Don't you ever wish you could take your tech support headaches straight to the CEO of the company?
I had the chance to do that this week, when I stopped in to visit David Friend, the co-founder and chief executive of the Boston-based online back-up service Carbonite, which was recently named by Inc. Magazine as one of the country's ten fastest-growing companies. (Their growth rate over the past three years was a scorching 11,208 percent.) The company has about 160 employees in Boston, and sells a service that starts at $55 a year for an unlimited amount of data storage for one computer. Carbonite operates two data centers in the Boston area, and has a third one in the works.
Friend says that the company has been working to broaden its strategy beyond just backing up important information (and family photos) as insurance against a laptop theft or hard drive crash. Once a copy of documents, videos, music, and photos has been stored on Carbonite's servers, the company wants to offer access to those files from anywhere, and make them more easily shareable. Carbonite already offers iPhone and Blackberry apps that give subscribers access to their data from a mobile phone, and an Android app is on the way. "With the Android app," Friend says, "we let you stream your music directly to the phone from our servers, or flip through your pictures. If all your data is going to live in the cloud, we figured we should give people access to it."
And rather than uploading one back-up copy of files to Carbonite, and then also uploading vacation pictures and videos to sites like Flickr, YouTube and Facebook so that others can see them, Friend says the company hopes to make sharing less of a hassle: "If my pictures are already in the cloud, why can't I just point my mom to them, rather than uploading a copy to Flickr?"
I told Friend that last February, I'd become a Carbonite customer, using it in addition to a hard drive in my office on which I regularly store back-ups. But when the Carbonite software I installed on my MacBook kept stalling after uploading just a few gigabytes of data to Carbonite's servers, I started e-mailing Carbonite's customer support staff. They instructed me to remove and reinstall the Carbonite software on my computer, and send them log files that might point to the root of the problem I was encountering.
Every e-mail came from a different person: Leena, Richard, Maxwell, Mark, Seth, and more. Not surprisingly, all of them treated my problem as though it was brand new to them. I got frustrated when they informed me that no matter what happened, I had already paid for a year of Carbonite service on my credit card, which they wouldn't refund — so I called the credit card company and disputed the charge. At some point during that process, after the third or fourth reinstallation of the software, the backup mysteriously resumed. I'm now happily using Carbonite to back up about 100 gigabytes of data from my laptop.
Friend told me that Carbonite handles all of its phone, e-mail, and live chat customer service in India (they employ about 200 people there, through a subcontractor.) When I told him about how frustrating I found my interactions, he calmly explained two things.
First, he said the company had recently decided to purchase different software to handle incoming e-mails from customers. Instead of bouncing e-mails to various customer service reps, software from RightNow "routes the e-mail so that you don't have to start all over again with every interaction," Friend told me.
Then, he acknowledged that "e-mail has the worst customer satisfaction, because it can be hard for the person on the receiving end to pick up the thread, and so the time spent to resolve a problem winds up being much higher than phone or live text chat." Now, he said, "if we can't answer a question or deal with something in one e-mail, we say, 'Let's talk,' and if we're chatting or talking on the phone, our people can remotely access your desktop to help you get the backup working."
Friend also noted that the company already offers 24 hour customer service via e-mail and text chat, and would be expanding phone support from 14 hours a day to 24 hours for Carbonite's small business customers, who pay a higher price for the "pro"-level service.
My Carbonite back-up has been quietly cranking along in the background for a few months now... but obviously I'm hoping I don't need to sample the company's customer service again.
Have you had more recent experiences with the company?
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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