Hard-earned lessons of email tech support

Sometimes email can make a mess of technical support, as one Gripe Line reader finds when dealing with a failed drive

Gripe Line reader Mike wrote in to share an email conversation he had with the support technicians at Data Robotics that left him feeling frustrated, angry, and wronged. Mike's email conversation illustrates rather neatly that, although it may be cheaper and seemingly less time-consuming to use email, sometimes a phone call can quickly clean up a mess. After all, when someone is angry and the topic is complex, email can often turn a situation from bad to worse.

After installing a recommended Drobo firmware upgrade for his data storage unit, Mike was unable to write to the device, although he could still access the files on it. He went to company's Website, found an email address, and asked for help.

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"They told me to run a chkdsk," he says. "When that didn't fix the problem, they asked for a screenshot of the chkdsk run. When I sent that, they told me to go buy recovery software."

Well, that made him angry. Were they telling him he was on his own? This drive was working fine before he ran the firmware upgrade, so he asked to escalate his complaint. That only got him a more detailed explanation of why he was on his own.

"This tech told me that the diagnostics file showed several shutdowns by powering down instead of by software shutdowns, plus an OS crash on one of the machines connected to the Drobo. In effect he said it was my fault. He also referred me to a line in their 'best practices' document -- something I hadn't heard about before -- that says I should be doing monthly chkdsks," Mike reports.

The email from this tech also pointed out that data corruption can be caused by improper hardware shutdowns, a malfunctioning UPS (uninterruptible power supply) or by running a third-party disk-partitioning utility on the Drobo product. As for his lost data, the technician suggested that not only should he run regular maintenance but keep his data in more than one place.

Of course, this is all sound advice, but it didn't fix Mike's drive, which is what he wanted a technician's help with. If this was the end of the road for his drive, it was a flaming end for his opinion of Data Robotics support.

"I wrote them a snotty reply and am now forwarding the thread to you," he wrote in his letter to the Gripe Line.

I forwarded his letter to Data Robotics and heard back quickly from Mark Fuccio, senior director of products and markets at Data Robotics. He immediately rose above the details of Mike's case to point out, "This interchange shows the limitations of email as a medium," he wrote. "Both parties are exploring issues that the other only partially addresses." He did a very sensible thing: Called on a member of the support team to pick up the phone and call Mike to get all his issues sorted away.

I checked in with Mike to see how that turned out.

"A most excellent support rep called me," he reported. "She went way beyond anything I've seen before. She was polite, knowledgeable, well informed about my case, and kept sending me truly useful ideas for several days. Apparently they've got some very good people working for them."

Though his opinion of Data Robotics support improved after his phone support experience, his drive was beyond repair.

"She told me Drobos can fail with a power outage or OS crash," he said. "That's not surprising, of course. So I ended up buying 2TB of network attached storage and sharpening up my backup regimen, which is what I should have done in the first place."

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Hard-earned lessons of email tech support," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.