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Samsung: Learning the Lessons for Crisis Communication

Samsung has joined an unwelcome club of companies that have suffered from high-profile and prolonged product recalls; supermarkets with horsemeat tainted products, Whirlpool’s controversial tumble dryer repair programme, countless car companies including VW and Toyota, and now Samsung and the Galaxy Note 7.

Samsung’s woes have certainly been noticed by the public, with the company and the Note 7’s overheating battery featuring every week for more than a month in our weekly Business Top Ten Most Noticed News Stories tracker.

When corporate crises occur, a poorly-handled response can be as damaging as the original problem. A well-handled response can do much to mitigate the damage and reassure customers, shareholders, and stakeholders.

Samsung’s crisis communication strategy has fallen short.

Good responses to crises have three elements:

    • An apology – a clear and direct apology that acknowledges the problem, commits to fixing it, and doesn’t try to shift the blame to others

    • Owning the issue – showing that the company understands the seriousness of the issue, has a strategy to fix it, and is executing that plan

    • Communicating – regular, clear, consistent, proactive updates to affected customers as well as the wider customer, stakeholder, and general public audiences

Samsung has certainly performed well on the first account. From the outset, Samsung has acknowledged that there is a problem with Galaxy Note 7 and apologised to customers for the problem, any concern it causes, and the inconvenience of the repair programme.

But Samsung has done too little to both own the issue and communicate.

Its plan to repair phones led to consumers being sent still faulty devices that continued to pose a fire risk, while its decision not to recall Galaxy Note 7 phones in China caused confusion. Samsung’s communications haven’t been consistent, and the message has varied from a voluntary global recall, to a resumption of sales, to temporarily adjusting production, to a full recall and the end of production of Galaxy Note 7.

Faulty Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s have now led to exploding phones, planes being evacuated, and domestic and hotel fires; headlines and images that stick with consumers.

Beyond the logistics of millions of devices being return and refunded, Samsung needs to work quickly to improve its crisis communications to protect its reputation, its position as the world’s biggest seller of mobile phones, and the related Galaxy S and Galaxy Edge brands.

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