Recent headlines describing how Samsung Galaxy phones burned a six-year-old child and ignited a Jeep are reminiscent of a 2006 product recall by Dell. I was brought in to help with communications strategy when Dell discovered that its notebook computer batteries were capable of erupting in flames. The defect prompted the recall of 4.1 million notebook computers in what was then the largest product recall in the electronics industry. Dell accepted responsibility, even though the batteries were made by Sony. A few lessons learned from that episode may be of value to Samsung as it recalls and replaces 2.5 million phones in the days ahead.
- Apologize and accept full responsibility. Dell never blamed Sony or tried to dodge responsibility for the product failure. Remember the finger-pointing that occurred between Ford and Firestone during the 2000 tire recall?
- Make the consumer whole. Don’t be stingy when your reputation is at stake. Samsung has offered a $25-gift certificate for the inconvenience of being without a phone until consumers can obtain a replacement. That seems parsimonious
- Try to use the recall to make things better. Is there a way to improve technology or upgrade the recall process or otherwise leave the situation better than you found it? Dell didn’t just replace the devices. It rolled out a program to directly engage with customers, listen to their problems, and fix problems in the customer experience.
- Explain what you are doing to make sure this problem doesn’t happen again.
As a postscript, I would change the headline on the Samsung home page, “Do More with the New Galaxy Note 7.” Some wise guy is bound to be creating a meme that answers that question in a way that further erodes the Samsung brand.
UPDATE (10.11.16): Even after attempting to fix the Note 7’s problems by switching battery suppliers and updating the smartphone’s software, a number of customers reported that those replacement devices also caught fire. Now, Samsung is advising all customers to stop using the phones, and has halted production completely. Although it is estimated that the cost of giving up on the Note 7 could wipe out $5.1 billion of profit, Samsung is big enough and profitable enough to withstand these losses. Hopefully the same can be said for their reputation.
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