Customer Service

Long story short, my Drobo Pro started acting up, and ultimately required an out of warranty RMA. But this post is to share what I’ve learned from this gruelling experience.

There are 3 companies involved here, and from the story you’re about to read, they are listed from worst to best.

  1. Switch – which is either formerly, or a subsidiary of Axis Global Inc. (or was it Axis Global Technologies, I forget)
  2. Drobo
  3. JT Photoworld

I believe this is a story worth sharing because the differences in how they handle their customers is very telling of the type of companies they are. Perhaps it can also serve as a cautionary tale to those planning to buy stuff from any of them.

CONTEXT

First, a bit of history…

On June 2008, back when Drobo Inc. was still Datarobotics, I bought one of their 1st generation Drobos. This wasn’t available locally at the time, so I just had my cousin bring it home from the US – sufficed to say, warranty wasn’t necessarily applicable.

Long story short, it has proven to be one of, if not the best investment(s) I had ever made in my entire life. 1 Should there be a disaster and had only one thing to take with me, it would be my data, hence the Drobo In fact, it worked so well, that it was still working (and no doubt will continue to work) when I decided to upgrade to what I had thought to be a better unit in 2011.

Since I was upgrading anyways, I decided to check if the unit was now being distributed in the Philippines. Lo and behold, it was… by a company called Axis Global. The agent who sold it to me was Anne Salvador and I distinctly remember the correspondence because unlike the $400 1st Gen, the Drobo Pro I planned to get was about 4x that amount ($1,500) – and cost about PhP77,000 (about 300-400 dollars more expensive – literally another Drobo) locally. But ultimately, she was able to convince me that the “premium” would be worth it for the local warranty – which does make sense.

That unit turned out to have some problems. Sometimes, when it would restart, it would report that a drive had failed. When I would take out the “failed” drive, let the Drobo do its recovery/reconfiguration routine (which took hours) and re-inserted the drive (you know, just for kicks) it would work accept the drive. I’ve tried it with different drives with the same result. In short, the drives were healthy; it’s the Drobo that was being temperamental.

The next character to come up in my story is a man named Mike Camus – he was the technician then. He took my Drobo in for diagnostics, 2 Which, in and of itself is annoying because no-one wants to be without their data for any length of time was able to recreate the problem, and said it was because I had been using drives of varying speeds – which wasn’t exactly a satisfactory answer; the whole point of the Drobo is to be able to mix and match drives regardless of their speeds and capacities. Also, I don’t recall experiencing that problem with their 1st Generation unit.

Anyways, he “re-shuffled” the drives to what he thought was the “optimal order” for different speed drives and in fairness, that seemed to have solved the problem. He was also very helpful and pleasant, so I made the mistake of letting him just “reassure” me that should something else happen again, instead of insisting on an RMA. Besides, an RMA wasn’t an option unless absolutely necessary; I did not have DroboCare then, so I would have to wait for it to be sent to Drobo, “repaired”, and sent back – even if the unit was technically “working.”

The next “issue” I had was the infinite reboot loop, which would happen from time to time. But Drobo already had an official 12-step process that can have you recover from such a state. I decided it was better to go through the steps instead of having my unit sent in again and be without my data. Plus at the time it wasn’t that big of a deal because my machine is on 24/7 and rarely (if at all) powerdown/restart the Drobo. But it got worse; at one point the 12-step process wasn’t working anymore – and I ended up having to follow a more invasive procedure. The Drobo was out of warranty at this point – so it was worth doing and putting up with.

Until last February (2013), and that’s where the story really begins.

Switch Experience

The unit suddenly just got into an permanent infinite reboot loop – no matter what I did. Looking back, while the constant degradation of the unit’s performance was gradual and spanned through about 2-3 years, I can’t help but think it was connected to the first issue; since it’s not like the Pro’s a portable thing which I move constantly. It’s just remains steady, of harms way, in my room. But in any case, it was now time to send it in for a proper repair. I tried to get a hold of Axis through Mike (as Anne was no longer part of the company). And he had me bring my unit to their main office for testing.

