Monday, October 24, 2011

Outage Outrage

So, you may have heard about the 4-day BlackBerry outage that began in the UK, and spread to Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa, and finally North America, home of the Canadian-based company that makes that cellphone, Research in Motion.  Not for nothing those phones have been nicknamed, CrackBerry, for the addicting quality of the email service that they provided  before the iPhone and Android got into the mobile internet game.

So, this was no short-term, system is down phenomenon, this was a major communications BlackOut, and BlackEye, for BlackBerry.  And as it turns out, I was interviewed by Roger Cheng for a piece he posted on the major tech site, c|net, described as "the premier destination for tech product reviews, news, price comparisons, free software downloads, daily videos, and podcasts."  

The article appeared on October 17, with the title, Hey, RIM! Time to step it up with better BlackBerry freebies, followed by the line, "Research in Motion, is that really all you've got?"

Roger begins by noting the following:

After a critical outage that left some BlackBerry users without e-mail for as many as three days, RIM is offering customers $100 worth of premium apps for free. Enterprise customers also get a month's worth of technical support.

The problem is, the BlackBerry faithful stick with you for primarily one reason: your excellent e-mail service. If they wanted games, media apps and other whiz-bang features, they would have fled to an iPhone or Android smartphone already. You lose your e-mail, even for one day, and you lose your best reason for keeping a BlackBerry.

Okay, so here's where I come in:

"(RIM) has to do something really substantial, something that makes people go wow," said Lance Strate, a professor of communications and media studies for Fordham University.

Now, of course, I said a great deal more in the interview, and it's always the case that only a small bit of what's been said is actually quoted, but here's how Roger continues:

So here's a modest proposal: work with your retail and carrier partners to get your customers early upgrades to new BlackBerrys. For some of your best customers, hand them out for free. Already own a new BlackBerry? Throw in a Bluetooth handset or other accessory.

Interesting idea, right?  Good advice, you might say, or at least provocative, right?  I'm glad you think so, because that's what I said in the interview.   I said that offering $100 of apps won't impress most customers, they probably have all or most of the apps they want already, and anyway they're not substantial, they don't feel like you're getting anything much.  As for free technical support for a month, that's something most customers probably won't even need!  But hardware, now that would make a difference.  A free upgrade, or at least a really good Bluetooth accessory.   That's what I said. 

Let me be clear, though, that I offered the idea free of charge, and felt no special ownership of it, not that anyone can really claim to own ideas anyway. Especially as an academic, I'm used to giving ideas out freely.  So, it just strikes me as funny to see it appear without attribution, but this is not exactly journalism, is it?  It's commentary.  Anyway, the important thing is to get quoted and get your name out there, that's what the publicity game is all about. The medium is, you know, the message.

So, let's go on with the article:

Sure, giving away phones sounds like sacrilege at a company that generates the bulk of its revenue from hardware, but bear with me. Such a program would buy a massive amount of goodwill from peeved customers. You could even snatch away the spotlight from Apple's latest iPhone launch.

RIM's BlackBerry DevCon conference starts tomorrow. Just think how different the atmosphere would be if attendees were buzzing about the new BlackBerry program instead of grousing about the outage.

There are longer-term advantages, too. You can lock in customers that may have been tempted by the new iPhone or the latest wave of Android smartphone. You're so proud of the latest BlackBerry operating system? Here's a great way to get more users to try it out.

Yes, your margins would take a hit. But right now, the smartphone business is all about market share, and you're on the losing end. Keeping existing customers--particularly loyal ones--in the fold with new BlackBerrys is one way to preserve your base.

So yeah, I said some of these things too, about creating goodwill, and keeping your customers, preserving your base, locking people in.  But Roger has put his personal spin on it, no question there, and he does a good job of it, as he continues:

Unlike other analysts and bloggers who think the outage sounds the death knell for RIM, I think there's still time to repair your image. While customers may be angry, service contracts, business ties and other impediments keep most people from leaving right away.

A stepped-up giveaway program is another way to get some of your other BlackBerrys out in the wild. While the BlackBerry Bold flagship smartphone is performing well, the rest of the lineup has fared poorly.

"(RIM's) other BlackBerries, namely its aging Curve line and new models including the pure touchscreen Torch 9850 appear below plan," Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said in a recent research note.

If they aren't selling well anyway, why not create incentives to get some of these devices into your customers' hands?

