Unlike its Galaxy Note 7 phone, it is unlikely Samsung’s reputation will go up in flames as a result of its current PR crisis.
But with vast amounts of negative news coverage and social media chatter and shares taking a battering, it has undoubtedly been a hugely embarrassing and painful time for the South Korean electronics giant and it will have to work hard to regain consumer trust.
Just last month the company was being heralded for its initial handling of the crisis after it quickly announced a recall of the new smartphones following report of the devices catching fire.
Now it seems that praise may have been misplaced and that the actions were driven by panic and the need for a quick fix, rather than a well thought out strategy.
Sure, the product recall was the right thing to do, but announcing the problem had been solved – Tim Baxter the company’s President said last month ‘to be clear, the Note7 with the new battery is safe’ - only to see replacement devices combust, suggests the cause of the issue was never fully properly resolved.
In a crisis media management situation, customers do want to see you act quickly and decisively, but they don’t want to see those actions come at the cost of being exposed to the same problem again – particularly when it includes fire.
Equally, if you are going to announce that the problem has been resolved, you need to be absolutely certain that really is the case.
Being rash with your messaging during a crisis can be just as damaging as moving too slowly or saying nothing at all.
When you have tested your customers’ loyalty not just once but twice, you might think an apology would be forthcoming.
But it is hard to find any apologetic language in anything Samsung has said so far. Its statement earlier this week announcing it would stop sales of the phone, said ‘consumers’ safety remains our top priority’ but that aside the language is official and dull.
Sorry should have been the first thing it said in its media statement – it’s a golden rule of the crisis communication playbook. You need to show your customers they are upmost in your thoughts, you understand the severity of what happened and the impact it has had, particularly if you want to avoid them moving over to the products offered by your rivals in a crowded marketplace.
Phrases like ‘deeply sorry’ and ‘deep regret’ should be appearing at the start of statements and in any media interviews the company’s spokespeople carry out. But, and this is really important, these spokespeople need to use language that they are comfortable with – that is genuine and heartfelt. There’s nothing worse than a poorly trained spokesperson delivering clichéd messages.
Who is in charge?
And the media interview part brings me on to another learning point. We have seen statements from Samsung, but that’s about it.
We don’t seem to have a face of someone who is leading the response to crisis and addressing the media. Where is the public face of Samsung? Who is fighting to get this resolved on behalf of the customers?
In a crisis of this magnitude you would expect the CEO to be playing a visible role in trying to repair the damage by showing strong leadership and getting reassuring messages out to customers (and shareholder) through the media.
Look how visible Nick Varney, the chief executive of Merlin Entertainments was during its crisis following a serious accident on a ride at its Alton Towers theme park.
Time will tell just how damaging ‘Galaxy gate’ will be for Samsung’s reputation but the story is not going to go away and a failure to handle it better will only boost its rivals.
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