Long story short, it took them more than two months before they could tell me, get this: that they were no longer the distributors of Drobos, and that I would have to bring it to their new distributor JT Photoworld

I could come up with a bunch of reasons why I would be justified in being royally pissed at these people. It could be the fact that they didn’t even have the courtesy to pick up my unit since they were still the company I bought the unit from; it could be because it took them so goddamned long to “test” my unit – only to say that they can’t do anything about it in the first place; or it could be because they lacked the initiative to follow anything up and would only update me on the status when I would call – and not have anything productive to report at that.

No, it wasn’t those things per se. What really pissed me off was that they literally abandoned me as a customer; I already had found it in myself to just let the previous reasons slide, all I asked Mike was that they bring it to JT Photoworld and explain the situation to them – so that they could take over while being properly briefed. But no they couldn’t bring it there, but they could send it back to me. This absolutely made no sense, they clearly had the truck/van/car to deliver the thing to my home in Pasig, why not just deliver it straight to JT Photoworld which was much closer to their office? And after I let that slide 3 It was still worth getting pissed about because even if they shipped the unit back to me, that would mean I would still have to bring it personally to JT Photoworld and simply asked Mike to at least write an email to establish a connection between me and JT Photoworld – and to explain how my unit would have to now be serviced by JT Photoworld, he suddenly got very defensive, and simply refused to accept the “responsibility” that such a favour would entail.

Literally, it’s like they didn’t want to put in any effort into anything simply because they no longer supported the product officially. So fuck it, I gave up and just let them ship the unit back to me and brought it myself to JT Photoworld.

JT Photoworld Experience

So I got my unit, and brought it to JT Photoworld one day. The very next day, their customer service representative Joy calls me up, asking about the story behind the Drobo – as it wasn’t purchased from them.

I then proceeded to explain exactly what I had hoped Mike would have done – something I believe would still be the responsibility of Switch/Axis being the company I bought the unit from. I even had difficulty explaining how Switch and Axis were related 4 The “service receipt” they had used was labelled under Switch, but Drobo Inc, had no record of a company called “Switch” as a distributor – again, something Axis/Switch could’ve easily clarified, had they the courtesy/decency of doing the middle-work that was expected of them.

Because mind you, and I will not be remiss of reiterating this point again and again; if we’re talking about abandonment, JT Photoworld had more reason to abandon me simply because they really had nothing to do with the purchase. They had nothing to gain from this whole endeavour. One could argue the only reason they were forced to entertain my issue was because they were Drobo’s official service center in Philippines.

And yet here they were actively communicating, following up with me (and Drobo Inc.), trying to resolve the matter as fast as they can. The time the unit hit JT Photoworld’s doorstep, the holy week was about to start, so Joy was trying to get as much done as she could before they were forced to close for the “week”. In short, as far as JT Photoworld was concerned, they did everything as fast as they can – for a person who technically wasn’t their customer. And whatever “delay” was experienced was simply because they were waiting on a response from Drobo Inc.

Anyways, I was eventually allowed to purchase out-of-warranty DroboCare 5 Think Applecare, but for Drobo for my Pro (which I’ll discuss in the next section) And as soon as that was activated, a replacement unit was shipped to me the next day. So if I were to make a rough estimate as to how long it took from the unit being sent to them to getting a new unit, assuming there was no delay in Drobo’s feedback, no holy week, the purchase/activation of the DroboCare – it was a week tops. Compare that to two months of staying idle with Switch.

So I have nothing but praise for the courtesy, professionalism, care, and efficiency the people at JT Photoworld had given me. I’m sure to support their business. Should I plan to get another Drobo (which again, is another point I’ll discuss in the next section), I will have no second thoughts getting it from them.

Drobo Inc.

Drobo has already “phased out” the Pro from it’s lineup, which sucks. So technically, you shouldn’t be able to buy DroboCare for it anymore. And the solution they had left me was to just buy a new unit and have them transfer the data from the Pro to the new unit.

Obviously I complained, I had narrated pretty much the whole issue in context (no pun intended) of the “context” section above. And how unfair it was to require me to buy a new unit which costs at least $600, had less bays than the Pro – when this unit couldn’t even outlast my 1st Gen that was cheaper than both in comparison.

