Last week RIM got slammed when they had a worldwide outage of their Blackberry service for 3 days. It was not only embarrassing to the company, it cost them value and left some wondering if the brand would recover.
First of all, it’s worth noting that up until that point, RIM had had a sterling reputation for up time. They hadn’t really had a major problem in 10 years, but at a time when RIM has been losing market share in the US in big numbers, it had an outage in the Europe, Middle East and Africa and that to really hurt because that’s the one area where RIM has been doing well lately.
But the outage hit them hard and the company was slammed far and wide in the press. On one hand, it showed just how quickly a very public outage like this can get out of your control. Second of all, it showed how quickly this type of bad news spreads in the age of social media. Even before the story was widely circulated, RIM was being slammed on Facebook, Twitter and Google + by people who were peeved about the service loss.
It probably didn’t help that RIM stayed silent for the first couple of days of the outage, not doing a very good job of communicating with their customers about what was happening and what they were doing to restore service. One thing to remember about social media is that it’s a two-way communications medium, so if you act quickly, you can at least let your customers know that you are aware of the problem and that you’re doing everything you can to rectify it.
It’s always worth pointing out that you’re customers too and you were likely affected by the outage, just like the ones complaining on the social web.
It’s worth noting, however, that I did an informal survey of several Blackberry users while I was at the ARMA conference this week in Washington, DC. It wasn’t scientific and it wasn’t broad, but every time I saw someone with a Blackberry, I asked them how they endured the outage, and for what it’s worth, every single person I asked told me they didn’t even know there was one.
One guy speculated that was because he didn’t really use Blackberry messenger and his company’s enterprise server didn’t seem to feel any impact by what was going on with RIM’s internal server issue. It was actually caused by a bad switch of all things.
It may be that my sample was too small, but I thought it was interesting that the people I asked said they didn’t even notice, and wouldn’t have even known it had happened if it weren’t for the many press reports about the problem.
But when a company is going through a bad phase anyway, as RIM clearly is right now, a situation like this only exacerbates the perception that it is a company losing control, whether it’s true or not. And the bad new seems to take on a life of its own.
So the next time you have an outage of any kind, communicate with your users. Tell them what’s going on through your company’s internal communications channels or through web social channels as applicable and let them know you’re working as hard as you can to fix the situation. RIM did offer an olive branch on Monday when it announced it was giving its users $100 worth of free applications as a pay-back for the trouble caused by last week’s outages.
Sometimes a little communication goes a long way and can help minimize the damage in a bad situation. It’s a lesson RIM learned a little too late (even if my research shows some Blackberry users weren’t affected by the loss at all).