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Great coverage gone bad

September 11, 2008

Check out this NYT Bits column on Carbonite (a Boston-based online backup service provider).

Soon after it posted at 8:27am this morning, I imagine the PR team was getting virtual high fives from Carbonite’s execs. I mean, this piece is a home freakin’ run.

It’s got everything: the consumer fear factor citing Carbonite’s own stats (i.e. “according to Mr. Friend’s statistics, 43 percent of us will lose irreplaceable computer files”), credible small company story (i.e. strong VC backing, partnership with Lenovo), ease of use message (i.e. “users don’t have to deal with external hard drives or burning CDs”), and importance of backup among another well-known consumer tech disaster prevention necessity (i.e. “There is no reason that online backup shouldn’t be as big as anti-virus,” he said. “You could argue that backup is more important than virus protection.”).

Fast forward nearly four hours when the reader comments started pouring in. Ouch.

Here are a few tidbits pulled from various comments:

  • “when i tried recovering my data after a computer crash- the raison d’etre of carbonite!- it was a complete disaster.”
  • “the software sucks.”
  • “I am a Carbonite customer, but not a happy one.”
  • “Carbonite has a long way to go before they can be called ready for prime time.”

It’s clear Carbonite is riding a hockey stick growth curve and good for them in this economy. That said, it better be careful and address its apparent decaying customer support arm or, as one reader said, they’ll churn more customers than Vonage.

In this case, the more successful Carbonite’s PR team is at securing coverage across a wide reach of media, the more harm it may be causing the company by exposing its customer support shortcomings.

The ball is in Carbonite’s court to revamp the customer support processes and the PR team’s responsibility to communicate this story. Looks like one of Carbonite’s bloggers, “Len,” is the guru writing this four part customer support series. Len et al should gather their thoughts and explain, as the company grows and matures, so too does its customer support arm. Post the blog, add a link to it within the NYT comments section, offer to speak with the disgruntled customers directly, and hopefully change a few opinions.

In your opinion, will this piece of coverage help or harm Carbonite? In today’s media, does the article hold more influence than the reader commentary or vice versa?

UPDATE: Looks like it’s getting heated in the comments. An employee from a Carbonite competitor offered his service to the disgruntled Carbonite customers. Seems to have backfired. Proceed with caution…

UPDATE #2: Carbonite’s customer service manager responds point by point. Good stuff, Len.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2008 1:52 pm

    Hi Richard,

    As Carbonite’s PR agency, this is a very interesting topic especially to us, and as you’ve discussed, the dynamic of coverage has changed with the commenting and conversation factor. After a great article, PR cannot rest on its laurels and ignore the spread of the conversation. More importantly, it’s in a company’s best interest to continue the conversation.

    Consumer-based businesses will always have, ahem, constructive customer feedback. Take a look at any of Carbonite’s competitors or other software companies and you’ll find similar results.

    However, Carbonite has demonstrated in the past,,
    customer service is a critical component and the company is extremely active in listening – and responding – to customers and critics.

    Keep an eye on this NYT chain and you’ll see why posts like the above one happen.

    Any chance you are coming to the PRSA conference in Detroit this year? I would welcome the chance to meet up if you do attend.

    Best regards,


  2. September 12, 2008 2:50 pm

    Tim – great stuff, thanks for the note. I just updated linking to Len’s response in the thread. Nice work on continuing the convo in a constructive manner.

    No plans to attend the DET PRSA, unfortunately. If ever in Boston, let me know.

  3. September 14, 2008 10:03 am

    Rich: Dave Friend here, Carbonite’s CEO. I thought you might want to see the comment that I posted on the NY Times blog. Some of the postings are obviously partisan or even competitors, but we certainly acknowledge the call center problems and are working hard to correct.

    I am Carbonite’s CEO and I wanted to comment on some of the postings on this blog. I am sorry that I didn’t get to it sooner, but I was traveling last week.

    We have had a number of complaints about hold times for our phone support, and some of this has been warranted. The company has almost tripled in size in the last 6 months as literally hundreds of thousands of people have signed up for Carbonite Online Backup. And we have found it very challenging to staff up quickly enough in customer support. We have faced two challenges in scaling up customer support: when we hire a new customer support representative, their calls need to be monitored 100% by experienced reps for the first two months. So this actually reduces productivity in the short term since the experienced reps have to oversee new employees rather than answer your calls. The second problem is that calls tend to all come in during the same few hours every day. So while you might get through in 2 minutes early in the morning, if you call during the peak hours you will have to wait. No company selling unlimited backup for $50 per year can afford to staff customer support so that there is no wait during peak hours. Like most software and service companies today, we do offer a premium service plan for just $20 per year (about half the average for our industry) that has a queue that averages less than 2 minutes.

    To help improve our support, we recently began introducing live text chat with the added capability that our reps can, with your permission, actually look at your computer screen and fix problems for you rather than telling you how to do it yourself. This has gone over great during trials — problems get resolved faster and customers are delighted with the service. The industry is clearly moving in this direction.

    I should note that we survey our users every month, and despite these challenges, 87% say they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with our customer support. And consistently 98%+ of our users say they would recommend Carbonite to friends and family.

    Of course no CEO likes to read gripes about his service, but we are in this for the long haul to build a great company, so I take every customer’s issues seriously. And I always invite users to write to me directly at


    David Friend, CEO
    Carbonite, Inc.

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