will really be able to understand what the problem is. Google’s VP of engineering, Udi Manber, had this to say: “Google’s search engine often finds the right answer if someone knows the question to ask. The problem is very often you don’t know what question to ask”. Personally, I don’t think that this is enough to get most of us to part with our hard-earned cash. The internet is huge and there are always people online who will listen to your problem and give personalised advice.
- Bad connections
Although the internet is reliable most of the time, there are instances where it lets us down. Google does have a money back guarantee but of course there are a few catches. When applying for a refund, you first must make the request to the provider. If they refuse, the request must be passed on to Google. When starting the Helpout, you are asked if the session may be recorded. If you DO NOT allow this, you forfeit your eligibility for the money back guarantee.
This article on The Guardian details one journalist’s experience as he tried to get advice about his writing. Towards the end of the session, just as he asked his most important question, the connection broke up and he never got his answer. Would he be eligible for a refund?
Additionally, it’s unlikely that it’s going to work very well via 3G or 4G, so if you’re not connected to WiFi this is going to be a problem.
What About from a Marketing Point-of-view?
For marketing purposes, I actually think it’s quite a nice idea, especially for brands and ecommerce. Sephora, for instance, is offering free Helpouts for things like applying lipstick or choosing the right make up for your eyes. This could obviously lead to products being sold during or after the Helpout, which is something that Sephora’s VP of Digital Marketing has pointed out herself.
I think the key to this though is to offer FREE Helpouts. This would of course negatively impact the “experts” that are doing this for money. Who’s going to pay for fashion advice from a stylist they’ve never heard of when they could get it for free from someone as big as ASOS?
Where Did These “Experts” Come from Anyway?
According to Google, they have been working with a number of experts in various fields prior to the launch of Helpouts. These experts were invited to participate by Google; a unique code was given to them which they could then use to activate their enrollment into the program. For those who fancy giving it go, but haven’t received an invite, they can also apply to be considered via that page. I’m not entirely sure how these initial participants were selected, but I imagine that they must be credible as Google has a lot of trust to build with this new platform.
If you apply to create your own Helpout, your application will first be reviewed and after that Google will contact you via video chat. You can learn more about this process and what is required here.
My Experience with Google Helpouts
Last Friday I browsed through the available Helpouts to try and find one that I could genuinely engage with, not just test out for the blog post as I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time. I was looking at Sephora’s sessions and, as there were none available, I requested a time. I returned today with no reply, so set out to find another one. This time I took my search to the Fitness & Health section where I came across a personal trainer who was offering advice on workouts and exercise regimes. I was delighted to see that he had a session available so booked it right away.
Now, I admit, immediately after booking it, I started to get nervous. I don’t know why, just something about speaking with a complete stranger via webcam made me feel that way. I suppose this brings up another point, that some of us just aren’t comfortable speaking to a stranger via webcam. I set everything up, prepared myself and then at 14:14 joined the Helpout. I sat there for just over 5 minutes of the 15 minute session only to be stood up! I cancelled the session and went back to my desk.
Upon entering the “Your Helpouts” section, I noticed that it said my Helpout had been cancelled by the provider. Now I don’t know whether the trainer was late, he had cancelled it before, or Google had just messed up. But something that should be relatively easy had gone wrong somewhere. There is no point of having these time slots and Helpouts available if they really are not.
I like the idea and I see what Google are trying to do, but something tells me that this isn’t going to be the success that they want it to be. As a marketing tactic, I love it. I strongly believe that communicating with customers on a personal level is the way forward. But whether there is a need for a platform for this? I’m not sure. My failed attempt at giving this a whirl was an example of how this isn’t really as convenient and helpful as Google would like us to think. That being said, it is still in its early stages so there is always time for Google to improve it.