At Photofocus, our general policy is to only review products we like. There are so many great products out there to help photographers. In this case though, I am making an exception based on recent experiences with a company.

Many of us need to send large images or video files between clients and team members as part of our jobs. Previously, I used Hightail for this.

Hightail (aka YouSendIt)

I have been a customer of YouSendIt (now Hightail) for at least five years. I have also highly recommended it for years as an easy way to share files and send things to clients. Sure, Dropbox works well, but Hightail and YouSendIt were easier to manage and I didn’t need to go in and clean out files. I could set them to auto expire as well as get return receipts once a file was downloaded.

Recently, the service has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. I have seen delivery speed crawl to ridiculously slow rates. Last week, the company slipped to download speeds that rival the best of the Internet at least if it was 1992.

The Problem

I am a heavy Internet user. Last Friday afternoon, one of our team members sent me a file I needed for a client. The file was large (700 MB) but not huge. The download speeds at my house are 78 Mbps on average.

Hightail download speeds were .73 Mbps. Yes thats a decimal point in front of the 73. I was able to download files at less than 1% of my available bandwidth. That was 10+ hours to download a 700 mb file.

Sure, every server can have a hiccup. But now, nearly one week later, the service is still only delivering downloads at 3.6 Mbps. But my real beef? One would expect for a service that you pay more than $300 a year for that they would provide some real support. It was my experiences in trying to resolve my problems with the company and their lack of professionalism that were the impetus for this review.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Let me give you 6 reasons why professionals can’t depend on Hightail to deliver their digital files. I excerpted several direct quotes from the company and my support sessions. I used this method to contact them so I’d have a written record of their responses. Ive edited it down but included the most relevant parts.

#1 Transfer Speeds

Your clients and your team expect things to download reasonably fast. Getting download speeds that are 1-5% of your bandwidth is ridiculous. Clients were asking us if something was wrong with the website.

#2 Hiding Problems

If an online services company has problems (or suspected problems) I’ll check their status page. This is a quick way to determine if the problem is on my end or theirs. Or perhaps it was a scheduled service update that I was warned about.

At Hightail, the companys status page hasn’t been updated for over four months. If you look in their support forums, there are numerous complaints about the service. The company insists though that every thing has been perfect for months. The support agents I talked to denied any problems, but Im pretty good with the whole Internet thing and was able to show them they did indeed have a problem.

  • Support: As of the moment our status page is not yet updated but you can see the update on this link
  • Me: I have been having download issues for 8 hours. How long does it typically take you to update a status page. Is that also 24-48 hours?
  • Support: Usually the site updates once there’s a known issue
  • Me: For the record. the last time that page was updated on Sep 7, 2013 12:49 AM. There are NUMEROUS reports in your forums of people posting about issues.

That status page still denies there were ever any problems. This is despite my tech support contact informing me that hed escalate that issue too.

#3 The company seems to be trying to cut costs

The economy is tough. I get it. But you can only trim things so far until there’s a big problem. After I contacted support (and the company denied any problems) it took a while to get any real answers. They finally admitted that there were server problems. Sounds to me like they don’t have enough servers.

  • Support: I really do apologize Richard but it is reported that we have an issue with our two servers
  • Me: *two… Seems like you guys have been having “ISSUES” a lot’

Here’s a screen shot to show you. Richard was the name of the support representative for this part of my support “experience.”


#4 They don’t understand business needs.

I informed Hightail that I was going to miss delivering my files on time to my customer. That I was not going to make my deliverable time due to the ridiculously long download time. While the file said 10 hours the estimate kept going up.

  • Me: I am about to blow a contract. Its 2 am here How long am I going to be staying up and waiting. I have an 8 am delivery (deadline).
  • Support: we really do apologize for this inconvenience that may have caused you
  • Me: So give me specifics. Do I need to call my client at 2 am and tell them that we’re about to miss their deadline? When are your servers expected to be fixed
  • Support: Please do give them a head’s up that we’re having an issues with our servers
  • Me: I am about to lose a few thousand dollars because of your servers

#5 They don’t solve problems very well.

I always try to find a solution to a problem. In this case it sounded like the outbound connections to servers were malfunctioning. But perhaps they could access my data and move it to a different location over their local network. I asked if my files could be accessed from another server. Support said yes, but that only a Level 2 tech could solve this problem.

I spoke to two support people on this issue to verify the situation.

  • Me: Okay. Move my files to a server that works
  • Support: the only people that can do that is on our Tier 2 support
  • Me: AND?!?
  • Support: I will escalate your case to then and they will reply to you via e-mail
  • Me: I pay hundreds of dollars for this and have multiple accounts in my company. I don’t want email support. Connect me with a real person either via chat or phone now. I am about to lose a client because of your cra**y servers.
  • Support: Sorry Richard, but there’s no available phone support as of the moment and for me to connect you to our Tier 2 support, I’ll need to escalate this issue. (Ill) write down the issues and they can respond to it
  • Me: Is your tier 2 support currently working
  • Support: They are here Monday to Saturday 6:00AM to 6:00PM PST.

So, your companys ENTIRE business model is about delivering files. But your Level 2 Tech Support (the ones who can do more than offering soothing statements) only works 42.8% of the time. If it were my company, I think Id keep people around who can actually solve problems.

#6 They break promises.

I was promised that someone from support would be in touch the next morning. That request to speak to a manager that was also promised… still hasn’t happened more than a week later.

  • Support: I understand your frustration. But there’s no available tech on chat and phone. I need to escalate your issues using my tools here so they can respond to your concern.
  • Me: And how long is it going to take to get a response
  • Support: ETA would be 24-48 hours, but as soon as they get my escalation, they will respond to it.
  • Me: I want a phone call from a manager on Monday
  • Support: yes, I will let them call you please provide me your phone number
  • Me: 703-6XX-4XXX

When did I get a call? Six days later. But from that support tech who was supposed to call the next AM. This was only after I publicly complained to the company twice on Twitter. Of course then they said they didn’t have my number. Despite it being a part of the original report and appearing on my customer profile.

That request to talk to a manager… more than a week later and still hasn’t happened.

The bottom line

Its really sad when a website which specializes in digital delivery can’t keep up with its promises. Especially when things like traditional courier and even overnight shipping offer faster delivery speeds.Additionally, I would expect that a request to have a manager call me to discuss my service would have resulted in at least some attempt at communication.

The resolution to the story? I had to call the team member at home at 3 am and wake them up. They then had to login to a different service and resend me the file. I pulled an all-nighter and made my deadline.

At this point, I can no longer recommend Hightail (aka YouSendIt). What once was a great service has become completely unreliable. I expect that if I pay a few hundred dollars a year for a service, its customer support can actually help me. It also seems off that it took a company six days to reach out at all and all of my attempts to discuss their poor performance have resulted in zero response.

I’m looking for a good digital delivery company that’s not Dropbox (we already use them). Something that just emails clients a link to click and download (and then gives a return receipt). Please post any suggestions in the comments below.