Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – How not to handle crisis comms

Samsung has finally revealed what caused several of its Galaxy 7 Note smartphones to overheat and catch fire.

It turns out that there were several separate issues in batteries which it had sourced from two different suppliers. Samsung has spent the last few months testing 200,000 devices and 30,000 batteries at a test facility to find out what these issues were, and held an event yesterday to explain its findings to the media.

But despite Samsung’s obvious commitment to solving the technical issues, this whole incident has exposed shortcomings in Samsung’s crisis communications procedures. Two major mistakes were made:

First, there was a perception that it put its brand reputation ahead of the safety of the public – for example, when it insisted that the problems were related only to units sold in South Korea, despite reports of handset fires in China and the US. Failing to address public safety immediately, even temporarily, only intensifies a crisis.

Secondly, it failed to consistently communicate with those directly affected with some customers reporting that they didn’t receive follow-up calls after they’d flagged the incident. In addition, for the millions of other customers whose devices could have been affected, its social media feeds continued with a business-as-usual service. As more information came to light, all lines of communication should have used to accurately and continuously inform and update all customers.

The Samsung brand is strong, but it is not indestructible. Every brand needs a strong reserve of goodwill from the public. Samsung needs to work on re-building that feeling, through ensuring all customers feel they’ve been listened to and admitting it was wrong – the formal apology on November 8th was a good start, and the detailed technical explanations issued yesterday help as well, but it will take time to re-build faith after such a high-profile fall from grace.

Now that Samsung has stopped production of the Note 7, it would naturally be expected to try and restore consumer confidence with the launch of its next offering. All eyes will be on the S8, which was initially expected to be launched at next month’s Mobile World Congress, but will now reportedly be delayed until April. This is a good move from a comms perspective – putting customer safety first – but as for whether customers will forgive and forget, only time will tell.

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