The silence of the Blackberry

The Blackberry outage that left North American users of the ubiquitous wireless handheld email device in the dark for much of Wednesday didn’t prevent plenty of people communicating.

Communicating about the loss of service, that is, via blog posts, Twitter, media commentary and just about anything you can think of – except a Blackberry, of course.

Not a word yet from maker Research in Motion.

While RIM may have restored the service, they have work at hand to restore customer confidence in something that so many people rely on deeply:

“I felt like my left arm had been amputated,” said Joe Shoemaker, communications director for Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Charles Ross, a criminal defense lawyer in New York, said the outage left him feeling “vulnerable and uncomfortable,” and caused him to miss a breakfast appointment with a colleague.

One Wall Street analyst said she kept hitting her BlackBerry’s version of a “refresh” button, not believing that the system could fail. “I have a client that would have paid me with an immediate trade but they couldn’t reach their trader because BlackBerry service was down,” she said.

No doubt most users will shrug this off now that service is restored and just get on with their business. Yet this service failure must raise questions in many people’s minds on its reliability. It doesn’t matter much why the service failed in such a catastrophic way; you ask yourself can you really continue to trust it?

Last night, I had an email from R. Gregory Jones, a PR consultant in New Jersey, with an interesting news item:

In a webinar poll conducted this morning (Wed., 4/18) by leading telecom expense management (TEM) firm ProfitLine, 81 percent of responding large enterprise IT and telecom professionals reported disruption to operations from the BlackBerry outage. 44.5% reported “moderate or substantial” impact to enterprise productivity. Only 18.2 percent reported no impact from the outage.

Not unbiased news (ProfitLine is Jones’ client), but I bet such views would be common in businesses large and small across North America who rely on Blackberries.

An alarm bell for RIM. Silence doesn’t work. While I’m not sure I’d call this a communication crisis – not yet, anyway – the fact that RIM are not out there communicating means that others will fill the vacuum; before you know it, RIM will have a crisis on their hands.

And, btw, I still don’t have a Blackberry.