BT continues hopeless search for a clue

29 August 2008

There's a real sense of flailing around in BT's latest missive to its broadband customers plus a cracking public-relations use of the word "confusion". A couple of weeks back, BT sent out a pretty unambiguous email to people on the BT broadband service:

"We wanted to let you know we will be withdrawing the BT Digital Vault Basic (2GB) product shortly. This means you’ll need to upgrade to BT Digital Vault Plus within the next 60 days to access, upload or share your stored files.

"Upgrade to BT Digital Vault Plus for only £4.99 a month...We’ll switch off your BT Digital Vault 2GB service on the 30th October 2008, so make sure you upgrade now to get continuous protection for all your precious photos, files and more."

The Digital Vault Basic is/was the one that broadband users get for free. The August 15 email demonstrated that BT was using the drug-dealer business model for promoting the service: offer a sample for free, get people on it, then withdraw it. I wasn't overly bothered as the system was not exactly Mac-friendly and I've got a fair few gigs in the cloud through other services. I thought no more about it.

Then, today, another email arrived apologising for the "confusion", apparently hoping that it could hide a change of mind by blaming customers for not reading emails correctly:

"We recently sent you an email advising you about the withdrawal of our 2GB Digital Vault Basic product. We would like to apologise for any confusion this email may have caused. Our 2GB Digital Vault product is an old product which is no longer available to new customers therefore we are removing it from our portfolio."

So, the 2GB product is safe, right? Er...not exactly. The 2GB service is being withdrawn:

"We'd like to assure you that any data you currently hold in your vault will continue to be stored safely. Your free Digital Vault Basic (2GB) account will be converted to a free 1GB Digital Vault Basic account automatically in the next 60 days."

So, what happens to people who happen to have stored more than 1GB in BT's wobbly cloud:

"You can continue to access all your stored files from your free 1GB Digital Vault Basic, however you won’t be able to upload any new files until your total usage falls below 1GB or if you are a BT Total Broadband customer you can upgrade to Digital Vault (5GB) at no extra cost."

So, let's go through that again. BT claims the 2GB product is being withdrawn, then says it never meant that. But the company withdraws the 2GB product anyway, replacing it with a 1GB service. That's unless you're on the Total Broadband package in which case you have to do the upgrade yourself rather than waiting for BT to simply up the storage to 5GB. I think I may have to draw a diagram.

If BT customers weren't confused, they probably will be now. I don't know why the company couldn't just come out and say: "Sorry, we messed up. It was a bad idea to offer a free service and then just kill it, so we've changed our minds about switching off the 2GB service. Here's 1GB as a consolation prize."

Claiming that it's all down to confusion just insults customers, treating them as though they can't read. It's not surprising but demonstrates the thinking that goes on inside a lot of companies.

Update: A spokesman for BT said the main aim of the change was to encourage customers who aren't on the Total Broadband package to go look at the new portfolio of services. In an update, he said: "BT Digital Vault Basic 2GB has not been available to new customers since June 2007 and the majority of users are BT Total Broadband customers who qualify for the larger 5GB product for free. This is why we are now withdrawing the [2GB] product".

There's some more on the Guardian Technology blog about this.

1 Comment

As CEO of Carbonite, I find BT’s announcement a little strange as well. At their price point of £5 per month for 50GB, their primary offer is not competitive with Carbonite or Mozy, both of which offer unlimited backup for half that price (and it REALLY is unlimited). Without a free trial, how is BT going to acquire new customers? My understanding is that BT doesn’t actually own and operate this service – they are simply a reseller of a service from a small white branding vendor. My guess is that there were too many free accounts and not enough upgrades, so the vendor decided it was time to cut their losses.

But I think all the talk of “storage” misses the point: “storage” and “backup” are not the same thing. If backup is not completely automatic, it doesn’t get done no matter whether it’s online, on an external hard drive, CD-ROMs, or flash. People just don’t get around to doing it, and we have plenty of surveys to prove it. If backup isn’t automated, it won’t work for most people.

A real backup service is completely automated. Once you set it up, you will always be backed up. You should never have to think about it. Carbonite, for example, requires only an email address and a password, and then backs up everything you’ve ever saved on your PC. So you don’t have to make any decisions or know where your files are stored. There's no need to make selections, no need for scheduling (it's continuous, no decisions at all, really.

Online backup is an application – it’s not just storage. For much less than the cost of an external hard drive, you get your data stored on RAID’d drives in a professionally managed data center. When comparing an automated online backup service with manual backup processes, like flash drives, online storage, etc., you have to ask yourself, “How much is my time worth?”

I wonder how many people actually pay BT £5 for their service, vs take the free service? What is the real business story here?

David Friend, CEO
Carbonite, Inc.
Carbonite Online Backup

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