BlackBerry could learn from JetBlue

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For a company that deals in the realm of communication, RIM has been remarkably ham-fisted in its response to the massive outage of its email service on Tuesday. They could take a lesson or two from JetBlue about how to deal with a service meltdown, as JetBlue did a little while back after severe storms interrupted hundreds of flights.

The AP reports that:

After two days of silence about a lengthy outage in its Blackerry email service, the company that makes the mobile device issued a jargon-laden update indicating that a minor software upgrade had crashed the system.

The statement Thursday night by Research In Motion Ltd. said the outage from Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning was triggered by “the introduction of a new, non-critical system routine” designed to optimize the cache, or temporary memory, on the computer serves that run the BlackBerry network…

The failed upgrade apparently set off a domino effect of glitches that the company referred to as “a compounding series of interaction errors betweent he system’s operational database and cahce.”

[F]rom the time the e-mail ceased flowing Tuesday evening, it took RIM more than 12 hours to issue a vague three-sentence statement acknowleding the disruption. No further updates were provided until the statement late Thursday, prompting criticism in online forums and blogs.” 

Oookay. 

RIM’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie “downplayed the criticism of the company’s communications as unfair, because the focus was resotoring service, and the primary means of contacting users was unavailable. ‘The issue is just how do you tell people what it is when it is email that people are counting on, and that every communications path is down.’” Leaving aside the fact that the BlackBerry is not the only way that people receive their email (and text messaging was still working), I looked at the BlackBerry and RIM sites both a couple of days ago and again today, and there is not a peep on either of them about the outage. Wouldn’t the web be an obvious way to keep customers up to date on what is going on, what caused it, and when service will be restored? And to communicate how sorry the company was for the outage?

No real apologies or contrition have so far shown themselves. This smacks of arrogance, something which I’ve noted before from RIM. This is particularly dangerous right now, because even as their growth has been rapid (1 million new subscribers in the last quarter, now 8 million total), there are more competitors than ever snapping at their heals, many of them based on Microsoft’s platform. Then of course there is the iPhone, though for the time being that does not appear to tie into corporate networks.

Compare this to the sword-diving that came from JetBlue’s executives after their service meltdown in February. As JetBlue founder Joe Neeleman said, “We had a problem. This is a defining moment in our company. We have learned a painful lesson …. It has really affected us to our core. We are determined to put in different processes to make sure it never happens again.”

Gary at 37 Signals posted about his first-hand experience at JFK with the delays, and had mostly good things to say about JetBlue’s staff’s initiative at communicating status updates (though the website was notably lacking). This type of minute-to-minute management of the problem, pitching in from all levels of staff, and contrite communications are all things RIM could learn from.

As analyst Richard Levick put it, “They have to stop thinking like engineers and start thinking like a utility. When the telephone lines go down or the power goes out, the first thing these utilities do is try to fix the problem while simultaneously communicating with the media and customers. Why does RIM think it can’t do two things at once?”