Update 2/16/2011: Drobo has addressed all of the issues in this post. I talk about that here.
Sensational headline, I know. And it’s sure to aggravate the folks over at Data Robotics. They certainly thought my tweet of the same title was unfair. I didn’t think I was being unfair, so I did some research, and I was right! This blog contains the results of that research, as well as some observations on the research process itself.
Here’s what happened. I safely shutdown my DroboPro before unplugging it and moving it from one place to another in my home. When I plugged it back in, it wouldn’t come back up. It was lost in a continuous reboot cycle. I knew I was past my 90 day warranty where they offer phone support, so I opened a support ticket online. Here is how that went:
- 11/29 [6:53] PM I open the support ticket that says my unit is completely down
- 11/29 [6:53] PM It fires back an automated “did you try all these things” message. I saw it, but I had already put in my original message that I had tried those things and they didn’t work.
- 11/30 [1:13] PM I login to the support site wondering why I haven’t heard anything. I see the ticket was in the “waiting for customer” status because I didn’t REPLY to the first “did you do all this stuff” message.
- 12/1 [12:56] PM I get a non-automated “did you try this?” message that says the same thing as the first message that I had already replied to
- 12/3 [11:25] AM I respond to the above message (I was traveling)
- 12/6 [06:11] AM They respond back they respond back with a “yeah, but did you try doing the above while switching outlets?” (Are you SERIOUS?) She also asked when it was purchased.
- 12/6 [08:50] AM I respond saying, YES, I tried that and NO, it didn’t fix it. I explain that it was a complimentary unit.
- 12/6 [9:50] AM What number should we call you at?
- 12/6 1 PM I give them my digits
- 12/6 [1:43] PM They close the ticket and open an RMA case
- 12/8 10 AM I receive a call from the RMA admin explaining how things are going to work
That’s when things went off the rails. Never mind it’s been almost ten days since I opened the darn ticket. Never mind I’m completely down that whole time. I was told that because I didn’t have DroboCare (their support contract), that I would have to ship them the defective unit back, after which they will ship me a replacement unit.
I explain to the rep how I’ve been down almost 10 days, due entirely to the Draconian nature of their online support process. I explain also that I’m on the road and that forcing me to ship the unit this way is going to add three-four more days to the process. I asked if there was anything he could do. He spoke to their manager and he said, “No.”
I suppose at this point I could have played the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Perhaps if they knew I was a blogger with a website that over 60,000 people visit per month, they might have done differently. But I decided to just let the “normal” support experience play out. At this point I am awaiting my return trip home so I can ship it to them.
After hanging up with them, I tweeted something essentially the same as the title of this blog. Most of my fellow bloggers felt my pain. Only a blogger who also happens to work at a vendor came to Drobo’s defense. Then @Drobo responded saying “ou’re being unfair. What company services products that are not under service contract. Sorry you don’t want to buy one.” I disagreed. We went back and forth and the result is that they think what they’re doing is fine and I think they have no idea how to support a customer that isn’t willing to pay for a support contract.
There are all kinds of customers like that. The first group is SMB customers with limited budget. They think very much like consumers that don’t understand why they should pay $200 a year just in case their $1200 product doesn’t work. Large businesses think more about risk and know that downtime is everything. So they’re willing to pay 15+% a year to make sure things are fixed as quickly as they can be when they’re broken. Customers and SMBs believe that they’ll replace it if it’s broken, and they’ll live with the downtime.
I found myself wondering if other companies in this space (SMB RAID storage) had similar policies, so I did some research. Here’s how THAT went.
I went to Iomega’s website and within a few seconds was chatting online with a pre-sales support person, Jon. He explained that their policy was similar to Drobo’s. If you want advanced replacement you need to buy their support contract. BUT if you buy the contract, you get 24×7 phone support? (With Drobo you get business-hours phone support.)
I then went to Netgear’s site. There was no chat icon, but there was a pre-sales support number. I called it and was immediately connected to… someone in India via a VOIP connection. We could understand each other just fine when the line was working. Sigh. But, I found out that they do provide advanced replacement for products under warranty. They have either ground of next-business-day. They take your credit card, charge you for shipping both ways ($20 for ground, $30 for NBD) and then if you don’t return the defective unit in 10 days, you bought it.
I looked into Qnap and Cisco, but they both say that your support comes from your resellers. Since the point of this blog was support, I’m leaving them out.
I talked to Synology via Twitter and Jason told me they have free tech support for the life of the product and advanced replacement just like Netgear. Give them a credit card and it’s on its way. He also said the units have a 1-5 year warranty depending on the product.
I also looked into Buffalo Technology’s products and called their pre-sales support line and talked to someone named Cameron. This phone call was everything the Netgear call was not. No weird delays or fuzziness in the call, and there was no one named Aamod saying his name was Steve. Cameron explained that they had — wait for it — free 24×7 phone support for the life of their products at no additional charge! And, yes, they did indeed offer advanced replacement just like Netgear and Synology.
Hey @Drobo. The answer to your question is Netgear, Synology, and Buffalo Technology. Outside of your industry (but also SMB and consumer products), my Bose headset, Plantronics Bluetooth headset, and my Western Digital portable hard drive were all recently replaced via advanced replacement. It costs no more to do advanced replacement than it does to do it the other way, but the customer experience is very different.
----- Signature and Disclaimer -----
Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.