Google also pointed out that the small business version of Microsoft’s Office 365 advertises only “self-help and community support,” although Microsoft’s enterprise package does include 24/7 phone support.

 

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Google also said it offers “higher-touch support for our demanding (typically large) customers, including appointing an account manager for on-site deployment assistance and to offer customers a direct line of contact for any questions or issues they may experience.”

A Google spokesperson further stated that, despite the limitations detailed on the Google support website, “A Google Apps for Business customer may call our support line at any time … For any issue that is disruptive to their business, we will transfer to someone who can resolve their issue.”

Businesses that use Microsoft software and are considering moving to Google services will closely watch Google’s evolving stance toward customer support. While Microsoft offers more substantial support offerings to business customers than Google offers, Microsoft software products and services are also far more costly. (Also see: “Nonprofit treats Microsoft Outlook frustration with Google Apps”)

Google’s business products are primarily being gobbled up by small businesses and universities, but the company’s increasing ability to compete against Microsoft in the largest enterprise accounts has been seen with recent customer wins such as the U.S. General Services Administration.

“We support the largest customers quite well,” Girouard says. “It’s harder to support the long tail of customers, the three-person companies.”

Google, like any tech company, has been the subject of complaints about its customer service, from users of both its free services and its fee-based ones. But since its software is hosted entirely online, and Chromebooks provide little more than an inexpensive and convenient way to access the Web, customers have limited ability to fix problems themselves when things go wrong.

It’s likely that Google can provide better uptime than many small IT shops achieve on their own, but meeting the “five nines” standard of mission-critical application availability is a work in progress for all cloud-based services.

Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud recently suffered a severe outage, and even the enterprise-focused Rackspace has been forced to apologize and pay out credits to customers in the wake of outages.

Microsoft’s hosted email service went offline for some users this month, and Gmail has suffered numerous problems, including a recent issue that took some users’ mail offline for several days. Customers have also complained about Google Calendar not reliably sending reminders before appointments.

Google has so many customers that downtime for even a small percentage can affect millions of people. Various backup systems ensure that even if services go offline, Google can restore customer data.

Once Google convinces customers their data is safe, there are other concerns. Can employees used to Microsoft products be trained to use Google ones? To that, Girouard counters that Google is providing online tools to train people in using Google products, and systems to automate the movement of users from Microsoft to Google.