Samsung is taking unprecedented steps to convince customers to return recalled Galaxy Note 7s.
"Most Canadians are extremely supportive of how we've handled things," says Paul Brannen, COO and Executive Vice President of Samsung Canada, in a Toronto board room.
He's talking with reporters in 15-minute sessions, hoping to quickly cut to the essential truth of the issue: Samsung Canada has handled the Galaxy Note 7 recall better than any other region. He conveys this without saying it, noting that Samsung has managed the return of 70% of the nearly 22,000 outstanding devices, and already has the inventory to replace that number and more with phones containing updated, safe battery cells.
Samsung and its carrier partners plan to issue a software update to all Note 7 units that will make it very clear which devices are safe for use.
The number is certainly smaller than the one million-plus that needed to be corralled in the U.S., but Brannen is emphatic that his team took the appropriate steps between the stop-sell order on September 2, the publishing of a recall replacement form on September 6, and the official Health Canada recall on September 13, to earn the support and trust of the Canadian public.
"We've had a lot of long nights, and not a lot of sleep," he says, referring to a so-called "Tiger Team" of lawyers, public relations, and logistics personnel convened to ensure that the recall process was implemented in the correct order.
Now, after just under two weeks into the replacement cycle, Samsung Canada and its carrier partners plan to issue a software update to all Note 7 units that will make it very clear which devices are safe for use, and which still need to be returned. As we've already heard from other regions, including the U.S., Note 7 units with certified safe battery cells will have a green battery indicator in the notification shade, along with a new green battery icon in the phone's power menu.
The update, which will be issued on September 21, will roll out simultaneously to all carriers, and will not be optional: users will be reminded to install it every three hours until it is applied. After installing, the remaining 6,600 or so Note 7 users stubbornly holding onto their old devices will see warnings and reminders to return the phone to Samsung Canada every time they start up or shut down.
"The goal is to have 100% of the affected devices replaced," says Brannen, "and these steps are the way to ensure that happens." That Canada was the first to ship replacement units to customers, and has the lowest number of complaints of all the regions that were selling the Note 7 before it was recalled is a bright spot in this largely negative experience, but Brannen assures me that the Note brand, and Samsung's long-term health, are salvageable.
"We've had very few people [get a refund] and say they don't want the device anymore," he says. Even fewer have exchanged their Note 7 units for Galaxy S7 models, which is an option for those who don't want to wait. "Note users are probably the most loyal customers there are," says Brannen.
It's unclear whether the recall will negatively affect the long-term perception of Samsung as a trustworthy company
Some analysts dispute the notion that most Note 7 users are deciding to wait for replacements. While Canadian carriers had new stock within a week of the recall, early reports out of the U.S. suggest that the Note 7 recall was a boon to early iPhone 7 Plus sales, though without Apple releasing any first-weekend sales numbers this year it's difficult to know for sure.
It's also unclear whether the recall will negatively affect the long-term perception of Samsung as a trustworthy company; a number of airlines, which have banned the use of the Note 7 based on orders from the FAA and Transport Canada, were mistakenly calling for the shut down of all Galaxy-branded devices prior to liftoff, though Brannen assures me that such occurrences were rare, and have since been corrected.
"Many people laughed at us when we came out with the [original] Note," he continues. "Now people upgrade to a new model every year." While Brannen only speaks for the Canadian market, his comments are similar to those of Tim Baxter, President and COO of Samsung America, who soberly addressed affected Note 7 owners in a video last week. "At Samsung, our highest priority is our customers," said Baxter. "With battery defects in some of our Note 7 phones, we did not meet the standard of excellence that you expect and deserve. For that, we apologize."
Indeed, the Canadian market is well ahead of its U.S. counterpart in acquiring and replacing Note 7 units, but their messages are the same: customer safety is the number one priority, so if you haven't done so already, shut down your phone and return it.
Samsung Canada also confirmed that sales of the handset will resume in mid-October, and that starting this week, new Note 7s, both in Canada and worldwide, would not have the previously-advertised black square on the box to indicate a safe device. Instead, the company is going all-in on the software update rolling out tomorrow, which is considerably clearer in its intentions.