Sorry, Samsung: Why Note 7 Apologies Aren't Good Enough

After a series of incidents forced Samsung to twice recall its Galaxy Note 7 and then ultimately discontinue the faulty handset, the company is taking to print ads to try and make up with consumers. But the hardest part of winning back customer trust still lies ahead for the phone maker.

In full-page ads taken out in the Monday editions of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times this week, Samsung North America chief Gregory Lee apologized for the Galaxy Note 7 and said his company is working hard to restore its reputation for safety.

“An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise. For this we are truly sorry,” Lee wrote in the ad. “Most importantly, safety remains our top priority. We will listen to you, learn from this and act in a way that allows us to earn back your trust.” 

Samsung released the Galaxy Note 7 in August in hopes of delivering a smartphone that could take on — and perhaps take down — the iPhone 7. Before long, however, owners reported that the device was heating up and in some cases, exploding. Samsung blamed the incidents on a manufacturing problem with batteries at one of its suppliers.

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In September, Samsung issued a recall and said its second-run Galaxy Note 7 devices would be safe. But after reports again surfaced saying the new handsets were burning up, Samsung was forced to take the smartphone off store shelves and discontinue the Note 7. 

Since then, Samsung has been trying to get back its smartphones by offering credits to customers, setting up kiosks in airports, and offering discounts on future devices. While it’s been successful at getting many Galaxy Note 7s back — last week, the company said that nearly 85 percent of the phones had been replaced in the U.S. — there are a few still in the wild.

Meanwhile, Samsung has been on an apology tour in hopes of regaining customer trust. It was hurt again last week, though, after it recalled nearly 3 million top-loading washing machines over fears they, too, could cause harm.

Samsung has been roundly criticized for its handling of the recall and subsequent discontinuation. Several analysts have said that Samsung should have provided more details to make customers feel confident something like this wouldn't happen again. "What assurance can Samsung provide going forward that this won't happen again?" Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones for market research firm IDC, said in an interview with Tom's Guide last month. He added that Samsung should've been clearer about what happened and revealed everything from its investigation.

"There's no such thing as too much information," Llamas said back in October.

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The latest apology seems unlikely to erase the problems facing Samsung. Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told us that Samsung's full-page apology ad was a start, but added, "this is an apology without substance. It could have been published weeks ago."

The problem, Greengart says, is that Samsung still hasn't addressed the cause of the Note 7's problems, particularly with the phones issued after the first recall. "It appears that Samsung may not yet know the cause of the Note 7 problems," he said.

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies agrees that "of the utmost priority is Samsung letting us know they know what happened so they can give us confidence it won't happen again. If they can't do this, there will certainly be a hint of doubt or concern it can happen again."

That said, Bajarin notes that Creative Strategies' research suggests Note 7 owners will remain loyal to Samsung. The concern for the company is that customers who don't currently own a Samsung smartphone. "The issue we see this having is with potential customers, not existing ones," Bajarin said.

Last week's washing machine recall further muddy the waters. "The dangerous washing machines just add to the notion that perhaps there is something wrong with Samsung's product development process and culture, that it is not just an isolated product issue," said Greengart, noting that he owns one of the recalled washing machines. "Samsung still needs to detail precisely what went wrong and describe the processes, procedures, and cultural changes it is putting in place to ensure it won't happen again."

And that's why this week's newspaper ads feel like too little too late. It's been months since the first reports of Note 7 troubles, and while Samsung has issued different apologies, we still haven't gotten a detailed explanation of how the company plans to make sure that future phone releases aren't dogged by the same problems.

"I think 2017 is going to be critical for [Samsung] from a recovery standpoint," Bajarin said. "They will need flawless execution on the brand and product side if they want to fully recover next year. Any more mishaps, and it may then become too late and make recovery almost impossible."

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.