Is providing customer service a blessing or burden to your company?

For many companies, customer service is their lifeblood, not their product. After all, customers give them money in exchange for an expectation of excellent service. It’s a dying art, customer service, in which no one is an expert, merely a student. Unfortunately, some companies take the easy way out – offer a good-to-excellent product, build an extensive knowledge base, and in the event someone contacts them, offer a canned reply in the hopes of “shooing” them away.

The scenario I just described happened to me this week. Sadly, it was from a company I least expected – BackBlaze.

BackBlaze is an online backup service. They compete with your Carbonites, CrashPlans, and Mozy’s of the world. Their bread and butter is their $5.00 monthly plan with unlimited storage, a deal compared to Mozy’s $9.99/mo for 120 GB, Carbonite’s clumsy and somewhat unreliable software, and CrashPlans cumbersome interface.

Don’t be fooled though. Where BackBlaze has pioneered in great software, they’ve created huge setbacks in their customer service arena.

A little backstory…

I bought a 1-year subscription to BackBlaze last year around Black Friday. It was relatively inexpensive compared to their already inexpensive $60.00 yearly fee. Prior to that I used CrashPlan for a year. I can’t say I’ve had any issues with the BackBlaze software (save for one, keep reading), it’s lightweight, doesn’t eat my CPU time, and hasn’t crashed or felt super laggy once. File restorations via their website were a little slow on the download, but when unzipped, they worked; files weren’t corrupt. More than I can say for other services.

It wasn’t until I suffered a hard drive failure I realized one of the huge downsides to BackBlaze. After rebuilding my system, re-installing Windows, and restoring from local backups, I re-installed BackBlaze and let it begin a new backup. Unfortunately, I have over 2 TB of media, and a few hundred gigs of personal files to send to their service. It was at this point in time I noticed BackBlaze’s client stated it would be around 66 days to complete. Note: This was after the backup had been running for about 2 weeks.

Sorry, but 66 days? WOW! My ISP provides me with dedicated fiber. I share the bandwidth all the way to their central office with no one. After it leaves their CO, I am, of course, subject to congestion on the general internet, but it’s usually not an issue. 50 meg down/25 up, all day long with no throttling or “caps”… it’s great. Unfortunately, the people at BackBlaze don’t seem to think so.

The BackBlaze client has a throttle feature to prevent it from consuming your entire upload; a feature that’s pointless for reasons you’ll discover in a moment. After ensuring it was disabled and set to faster uploads, I ran the BackBlaze speedtest. My result?

Last Result:
Download Speed: 38638 kbps (4829.8 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 13512 kbps (1689 KB/sec transfer rate)
10/29/2014, 12:43:33 PM

A connection of 13512 kbps upload would backup:
142509 MB in a day

I thought, why in the world is it taking 66 days to backup my data? Remember when I mentioned the useless throttle feature? In the BackBlaze client, you can click a link titled “How long will my backup take?” It will lead you to a website where you can troubleshoot slow uploads, see an estimate of how long, etc etc. However, one clever bit BackBlaze forgot to hide…. in the URL it lists the present speed at which it’s backing up data as a way to calculate (via a script on their site, no doubt) how long it will take. Look at the following URL:

https://secure.backblaze.com/online-backup-speed.htm?os=win&freetrial=f&mb=845459&auto_throttle=false&throttle=100&kbitspersec=1224&locale=en_US

Look at auto_throttle=false&throttle=100&kbitspersec=1224. This means auto_throttle is turned off, but if it were on, throttle would be at 100 kilobits per second. More importantly, the kilobits per/sec is 1224 – this is the upload speed at the time I ran the query “How long will my backup take”. It appears to be the maximum as my 25 megabit/sec upload was in no way/shape/form maxed out or in heavy use. There was plenty of bandwidth available for faster backups.

Also, you can see in the URL there is 845,459 MB left in the current backup.

So, being the diligent tech person, I contacted their support with the following query:

backblazeticket

Now, I won’t comment on their response time. If I contact a company for a general (aka non emergency) question, I don’t mind if they take another 24 hours or the next business day to get back to me. However, if they reply with a (excuse the quasi-German) shitty reply, then we have an issue. Below, my reply from BackBlaze: (Note, I’ve edited out the individual’s photo for privacy reasons. Only his first name, as given in the ticket, remains.)

This is perhaps the worst reply I’ve ever seen from any company, including AOL, HP, and Comcast. Let’s analyze it to see why:

In my initial ticket, I included this: “I have 50 megabit down / 25 megabit up, dedicated fiber. The BackBlaze app only seems to backup at a max of 1224 kb/sec, despite the fact throttling is disabled and it’s set to the fastest setting.”

BackBlaze replies with: “Backblaze can backup as fast as your Internet connection allows.”

Not true. If it were, I’d have 100% of my 25 megabit/sec upload utilized by BackBlaze. Next!

Backblaze replies: “Comcast PowerBoost or other “temporary speed enhancers” fool the Speed Test into thinking you have more bandwidth than you do.”

I already informed them I have dedicated fiber. Comcast is not a fiber product. At best – it’s metroEthernet for residential Extreme 505. I’m not a business, so Comcast’s Fiber availability in Business Class wouldn’t play a role in predictive support in this situation.

