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Reporter's Notebook: My BlackBerry -- Bought in Singapore, Used in New York, Calibrated in Canada

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-22

I had a problem with my BlackBerry, and the speed and manner in which Research in Motion (RIM) fixed it says something about how the company is run -- and why it's been successful.

I'd bought my BlackBerry in Singapore, where I'd been living for the last year. The local supplier was StarHub, the carrier that provided a combined phone and e-mail service. When I moved to New York on January 1, I enrolled in a similar program with Cingular, which replaced the SIM card in my BlackBerry.

Here was the problem: I couldn't create an e-mail account with Cingular; that required me to log on to the BlackBerry Web site and sign in using the ID and registration allotted to my machine. Each time I signed in, the dialogue box informed me that my BlackBerry was already registered to StarHub and therefore I couldn't create a new e-mail account with Cingular.

Not wanting to continue paying $40 each month for a StarHub e-mail account in Singapore, which is 9,500 miles away, I phoned Cingular. After keeping me on hold for an hour, its representative told me, flatly, that there was nothing that Cingular could do. If I wished to create a new e-mail account, then I would need to buy a new BlackBerry. That would have set me back by $300.

So I called BlackBerry's PR representatives in New York, and a woman named MeeJin Annan-Brady soon got a BlackBerry technical representative named to call me. In less than 20 minutes, I had my StarHub account cancelled, my machine re-registered, and a Cingular e-mail account installed. That's service. That highlights how a rapidly growing company adheres to a fundamental business principle -- that in business, the customer is kind.

RIM has adopted a multi-tiered customer support model to support the rapid growth of BlackBerry users around the world. As a BlackBerry official patiently explained to me from company headquarters in Canada, the first line of support is typically handled through the appropriate carrier (i.e. Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US). There are currently about 80 carriers around the world selling and supporting BlackBerry; RIM expects to add an additional 100 carriers this year.

Should a customer have an inquiry regarding their BlackBerry device or service, they typically contact the carrier who sold them the device and service agreement, according to the RIM representative. "Carriers have teams of trained customer support staff who have received BlackBerry training from RIM," she said. "These carrier teams handle the majority of end-user inquiries. The carrier support teams are typically multi-tiered and equipped to address the majority of support questions, but they are also backed up by various
support groups at RIM."

RIM also has consulting/support contracts with many enterprise customers, she added. In this case, the IT department/help desk at the organization supports the end-user in their organization and the IT department/help desk receives support from RIM when necessary. It's highly unusual for RIM to help out an individual customer, since such a customer would ordinarily sign up with a carrier for his BlackBerry, and not with RIM. But the fact that RIM was willing to go out of its way to assist a single customer underscores, in my mind at least, its desire to please BlackBerry users. That's a good business strategy.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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