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I have been a Google brand advocate for over a decade. Fell on their search engine like a starving dog when it launched in beta in ’98 (even then, they really were better than everybody else), and have enthusiastically jumped in on all their web-based tools as they’ve rolled out.

Since I switched to an Android-powered phone recently, and am trying to find the right tools to sync my Outlook contacts (almost 2K) with both my Droid and Google Contacts – backups to the backups, always available – I decided to investigate Google Apps.

Their Premier (paid) Edition looked like it was worth a try. And they offer a 30-day free trial. Or at least they say they do.

I signed up for the free trial. They asked for my credit card number, and I gave it – I’ve taken advantage of many free trial offers the same way. I use it, if I like it, I stay and pay. If I don’t like it, I cancel during the trial period.

Has always been easy…until Google Apps.

I was concerned when I saw a charge appear on my credit card account online almost instantaneously after I signed up for the “free” trial. How is it free if you’re charging me for it?

I followed the “Support” thread in an attempt to find why they’d charged me. This is all I got:

In case you can’t make out the text at the bottom, it says that even though it looks like I was charged, I wasn’t.

I beg to differ. $50 that has been taken out of my account is $50 I don’t have access to – which sounds like “charging” to me.

I canceled the trial immediately.

The charge IS STILL ON MY ACCOUNT ALMOST 36 HOURS LATER. Trying to engage with Google as a customer gets you lots of bot-generated “do not reply to this” email, but no actual customer service.

I’m very much not the only person to have been bait-and-switched by Google Apps. BTW, Google Apps Power Poster LMckin51 is answering lots of questions (badly) on this topic, but doesn’t seem to understand the concept of listening. Since s/he is a volunteer, I’ll observe that Google seems to like getting stuff for free themselves. To be fair, they do offer lots of free tools – but bait-and-switch makes me madder than Dick Cheney at a PETA meeting.

Sorry, Google – you have officially become the giant soulless representation of crappy customer service. I realize that, to you, I don’t even qualify as a gnat to your elephant. However, there are more of me (small business owners) than there are of you (giant soulless global corporations).

And I call bait-and-switch – saying something is one thing (in this case, free) when it’s really something else (in this case, $50 plus possible overdraft fees) – the essence of evil in business.

Don’t be evil? Don’t make me laugh.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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