IBM loses employee records: Is ignorance bliss?

A Single Data Breach Costs Businesses 3.5 billions

A friend of mine got a letter this week from IBM, where he worked over a decade ago.  The letter reads:

“We are writing because of an incident that has resulted in the loss of information relating to your IBM employment, and we wanted to inform you about what happened and explain steps IBM is taking to help protect you.

Recently data tapes were lost while being transported by a vendor.  Those tapes contained primarily archival IBM employment-related information, including Social Security numbers.  After a thorough investigation…we have concluded the tape loss was inadvertent and not associated with theft or any other unlawful activity.”

The letter goes on to explain that no one has reported identity theft and the tapes can’t be read by a personal computer.  But the Q&A gives more details; namely that the tapes were lost on February 23, 2007 and they not only have SSNs but also birthdays, contact information, and work history.

IBM has also included a year of free credit monitoring, just in case.

So:  it’s bad that the tapes were lost.  It’s good that they didn’t wait a year like TJX to identify the problem and alert consumers.  But in this case, does ignorance = bliss?  I’m not a PR/crisis management type; this was certainly a proactive move by IBM.  However, another strategy would be to have a quick response prepared in case signs of trouble pop up (e.g. using brand monitoring tools).

Any thoughts on what IBM’s “right” move would be in this situation?

UPDATE:  See this Consumerist post about the GAO and data breach notification…

JetBlue’s apology: the P.S.

JetBlue sent out an apology via email yesterday.  It wasn’t just sent to passengers impacted by the weather/operations snafu – it went out to all TrueBlue members.

The apology was already published on the JetBlue website, along with Neeleman’s video.  But the email contains a postscript (i.e. P.S.) message that you can’t see anywhere else:

P.S. We pledge to keep you informed with more details about the
implementation of our improved recovery plans in the coming weeks.
There is no need to reply to this email about compensation inquiries.
We will be contacting you directly by March 15.

In other words, "don’t call us, we’ll call you."  Implied:  "trust us."  A tough thing to do, especially if you experienced things first hand last week/end.  Take a bit of sincerity off of the apology, IMO – hopefully they’ll deliver within the next three weeks.

My JetBlue fiasco: epilogue

Late Friday, JetBlue’s phone lines were back up and running.  The website still insisted that my flight had departed the day before, so I had to call in for a refund.  The agent was courteous and clearly instructed to not speak very much about what had happened the day before in New York.  I had my flight refunded, but nothing past that despite this quote from CEO David Neelman:

"I think the best thing we can do is say we’re sorry and give them
their money back, and give them a free ticket and then kind of plead
with them to come and fly again"  CNN, 2/16/07

No apology or free ticket for me – the phone agent indicated that my situation had to have been much worse.  The kicker: a colleague got back to SF that night – on American.

Everyone flies for a reason – mine was for a speech worth thousands of dollars in revenue for my company.  Others were traveling for business as well.  Some were going on vacation.  Some were going to see family.  The worst part about the situation wasn’t the anger and frustration – it was seeing the people who were just exhausted, given no recourse or support – they were the ones who – left hopeless – just broke down crying.

JetBlue’s weather fiasco: my story

I posted last night as I was sitting in Boston’s Logan Airport, waiting for a flight to San Jose.  As passengers piled up in the gate area when flight after flight was delayed, JetBlue’s JFK woes were broadcast on CNN Airport Network.

At first, everything seemed fine.  The weather was bright and clear outside, no need to worry.  Then my 3:55 pm departure was pushed out 15 minutes.  Which became an hour.  Then a couple of hours.  I went and had dinner.  Then sat in the gate, watching as travelers grew increasingly nervous with each announcement.

Unlike a typical Thursday, the airport was filled with families trying to get a head start on their vacation, as public schools are on holiday next week.  Frustrated parents.  A young engineer who wants to make her 10 am meeting in Mountain View.  An MBA student on the eve of his interview with one of the most prestigious VC’s in the world.  A Brit who declares, "This was my first time flying JetBlue – I’m never flying this airline again."

