I was boarding what would have been a regular flight that I do almost on a weekly basis. But something was not right as soon as I entered Delhi airport. The attendant at the check-in counter asked me to reconfirm that I didn t have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in my check-in baggage. Just before the airhostesses started the safety briefing, an announcement was made that said something on the lines of passengers using a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 should power off their devices and not charge it during the entire duration of the flight. The weird bit was that Samsung had not even started selling the Galaxy Note 7 in India and I was on a domestic flight. Also Read - Samsung reveals Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3 features officially, S Pen support confirmedAlso Read - Nokia XR20 rugged 5G phone launched: Check specs, price, India launch details
Yes, there is a possibility of passengers buying a Galaxy Note 7 from abroad. And yes, the DGCA had issued an advisory for airlines operating in India barring the Galaxy Note 7 from being checked-in and from users using or charging it in the flight. I have never seen or heard anything on this scale for any brand s one particular model. The last big flight risk were hoverboards but that applied to an entire category of product. Also Read - Amazon Prime Day sale deals revealed: Discount on OnePlus Nord CE, Mi 11X, Samsung Galaxy M42
The last time any mobile phone company had to face this was Nokia, which in 2007 had to recall and replace nearly 46 million batteries that were used on some of its most popular mobile phones of that time. Samsung, meanwhile, had shipped 2.5 million smartphones which could have been affected by the faulty battery. There are multiple news reports about how buyers in the US are still not sure what to do with their Galaxy Note 7 units and those that bought directly from Samsung.com unable to exchange their units because FedEx, DHL and others are refusing to ship the dangerous smartphone. Then there are reports about Samsung pushing out software updates that would limit the charging of the battery to 60 percent, which is considered to be a safe limit. ALSO READ: Here s the real reason why the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 batteries are exploding
The company went from acknowledging the issue to being confused of how to tackle it with consumers to creating panic even in countries where it wasn t selling the device. How did Samsung manage to mishandle the situation so badly? I reached out to Poonam Kaul, who was the Director — India, Middle East and Africa for Nokia at the time of the battery recall and is currently the Vice President — Communications and CSR at PepsiCo India.
Here s her insider account of how Nokia handled the battery recall and probably some lessons that Samsung could have learnt from the incident and applied them in the Galaxy Note 7 incident.
Earning your consumers trust
When I look at multiple product recalls issued over the years — whether it is an automobile brand or a baby care product, a food or a telecom brand, I always wonder why most companies decide to become reclusive or defensive and clamp down in such situations. That in my mind is the worst thing to do for the brand because whatever you say post, is always suspect. You have lost that moment or the leap of faith that the brand could have taken by being honest and factual. In today s digital age, the consumer does not forgive you for losing trust. Trust is fragile and precious. And every brand has to earn and hold the trust every single day, every single hour.
When we faced the battery advisory at Nokia in 2007, we were honest, open and transparent. We went the extra mile to ensure that our consumers were aware and were not left second guessing. No wonder then that post one of the biggest product advisories in the telecom space, Nokia in India emerged as the #1 Most Trusted Brand as per the Economic Times Trusted Brand Survey 2008. That win was most precious to each and every employee because it stood for the consumer s trust in us as an organisation, as a brand. It stood for our pride in the Brand Nokia.
The BL5C battery fiasco
On August 14, 2007 Nokia announced a product advisory for a certain batch of BL5C batteries (46 million approximately) manufactured by Matsushita between December 2005 and November 2006. There had been approximately 100 incidents of overheating reported globally and Nokia took prompt action to inform consumers that they could get their batteries replaced free of cost, if they were found impacted. Over 50 models seemed to be impacted. Incidentally, this was a product advisory and not a product recall. The difference between the two being that the former is a voluntary approach while recall is a legal obligation. No one knew the exact scale of the impact and which country was impacted the most at the time of the issuance of the advisory. The only thing that stood out was that consumers had to be made aware of the issue.
We did a few things right. I have tried to list some of them below:
Open and transparent communication from Day 1
As soon as the issue was picked globally, Nokia issued a global press release about the advisory. Consumers could check online using their IMEI number whether their battery was impacted or not. In markets like India, where internet penetration was low at that time and more importantly, not an accessible option for most consumers, we set up an IVR and SMS service within 24 hours. Over the next 24 hours, we also made this service available in our Care centres to check and replace affected batteries. In 48 hours, all our 800 Care Centres were geared up.
Globally, this was a regular piece of news, however in India, it became a product recall primarily due to incorrect reporting by certain sensational TV channels that made this Breaking news . The innocuous advisory suddenly became a bomb in your pocket in a matter of hours. All other media followed suit and within a span of hours there was hostile media everywhere. Pictures of actual bomb blasts were being flashed on TV linking the battery to a bomb blast. There was panic. Thanks to the media frenzy, consumers rushed to our Care centres till the middle of the night, asking for replacements even on un-impacted batteries. For want of any other news, there was almost an hourly update on TV channels on the battery crisis.
What worked for us was quick open, transparent communication at all levels internal and external — so we were all singing from the same song sheet. Our communication during the crisis days was frankly to the point of over communicating.
Education and Awareness
As the misinformation campaign started, the issue about the battery became doubly sensitive and for us the most critical was to educate and create awareness on the How to Check If my phone is impacted. Given the panic situation and the media created mayhem, we decided to go out and take the bull by the horns. In a matter of hours, there were live OB vans outside Nokia offices and live studio chats happening. Nokia spokespeople went right in — into TV studios where Nokia was being battered. One message our consumers needed to know how to find out of their battery is impacted or not and where to get it replaced. This was closely followed by a massive advertising campaign in all key mainlines and regional/ vernacular media with clear messages on How To check and replace
Since the impact was supposedly across 50 models including the basic Nokia 1100, we held press briefings in metros, sub-metros, even small towns with low media coverage like Azamgarh, Siliguri, Kolhapur and leveraged the platform to educate our consumers.
Swift Action/ Agility
What helped us the most was moving fast and taking quick decisions. For instance, since India was one of the largest impacted countries (Nokia s second largest market then), the leadership ensured that they made it easy for consumers to walk into any of the 800 Nokia Care Centers and check if their battery was impacted and even get it replaced if it was impacted. Globally, this was not the norm. It was all done on email and FedEx. For India that would not have worked.
There was a heavy rush of consumers to our Care Centers, and we were falling short of replacement batteries. Nokia India leadership in conjunction with the global teams rerouted batteries from the Chennai factory meant for exporting to reach each and every of the 800 Care Centers in India. The entire global production and planning got shifted to cater to India. At the end of the crisis, almost two million batteries were replaced impacted or not impacted!
Therefore, it is very important in such situations to pick consumer hot issues and fix them quickly. It also becomes critical in such situations that there is no red tapism, no bureaucracy and no turf wars on who does what. Consumer in this case was all that mattered for Nokia.
Industry joining hands
Lastly, in such crisis situations, it is important to get the industry aligned and ready to support. We reached out to our stakeholders and partners to ensure that the entire telecom industry mobile device manufacturers, operators, and service providers — came together. Nokia held industry briefings on the importance of original batteries (in normal circumstances, batteries don t blast unless these are fake) and also met government regulators so that they were sensitized.