How BlackBerry had us singing the blues

The breweries will tell you that a day of lost turnover is lost forever.

Yes, people are not exactly going to drink twice as much tomorrow because they skipped today. That”s why the Aussie national anthem is “The pub with no beer”.

So if SA had a national day of abstinence, the national tax collections would be short by R32-million in sin tax on booze and a further R27-million on smokes. Add in lost VAT, and it would total R100-million a day in taxes alone. Such is the power of the bottle.

All of this came to mind when BlackBerry went down on October 9. It”s impossible to ever make all the lost text back. Let alone the stress of having to actually talk to family again.

The Eastern Cape blamed every bit of bad luck for the past three months on BlackBerry. Not that many in the EC have got beyond a simple text message, and BlackBerry is considered an outrageous extravagance.

Many will nbso find it easy to forgive and forget BlackBerry. And it won”t have any effect on VAT collections or the national deficit. Any consumer savings on BlackBerry charges were blown, plus more, drowning sorrows in the pub where the inherent tax rate is over 50%.

But what about small business? For the privileged, it was just a little inconvenient to lug the iPad around. But others are less fortunate. There can be no doubt that many suffered significant losses at a time when trading conditions are already tough.

Then came the insult. For three days of inconvenience, the BlackBerry user received a token R20 free airtime reward for “patience and understanding”. Some only got R10. Is that some kind of sick joke?

Most had sort of forgotten about it all when, last weekend, another junkmail arrived, bleating sorry all over again. And offering “free apps” to ease the pain.

No amount of compensation to the customer can right the damage caused by the outage. Anyway, it”s not the outage that will drive customers to the competition, but rather the public relations fiasco that followed. First, no communication on the problem, followed by trivialisation in compensation, and finally capitalisation into a marketing opportunity for apps.

A simple admission of culpability would have been enough for most South Africans. And, perhaps, instead of the farce that is free airtime, a sizable retribution donation, in cash, to the Desmond Tutu 80th birthday memorial fund would have helped most of us laugh it off. •

Originally published in the Sunday Times Tax Talk column.

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