When the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall became public news, consumers and the curious-minded waited with bated breath to see the company’s response to reports of devices overheating and catching fire. For many, the initial response, an ineffective recall and replace, was less than satisfactory. With the company’s reputation on the line, Samsung pulled the plug on manufacturing the device altogether.

But how did things get to this point?

Why did a product with a major flaw get to market? Could the entire event been prevented or handled better? While Samsung is not the only company to go through a recall, perhaps the company’s treatment of this incident puts the spotlight on the importance of a robust quality management system with strong problem resolution components.

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Here’s our take on how things could have been handled better from a total quality management point of view.

Accept and Value Customer Feedback

Samsung company officials were reportedly skeptical about customers’ account of problems and weren’t sure how to respond, according to the Wall Street Journal. The less than swift response could have been due to lack of clarity about how the problem could happen. If quality management has taught us anything at all, it is that acknowledging customer feedback, good, bad or indifferent, is important to long-term business success.

Feedback from consumers and other stakeholders should be documented, evaluated, and acted upon in a timely fashion. This requires a quality culture that includes:

  • A comprehensive quality plan and quality process
  • Customer driven policies, procedures, and standards
  • A system for evaluating and monitoring issues
  • A process for problem resolution and corrective actions
  • Timely communications with all stakeholders
  • A team approach to problem-solving

While the reason behind Samsung’s doubt is not known, one thing is clear: the voice of the customer should not be taken lightly. Basic quality management principles convey the message that the best policies, procedures, and standards that guide company actions are most always customer centered.

Use Effective Problem Solving Techniques

According to Business Insider, Samsung reasoned that defective batteries were to blame for overheating and subsequent fires in the Galaxy Note 7. The company offered replacement devices. But this didn’t solve the problem. Reports surfaced about the same issues with replacement devices.

Was the problem really the battery or was this just a symptom of a larger issue? The lesson to learn here is that effective problem solving gets to the root of a problem versus just dealing with symptoms. This is why standard quality management systems require finding the root cause of problems so that implemented solutions prevent recurrence. While Samsung righted by issuing a recall to protect consumers, the real problem was still unresolved.

Further realizing phones wouldn’t be turned in by all consumers, according to NBC News, Samsung offered a software download that would allow only a 60 percent battery charge to avoid overheating and a subsequent fire hazard. Again, this was a temporary fix to protect consumers.

The real cause of the problem was still a mystery.

Because a root cause analysis can be time consuming, the process may be initially bypassed in a time of crisis. A recommended way to proceed is to put in place a stop gap measure to prevent harm or damage to consumers, then put the right resources in place to find the real reason behind a problem. For Samsung, a more effective recall process, no replacement of devices until the real problem was understood, and carrying out a comprehensive root cause analysis may have been a better, sequential response.

What a Successful Root Cause Analysis Involves:

Identify and clarify the problem by gathering data, customer feedback and other evidence that supports problem definition. A well-defined problem is a must before moving on to discover the root cause. The result is a clear, concise problem definition statement.

Begin the root cause analysis process by assembling the right team and using the right tools to complete the analysis. Depending on the complexity of the problem, analysis tools may range from a simple Cause and Effect Analysis to a more detailed Failure, Mode, and Effect Analysis or a Fault Tree Analysis.

Decide on the appropriate corrective action after identifying the problem root cause or causes. Remember that an effective corrective action prevents problems from happening again.

Verify the effectiveness of the solution at the appropriate interval using monitoring, auditing, inspections or other means useful in validating problem resolution.

Use Advanced Quality Product Planning

NBC News also reported that Samsung later attributed the problem to a manufacturing issue that allowed the positive and negative ends of the device batteries to make contact, resulting in a short circuit that caused them to overheat, thus setting the stage for a fire hazard. If so, the question now becomes how did this manufacturing mishap occur in the first place and why wasn’t it caught early on?

To avoid making similar mistakes with new product development and launches, Advanced Product Quality Planning may be the answer. The quality management lesson here is that the “devil is in the details.” That’s why many manufacturers favor APQP initiatives when embarking on new product launches. The process provides a comprehensive approach to vetting product viability and in problem discovery during design and test phases to uncover issues long before a product launch.

The APQP process comprises five phases augmented with a control plan designed to keep processes under control and operations on target to produce quality products. The five phases are:

  • Defining Product Characteristics and Planning Quality Initiatives
  • Product Design and Development
  • Manufacturing Process Design and Development
  • Validation of Product and Processes
  • Product Launch, Feedback, Assessment and Improvement

After recall and product replacements had gone awry, Samsung suspended manufacturing of the Galaxy Note 7. But this move may cost the company billions of dollars when all is said and done.

Application of APQP can help prevent manufacturing mishaps, thus avoiding recalls, production interruptions, brand damage, and loss of consumer confidence.

Know and Understand the Real Cost of Quality

While there are varied definitions of what quality is, a common premise is that quality means consistently doing things right the first time, with continual improvement of products and services, providing total customer satisfaction.

The thing is, there is always a cost to quality. Either the cost will be accounted for during the product design, development and manufacturing process on the front end, or on the back end when good quality management is an after-thought. The latter often leads to product quality issues and substantial recovery costs.

The recall and ceased production of the Galaxy Note 7 is a back end quality cost that Samsung is forced to absorb. This points to what quality experts already know. Lack of quality management, or not getting it right the first time, can cause the following tangible costs:

  • Loss of current and future business
  • Scrap and/or product rework
  • Recovery costs, including those associated with rectifying a defective product
  • Liability and legal judgments

Have the Right Policies and Procedures in Place

Several sources, including the Wall Street Journal, pointed to Samsung mishandling the recall of the Galaxy Note 7. According to WSJ, Samsung wanted to fast track a recall resolution with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government entity that oversees recalls. However, the story further pointed out that the CPSC does not advise fast tracking recalls where complex technical issues are involved. Because the root cause of the problem had not been thoroughly investigated, device recall and replacement did not work for Samsung.

The lesson here is realizing that a good quality management system needs policies and procedures to guide responses to significant issues. It is important to have established protocols in place to make sure problems are handled properly, ensuring immediate consumer safety while getting to the root cause of an issue. This includes protocols for managing regulatory compliance across all product stages, including recalls.

Never Lose Customer Focus

Finally, one of the most important lessons to learn is to never lose sensitivity to the customer. How you interact or handle contact with a customer is often referred to as a “moment of truth,” where your response will either satisfy or disappoint the customer. With reports of initial doubts about the seriousness of customer complaints, Samsung may have room for improvement in managing consumer contact, as now they have relationships to rebuild and trust to regain.

Much can be learned from the surmises of what went wrong with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and the responses that followed. In terms of quality management, your company can use these perspectives to assess the status of your quality management system, improving or plugging up any holes. While a product recall or operations shut down may not be in your future, running your business with a full understanding of quality management is a good thing.

Don’t let problems reach the customer site. View our webinar and learn how QAD CEBOS APQP can prevent problems early on.