Samsung’s Success in Crisis Communications

Samsung’s ongoing crisis of 2.5 million potentially exploding smartphones created a massive setback for its public relations staff and quality assurance team. The company’s market value dropped by $22 billion over the course of two days after announcing its recall.

But how has Samsung really performed from the standpoint of crisis communications? Critics of Samsung’s crisis management say the company took too long to coordinate its recall, leaving users at undue risk. The media also cited minor inconsistencies and delays in Samsung’s messaging.

But despite criticism and initial market loss, how Samsung went about its recall reveals some measure of success. Samsung’s victory stems not from its timeliness or media coverage, but from the company’s ability to create an innovative mechanism for disseminating information about the recall and the potential hazard posed by the phone’s battery.

In order to share useful information and news about its recall, Samsung went around the media. The company pushed a new software update to all devices and used the flawed tablets themselves as a crisis communications platform.  All Note 7 tablets now display a notification to update the device’s operating system and upon doing so, the battery indicator will display green if the Note is safe, or white and gray, if it is a recall-affected device.

Additionally, a notice pops up on the affected devices’ screens each time they are rebooted or plugged in to charge, letting users know they are holding a potentially dangerous phone. Samsung’s development team chose not to gamble on consumers happening upon a full-page spread about the recall in newspapers, but instead gave every user information immediately upon the software’s launch and subsequent phone power-ups.

As consumers demand smaller, lighter, more-portable phones, tablets, and computers, product recalls are bound to become more commonplace. Exploding or otherwise dangerous batteries aren’t an exclusively Samsung issue, either.  HP, Dell, Apple, Boeing, and Lenovo have all come under fire for malfunctioning lithium-ion batteries. The June 2016 HP recall, for instance, covered multiple lines of manufactured laptops over the course of two years following several cases of property damage—a recall process that is significantly more complex than the Note 7’s.

Samsung’s innovative use of its own devices throughout this recall signals a new era in tech-world crisis communication.  No tech company—no matter how forward-thinking—has used its own devices to interact with consumers in the same way Samsung has during this recall.

With this new medium guaranteeing messages are delivered, we may have entered a new era of high-speed crisis communications. Samsung’s woes have underscored the importance of releasing a crisis platform in a timely manner for the safety of consumers and the sake of the company’s bottom line. The company has taken a step in the right direction by reducing the amount of time it takes to communicate with users should it be unable to avert crisis.

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