Finally, after more time spent waiting then would have been spent in the air, the flight’s cancelled.  The gate agent announces, "Sorry, most flights are full through the end of next week.  You can pick up your luggage downstairs."  A message on states, "most flights after 5 pm have been cancelled in order to set us up for a better operating day tomorrow."  So I went home.

I’d expect that my ticket would be refunded in full.  But according to JetBlue, my flight actually departed yesterday (see pic)!  I called 1-800-JETBLUE a few times to see if I could get this squared away, but a recorded message states, "due to extremely high call volume, we can’t take your call…Goodbye."

So what happened?  The weather.  Which exposed caused breakdowns in JetBlue’s equipment, policies and procedures, and service channels.  It’s difficult enough to build a great brand under clear skies – let’s see how B6 handles this figurative storm – because they’ve failed dismally at handling the literal one.

Rave: Hotel Pulitzer, Amsterdam

Hotel_pulitzerJust a quick rave from me for the staff at the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam.  The hotel is nice and it’s the people that deliver a great experience.

First of all, they let me check in at 9 am.  I was fully expecting to store my bags and walk around town grundgy for five or six hours.

I asked for a rollaway bed to accommodate some additional family members; they upgraded me to a suite.

A plate of Dutch fruit was waiting for after returning from dinner, in addition to welcome gifts for the kids.  (They accept dogs, too – next time they’re coming with.)

And this is all in less than 24 hours.  I can hardly remember the last time I stayed at a hotel where the staff wasn’t just courteous, but actually took extra steps to deliver a great experience.  Probably not since my wedding/honeymoon

Delta Air Lines. Customer service. Abysmal.

DeltaOK, so Delta is bankrupt.  Does that explain why its customer service is so abysmal?  I’m trying to book some flights this week.  I have old credits to apply and I call up to make sure I can apply them + get a child fare (can’t be booked online).  Good news:  I can [supposedly] apply the credits online.  Bad news:  there aren’t any child fares available in this particular market (Louisville – Boston).  OK fine, I’ll book everything online.  Oh, and if I have any problems, the agent tells me to call the online support number at 888-750-3284.

I log on to  Find flights, apply credits, everything’s going fine.  Then – "System Unavailable."  OK.  I clear my cache and cookies, try this again.  Same result.  Try it again, this time with IE 6 instead of Firefox.  Same result.  So I call the online support number.

Delta:  [ring ring] [immediately goes to hold musak]
(a few minutes pass)
Delta:  Hello, what are you calling about?
Me:  Hi, I’m trying to book a flight on delta dot com.
Delta:  Hello – there’s a problem with your phone line.  Are you there?
Me:  Hello, I’m trying to book a flight on delta dot com and having some problems.
Delta:  OK.  Are you trying to go online with internet explorer or your internet service provider?
Me:  [confused] Excuse me?
Delta:  Some internet service providers are incompatible with
Me:  Really?  I’m pretty sure my ISP is compatible.
Delta:  How are you logging on to the internet?
Me:  I’m using a cable modem and Comcast internet service.
Delta:  OK, well what you need to do is find a button called "start" and then look for a menu option called "programs"…
Me:  Are you serious?
[this goes on for a couple more minutes – and then I had to hang up.]

I tried to book online the next morning – same problem, system still unavailable.  So I called Delta again – this time I got Bombay on the line (last time it was Pune).  Delta charges $10 more for booking a ticket over the phone instead of online.

Me:  Well, the online system was broken and given that I had no choice but to book over the phone, I’d like a $10 discount.
Delta:  I’m sorry, I told you at the beginning of the call that there is a $10 service fee.  There’s nothing I can do.
[on top of the $50 rebooking fee]

This is what happens when your customer service department blindly follows operating procedures instead of trying to understand the customer perspective.  By the way: the e-Credit functionality doesn’t work, either.  So why put it on your site?