BlackBerry Bungles Blackout

RIM Blows Its Chance to Communicate to Consumers in Outage

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When the Blackberries went silent last Tuesday, so did their marketer.

It's not the sort of response you'd expect from a company that makes its living on instant communication -- and industry pundits took note of Research in Motion's failure to clue in its 8 million worldwide customers.
Many observers said that RIM misstepped in its response, or lack thereof, during the Blackberry outage.
Many observers said that RIM misstepped in its response, or lack thereof, during the Blackberry outage. Credit: Krause Johansen

"The Blackberry ... started this age of rapid-fire messaging. By association, you'd expect customer service would be similarly quick," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen Buzzmetrics. Mr. Blackshaw himself was caught flatfooted by the outage -- and at first mistakenly blamed his own information-technology department.

One would think ...
It was not an uncommon reaction. "Most people thought it was their problem, because if it was something as big as a RIM shutdown, they'd let you know," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

But it didn't. In the end, it took RIM more than 12 hours to release any word -- and even then it issued only a terse statement. By then, most consumers already knew via the media, their IT departments or friends. Surprisingly, given its tech-savvy customer base, RIM never posted anything about the outage on its website. The company also seemed to dodge the press. It wasn't until Thursday that the company released details, attributing the outage to the use of untested software.

RIM did not return calls for comment on this story.

Missed opportunity
On the website, one thread contained more than 16,000 posted messages talking about the blackout. All in all, it was a missed opportunity, said Mr. Blackshaw. "Failures are rare inflection points for companies to make critical decisions that ultimately can make lemonade out of lemons," he said.

As for long-term brand damage, Cymfony CMO Jim Naill said, "One instance probably won't affect them much because BlackBerry has become such an indispensible product. And the company has built up a lot of goodwill with customers." But a second or third could. "I hope they don't take the lack of a big reaction as a sign that they handled the situation just fine," he said.

"For a communications company, it's a huge mistake," Mr. Enderle said. "Their lack of response was the best midyear present they could give to Microsoft, and TOM, and Motorola, and Nokia."

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Crisis Management 101: JetBlue vs. RIM
What they did right and what they did wrong

  • Admitted it screwed up and apologized sincerely
  • Went out with apology and explanation quickly; had president appear in wide distribution from YouTube to NBC's "Today"
  • Offered solution to keep it from happening again and reassured with "Customer Bill of Rights"
  • Admitted there was a problem with its network but insisted it was already fixed and was no big deal
  • Still hadn't apologized or fully explained the problem days later
  • Took at least two days to explain what had happened
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