It has only been a few weeks since our news feeds were taken over by the Samsung Note7 disaster. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and a variety of memes all highlighted the combustion prone Note7, which was quickly recalled. Even popular video games like Grand Theft Auto took a crack at it.

While I know that Samsung is not the first company to recall it a product, I certainly believe that their management of the issue was one of the worst. The official statement from Samsung said that they were committed to their consumers safety but their actions aren’t necessarily in line with this statement.  During this entire process, 2 major mistakes were made.  First mistake was to expedite the product’s delivery in order to compete with the launch of the new iPhone 7. Second, was the quick replacement program they put in place to silence the media and recover their dwindling sales.

Samsung should have taken a lesson from the J&J, Maple Leaf Foods or Ford “life-threatening crisis management” book. While all these companies did really well, I believe that Maple Leaf Foods set the standard for how to truly handle a crisis. Their actions during the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak not only addressed the problem head on but also helped to raise future sales because of strengthened long-term trust in the brand. I believe that the choice between “doing what is right” and “doing what helps” shapes the future of the company and all these companies made the right choice. While their solutions were different, they all took the following 4 actions:

  1. Show Urgency: If there was a crisis in your family, would you wait 2 to 3 days to gather facts and information? No. You would get to your feet immediately and look for a solution. Instead of waiting, Maple Leaf called a press conference on the evening of the Listeria outbreak and spoke directly to their consumers. This timely action helped in managing the panic and highlighted how committed they were towards their consumers safety. 
  1. Take Responsibility: It is very important to take ownership of the problem. Instead of pointing fingers at others, Maple Leaf Foods CEO hosted a press conference, looked squarely at the camera and apologized to its consumers. In essence he said “it’s our fault and we are going to fix it”. The apology wasn’t doctored or filled with excuses.  It was genuine and human.  The apology was made on every media platform available from press conference to YouTube.

While Samsung did make a touching public apology to its Note7 users, I believe it was too quick in jumping to a solution. In its apology, it promised that replacement devices were safe and yet weeks later, we heard about them exploding in a similar fashion to the original devices. I believe Samsung should have made the apology the focal point and should have only released after comprehensive testing.

  1. Be Transparent: Crisis is always followed by widespread panic and unwanted media attention. While consumers are trying to understand what steps to take next, the media is doing everything they can to dig up dirt on the company. Instead of allowing your consumers to hear a twisted version of the truth from a third party, it is best to manage the information on your own terms. This helps in maintaining credibility and avoids information gaps that can result from hurtful rumours. Brands should be transparent about what they are doing in order to fix the problem. When Samsung came out with the replacement program, there was no mention of what had been done to ensure there would be no issues with the replacement device. I will however give kudos to them for making the replacement process incredibly easy for Note7 owners. 
  1. Demonstrate Commitment in avoiding future crisis: It is human nature to sweep our mistakes under the carpet, but such actions can be devastating for a brand. In order to regain your consumers trust, you must show that you learned from your mistake and are doing everything possible to avoid it in future. A year after the listeria crisis, Maple Leaf launched a campaign that acknowledged the crisis and demonstrated their continuous commitment towards improving food safety. Its strategy included hiring the best recruits as new staff, overhauling of technical systems regardless of the cost and stating an aim of becoming industry leader in food safety. 

In my opinion, Maple Leaf Foods gets a gold star in how to manage a crisis. It is not surprising that today people still love Maple Leaf and trust the brand with their life.  This video by John Dowbiggin captures the emotions of consumers perfectly.

As an ardent Samsung fan, I hope that Samsung will take a breathing pause, reassess their strategy and take unprecedented measures to make up for its unsuccessful management of the Note7 crisis.