EDIT: It’s become obvious to me from the comments that people are failing to see that this article is specifcally about “GMail” (the free email product) and not “Google Apps for Business”. GAfB is an entirely different ball of wax. While it’s not perfect, it’s a lot better than GMail for business purposes and I have no major complaint about it.
Something I’ve been seeing more and more is the use of GMail for business. The problem is, GMail is absolutely unacceptable for business usage, but the folks who use it don’t see it that way. To be honest, I’ve never used GMail personally. But GMail’s handling of business scenarios is so poor, I don’t have to use it to know that it is not the right tool for the job. I just need to send and receive email from GMail users.
I understand why people like GMail. The UI seems to be good. It can act as a single collection point for a dozen other accounts and let you work with them. It hooks up easily to a variety of smartphones. Android phones in particular work much better with GMail than they do with Exchange, that’s for sure. And for the consumer level user, these are all excellent reasons to make GMail your primary email client and account.
But business users have different needs and different use cases, and in those situations, GMail not only falls flat, it can be outright harmful to both your ability to work and your appearance as a professional.
Problem #1: Over-aggressive spam filtering
This seems to have gotten better, but I still get reports on a regular basis that my emails have not come through. Quite frankly, this is not acceptable. The email account I use for much of my business has been established for over 10 years. I don’t understand how a GMail user can send me an email, I respond to it, and somehow my response ends up in their junk mail bin. This happens with startling frequency. Isn’t GMail smart enough to figure out that a response to an existing email is ALWAYS legit, regardless of content? And can’t GMail figure out that since hundreds of its users reply to emails that I’ve sent, from the same SMTP server with the same IP address (at least 6 or 7 years now!), that I should be considered golden? The tendency to filter spam out incorrectly may be fine for personal use, but in business where dollars are on the line, it is not acceptable.
Problem #2: “… sent on behalf of…”
GMail as an inbox collator makes perfect sense, until the recipient sees “… sent on behalf of …” in their email client. It is insanely unprofessional, particularly when the base address is nowhere near business-acceptable. For example, my GMail account is “jmjames78” or something like that (don’t recall off hand, it’s hooked up to a phone I no longer use). Now, if someone sees, “From: email@example.com sent of behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org” it isn’t the worst thing in the world. It still looks bad in my opinion, but your professional image won’t be ruined. But when I see stuff like “email@example.com sent on behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org” I have a real problem with it. If you can’t understand what the issue is… well, I hope you don’t have to communicate much with customers! When people see this kind of thing, it makes you look like you are working for a lot of companies at once, which doesn’t convey a good image.
Problem #3: Fixing “… sent on behalf of …”
To be fair, the previous problem should be easily solved. All you need to do is set up GMail to send through the SMTP server proved for the actual account, in theory. In practice, this does not seem to be too easy. I’ve set a couple of different people up with standard POP3/SMTP accounts for my company, and all of the ones who try using GMail to pick up the email have problems. The standard email client users do not. I thought it was the mail server, so with a great headache, I moved from a self-hosted email server to a third-party email server. The problems persist. I have lost close to ten hours of my life trying to get GMail users able to get their email and send it out without the stupid “… sent on behalf of …” message. Meanwhile, I have critical features in my flagship product undeveloped, and important contracts in the works. Guess what adds money to my pocket? Guess what doesn’t? Why am I wasting my time because GMail can’t do what a copy of Outlook Express that shipped with Windows 98 can do?
Problem #4: Calendars
GMail includes some calendar functionality. It’s even nice enough to cooperate with the way Outlook and Exchange work. Sadly, it has one insanely critical flaw: in a common situation, it refuses to send invitations where you ask them to go. You see, Google accounts allow you to assign a backup email address. This is a useful idea; it is for situations like the need to send a password reset to a customer. Google, in their infinite “wisdom”, decided that if a GMail user sends an invitation to one of these backup addresses, it should really send it to the GMail account instead. This means that if I have a personal GMail account, it is now exposed to someone else who I might not want to have or see that address. It also means that if I don’t use that GMail account, I’ll never see the invitation. I’ve missed and almost missed a number of meetings in the last few months because a GMail user sent the invite to my address and it ended up in my GMail account.
Problem #5: Customer Service? What’s that?
Google is notoriously bad at customer support. Good luck even finding the phone number of someone to talk to. I’ve tried many, many times to talk to someone there, the best I was able to do was when I leveraged a PR contact I had there. Google doesn’t want you calling them. Google wants you to either email them so they can send canned responses, or to post in their forums so that other people with the same problem can say “me too” and “let me know if you ever find a fix”. As someone who’s been a paying Google customer before, I can tell you that they suck at support and service, the assumption is that anyone too stupid to not figure out their product shouldn’t be a customer, and if you don’t like the way the system was designed, you can take a hike. Google loves large scale metrics to drive product development, not actual customer feedback (even though that can be turned into a metric too!). As a result, when you have a problem… well, good luck. With other vendors, free or paid support typically rangers from “not that good” to “stellar”. For example, $259 gets me a ticket with Microsoft and their engineers are amazingly good at solving problems (once I get through the language barrier and they know what I’m talking about). Google doesn’t even have a paid option, on the other hand (hmm… I smell opportunity!).
In summary, GMail is a fine product, but its fit and finish, as well as some design decisions, make it totally inappropriate for business use. Your mileage may vary, of course. But from where I sit, as someone who interacts with GMail users on a regular basis, it has no business in a business environment.