They took my case into consideration and eventually made an exception for me; they allowed me to purchase a years worth of DroboCare for my Pro. Since one of the benefits of DroboCare is immediate unit replacement, I was able to get the unit the next day as soon as my DroboCare was activated (as I had said in the previous section)

Thoughts & Conclusions

So there you have it, 3 companies, 3 experiences. Each with varying degrees of customer care.

Switch

I’d say Switch customer service is an EPIC FAIL – so much so that I would advice anyone who plans to buy something expensive from them to think twice. If it’s something that could get damaged, I’d sooner look for other places to buy it from – because apparently, they only help you if you’re under warranty – and only because they’re obligated to. Once that’s gone, they seem to have no initiative to help you; you’re shit outta luck.

Seriously, I challenge anyone to take their side on this whole thing. How could they have been justified in doing what they did? I don’t believe that I was being unreasonable at any point of our correspondence – the unit was already out of warranty, so I was paying either way. And it’s pretty hard to defend such douchebaggery when comparing to a company that conducted itself admirably (JT Photoworld) despite not having anything to gain from their dealings with me.

Drobo Inc.

Drobo Inc., I would give a pass. There’s nothing really to complain about since they did operate under their policies, and my experience proves that they do take special situations into consideration.

I guess the only disappointment I had was the fact that the Drobo Pro (or DroboCare for it) has already been phased out so soon – even if there technically is no other model of the same “class” to replace it.

If they hadn’t given me that exemption, and I wanted an 8-bay replacement, I would have to get their server grade model which cost at least twice the Pro. And if they still sold the pro and likewise didn’t give me that exemption, that’s another PhP77k I’d have to shell out for a unit that couldn’t outlast another unit that’s 1/4 of its price.

Drobo Inc. merely gets a “pass” because the help Philippe Cazaubon (for offering the DroboCare exception) and Sebastian C. (for being on point with activation of it) made me still consider a Drobo in the future. It failed however, to convince me that it’s still a good idea to spend on their more expensive units – it seems you simply don’t get what you pay for in this case. If we’re talking about probabilities, after this experience it seems to be more practical to just get the cheapest unit, so that in the worst case, you don’t feel like you’ve spent too much for something that wasn’t giving you the ROI you had hoped for. So now I’m finding it hard to ever justify purchasing a more expensive unit from them when considering the “implications” of such an investment.

You know the what greatest irony is? Since my 1st Gen, I have yet to experience a true drive failure (the Pro’s false positives don’t count), But of course we all know one can never really put a proper price on the value of one’s data. One can always argue that I didn’t even need to buy a Drobo at all (since my drives haven’t failed yet), let alone upgrade to a more expensive unit, when what you’re really paying is the peace of mind that should they fail, you’ll still have your data. But nonetheless, it’s ironic that the only weakness I could see is exactly what hit me: the unit itself failing – and I’m definitely having second thoughts about the “upgrade” so to speak – it really seems more cost-efficient (and just as reliable) to just get their cheaper units (which aren’t cheap to begin with).

JT Photoworld

JT Photoworld, and the people I’ve been in contact with. Ms. Joy & Jerome Tan, I cannot thank you guys enough. Rest assured this story will be told to any geek looking to buy stuff from you. And you’ve also gained a customer from it; my next Drobo will definitely be from you guys (not like there’s any other choice LOL) but at least I know from experience that you treat customers right.


As for the readers, I hope that anyone who has any connection with Switch to send them a link to this entry. I’d love to hear what they have to say all about this.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Should there be a disaster and had only one thing to take with me, it would be my data, hence the Drobo
2. Which, in and of itself is annoying because no-one wants to be without their data for any length of time
3. It was still worth getting pissed about because even if they shipped the unit back to me, that would mean I would still have to bring it personally to JT Photoworld
4. The “service receipt” they had used was labelled under Switch, but Drobo Inc, had no record of a company called “Switch” as a distributor
5. Think Applecare, but for Drobo

Have a say

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.