BackBlaze replies: “Set Backblaze’s throttle as fast as possible (Backblaze system preference / control panel -> Settings -> Performance -> uncheck Automatic Throttle -> Move slider all the way to the right) (I see that you have already attempted this)”

Already I’ve mentioned I have throttling in the application disabled.

Ignoring the other suggestions in their reply, it’s clear the agent, “Anthony”, glanced at the ticket, glazed over it and quickly (yet, incorrectly) ascertained that my issue with slow uploads was the same as 99% of their customers who write in with the same issue. He didn’t even bother to read it enough to gather I’ve already done the things they suggested, and instead, replied with a canned replies.

Canned replies are evil. For those who don’t know, a canned reply is a reply that’s basically bookmarked in a company’s help desk software. It requires a few clicks to auto-paste a long body of text and send to the customer with little effort from the brain of the tech support agent. What many companies don’t realize is, this is completely unprofessional, lazy, and alienates your customers. Here, in my original inquiry, the agent had the opportunity to really shine and show us what he’s made of.

Instead he copy pasted or used an automated canned reply insertion method built in to their helpdesk software, sourced from this support article: https://help.backblaze.com/entries/20201293-Why-is-my-back-up-slow-

If you’ve made it this far in my little rant, you’re probably wondering what happened. Did I complain further? Yes. In fact, I went to Facebook. The conversation is available to the right, feel free to backblaze_fbclick for a larger version. However, the gist is:

  • I informed them I wasn’t happy with their reply.
  • They tried to use the “oh, the agent probably didn’t understand your question” scapegoat.
  • I replied back with my original, unmodified inquiry, stating it was a relatively simple question with enough information for their tech support staff to provide a concise answer.
  • They stated they would send it to their “Head of Support” for review.
  • 36 hours later, Friday, October 31st, 2014 I received an email from their helpdesk informing me the ticket was being set to closed as no reply had been issued. Hmm… I thought. What happened to their head of support looking at it?

Returning to Facebook, I continued to complain and finally received an escalated ticket. At this point, I’m not expecting much in the way of a reply. In fact, I could really care less if they send anything at all. However, it’s the point of it all. Here’s my advice:

Stop providing people with shitty and lazy support.

Stop using canned replies! It’s bad for business!

Train your people to read tickets! Take after Zappos!

I’ve already uninstalled the BackBlaze software and moved on to better, more professional and reliable service providers. However, my subscription with BackBlaze is good until November 31st; we’ll see what they are willing to do for their blunder. (Likely nothing, and I expect nothing.)

In the end, would I recommend BackBlaze? Only if you never, ever, plan to contact them for support…. which is highly unlikely. So, no. I wouldn’t. In my opinion, the agent who sent me that canned reply should be fired. If you think I’m harsh, think about every time you’ve called your cable company, mobile phone company, credit card company/bank, and received less than remarkable support for what you thought was a seemingly simple issue. Frustrating, right? Infuriating? Sometimes. I’d almost guarantee you’ve had the same thought. 😉

Update: November 1, 2014: I received a reply on the ticket. Unfortunately, it tells me nothing I didn’t already know. The reply is below. While it is entirely possible there is delay between their servers and my connection, it’s highly unlikely. It also doesn’t negate the fact that they sent me a copy/pasted version of their support article to begin with, and in their reply below – the continued to blame my internet connection (PowerBoost, etc etc). Out of curiosity, I requested IP addresses for their data center. If they refuse, I can get them from their app by packet sniffing it and test the latency for myself.

Zack, Nov 01 16:20:

Hi there,

My name is Zack, and I’m a Senior Support Tech here at Backblaze.

There are a couple of different reasons why there is a discrepancy in the speed test on our website, and the speed shown in the Backblaze program. The biggest reason is that the speed test performs a simple ping to our servers, and records the time. The program actually records the last transmit speed of each file it uploads to give you an estimate on how long it will take to complete your backup.

When a file is uploaded, the program has to create the connection, get told which pod it should upload to, then start uploading the file. If a file is under 10MB, it is batched with other files to be uploaded, and if it’s over 30MB, it’s broken into 10MB chunks to be uploaded, all of which takes time and can slow down the connection.

Also, if you are a far distance from our servers in Northern California, the number of hops the data has to make to get to us, as well as issues along the path through your ISP can cause slower uploads.

We do not throttle speeds on our end whatsoever. However, some ISPs can throttle large uploads, or the upload speed they tell you that you have is actually a “boost” speed, where you get a small amount of data uploaded quickly initially, but the speed is then scaled back as the upload continues. It makes uploading small files quick, but extended uploads slow.

This “boost” method can also effect the speed test on our site, and the ping is transmitted at that boosted speed.

The speed test inside the program itself is more accurate, and will show you what you can actually expect the upload to continue at.

If you’ve changed your throttle settings to the maximum setting manually (which you have), and turned off your sleep settings, the upload will progress as quickly as it is able in your situation.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Thanks,
Zack

The Backblaze Team

Update: November 2, 2014: As it turns out, BackBlaze publishes a list of their IP ranges. You can find it here: https://backblaze.zendesk.com/entries/20202037-What-IP-addresses-does-BackBlaze-use-

It would seem they use Cogent for transit, which could explain the slow speeds. I still believe there’s a limit written into the app, however, I’m done with their service and won’t be investigating this further.

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