Hey, you're already giving away PlayBooks to developers at DevCon. Why not expand that program to some of your best customers? When the iPhone 4 launched, AT&T allowed customers to upgrade their phone after just one year. You could work with the carrier partners and provide incentives to them to enable similar early upgrades.

For now, the apps and the promise of a month of technical support--which leaves your non-enterprise customers out in the cold--just don't cut it.

And now, back to me:

"It's definitely too little, too late," Strate said. "I think they're really not recognizing the magnitude of disconnecting people at a time when we have come to expect connectivity 24-7."

And that is really the key point here, the fact that we are accustomed to being online all the time, constantly connected, dependent on that sense of electronic contact and the presence of a digital safety net, addicted to it, some would say.  To be disconnected, then, is traumatic, and that's what RIM has failed to recognize, the psychological trauma that BlackBerry users experienced. 

And so, Roger returns to the theme of the inadequate response:

Are BlackBerry customers really going to be satisfied with a free copy of puzzle game "Bejeweled" or shooter "N.O.V.A."? These are trinkets that many would have never downloaded in the first place.

"We are grateful to our loyal BlackBerry customers for their patience," RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said in a statement today. "We have apologized to our customers and we will work tirelessly to restore their confidence. We are taking immediate and aggressive steps to help prevent something like this from happening again."

But you can't guarantee that customers will be safe from another outage. Despite your claims of superior reliability and security, your network has suffered from its share of problems, including a previous e-mail and messenger outage just last month.

Your customers will be a lot more understanding if they're using a new BlackBerry. RIM, it's time to step up your game.

Great way to conclude, with strong words and a dramatic challenge.  And this piece did quite well, as it was also picked up by Scientific American's website, where it appears under the same title, Hey, RIM! Time to step it up with better BlackBerry freebies.  But Scientific American, hey, that is very cool!  

And there is an entirely strange, weird, alternate reality version appearing on, under the mutated title of Hey, RIM! Time to step it up with improved BlackBerry freebies – CNET News, with the piece reading like someone made strange minor alterations throughout.  To give just one example, my first quote in the article is rendered thusly:

“(RIM) has to do something unequivocally substantial, something which creates people go wow,” pronounced Lance Strate, a highbrow of communications as good as media studies for Fordham University.

 I'm not sure if this was some program that randomly substituted synonyms for some words, or if it was sent through Google translate into another language and then was translated back into English.  But hey, a "highbrow of communications," I kind of like that title. Please use it from now on, okay?

Anyway, the piece was picked up by quite a few aggregators out there, including the following:

Dallas, October 17th, 2011

Daily Me, October 17th, 2011

Tech News AM, October 17th, 2011

Text Telephone, October 17th, 2011

Phone, October 17th, 2011

View, October 17th, 2011

Mobile, October 17th, 2011, October 17th, 2011

Donald Schwartz, October 17th, 2011

Breaking News Now, October 17th, 2011, October 17th, 2011

Thunderfeeds, October 17th, 2011

Technology Feed Today, October 17th, 2011

Popular Gaming, October 17th, 2011

Bourne Computer Centre, October 17th, 2011

Life While, October 17th, 2011

Xydo, October 17th, 2011, October 17th, 2011

Buzz Tracker News, October 17th, 2011

Feeds on Floor, October 17th, 2011

Techno Tree, October 18th, 2011, October 18th, 2011, October 18th, 2011

Brad, October 18th, 2011

The list was compiled by some interested PR folks, not me, in case you're wondering how I'd have the time to find all of these links, or why I'd care to.  I include them here because this is all of interest from a media point of view, cell phones and connectivity, journalism and commentary, publicity and diffusion.

So, to return to the topic with which this post began, is this the death knell for the BlackBerry?  Unless they suddenly take my advice, I think it is the beginning of the end, and they'll soon go the way of the PalmPilot.  And me, I've had an Android, and now I have an iPhone, and there simply is no comparison, it's the iPhone hands down, it's superiority is crystal clear.  Android is the cheap alternative to the iPhone, and I don't think there's much room in the market for a third party line.

But, as to the larger point, in the end, I do think we won't be satisfied with anything less than complete and continual connection, for better or for worse, and system failures and outages will become increasingly less tolerable, more traumatic, for all of us. 

And you can quote me on that!

No comments: