AT&T’s miserable in-store customer service sent me home with my Galaxy Note 7 after two attempts to exchange it

When the initial reports of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catching fire first hit the news, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t think it was a big deal. Whenever there’s a new phone release of its magnitude, you hear crazy stories that seem nothing more than click bait.

I was wrong to think the exploding Note 7s were a statistical phenomenon, and since then Samsung voluntarily and now officially recalled the devices out in existence. The first voluntary recall of the Note 7 was announced by Samsung on September 2nd, just two full weeks after the official launch. By that time Samsung pointed out that just 35 out of 1 million Note 7s had caught fire. Nonetheless, Samsung had worked closely with carriers in the US to offer refunds or exhange of the device even though it pointed out that it was statistically insignificant at less than .01%.

The recall by Samsung was made official on September 15th by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission where the total numbers of reported incidents had increased to almost 100. Tim Baxter, the President of Samsung Electronics USA stated number of Note 7s returned was a measly 130,000 out of 1 million devices still out in the wild.

I’m guessing most Note 7 customers don’t want to return their devices because the only alternative was to go without a phone, they didn’t want to deal with exchanging the device for a Galaxy S7 only to have to return it later. Some companies like AT&T made it very clear that if you exchanged your Note 7 for a device like the Galaxy S7 that you had to make sure it is undamaged when you come in for your new Note.

From AT&T’s Note 7 return page – link

Can I return my temporary device and accessories for a new Galaxy Note7?
Yes! Your temporary device needs to be undamaged in order to return it for the new Galaxy Note7. If you purchased any accessories to protect your temporary device, like cases and screen protectors those can also be returned.

This can be an issue for some, as “undamaged” is not clearly defined. I’ve been to AT&T stores where light scratches were okay, but Best Buy wouldn’t take that same phone for a trade-in because they said it was damaged. Unless clearly defined, “undamaged” means like new and unused condition.

Samsung has come out and stated Note 7 replacement devices will start to arrive in stores by September 21st at most locations. No where did Samsung state there will be enough devices to meet every single replacement. With the replacement date up in the air, it’s on customers to ensure their replacement Galaxy S7, S6, Note 5 or other devices go “undamaged” even though it’s not their fault this recall has occurred. If they happen to drop their S7 and damage it, that’s the phone they are stuck with even though they never wanted it. No where did Samsung or carriers offer back the customers their original trade-in devices, or other options to hold them over until the replacement Note 7s arrive.

Looking at the statistics, over four weeks there have been roughly 100 reported events of the Galaxy Note 7 catching fire. That’s about 25 incidents per week even though the number of defective Note 7s is reducing with the 130,000 returned or exchanged devices.

Customers simply aren’t returning their devices.

Why?

It’s my opinion that Samsung has downplayed the seriousness of this issue from the very beginning. When the first recall by Samsung occurred on September 2nd, Samsung made it clear the number of reported incidents was so small that it affected less than .01% of devices made. Yet it issued a full recall, without telling us why the battery was catching fire. Without knowing why, we would never know if EVERY Note 7 could catch fire given enough time. Instead it just implored its “most loyal” Note 7 customers to power down their devices and exchange them for another Galaxy device. Those users just needed to make sure their interim device went “undamaged”.

Here is where the headline comes together with this story.

About a week ago, I took my purchased (not a review unit) Galaxy Note 7 into the nearest AT&T store to exchange it for a Galaxy S7. I wanted to know how the process worked for my own knowledge as a tech writer. The experience started off as any other in an AT&T store where a manager checked me into the queue system on his iPad.

Keep in mind this was just last week when the recall was voluntary and the only official released statistics were the 35 incidents out of 1 million devices.

After telling the manager of the AT&T retail store I wanted to exchange my Note, he went on to explain to me that the recall was due to a small percentage of devices that caught fire. I didn’t prep him with information that I am a Senior Editor at AndroidGuys.com, instead I let him educate me on the Note 7 recall information to date.

He treated the situation as if it were not serious. After 10 minutes of listening to his explanation, and walking me through the entire exhange process without any other customer in the store at the time, he made me feel like he simply didn’t want to go through the process because it wasn’t a big deal. Not one time did he say, “let’s get the process started.”

I simply said, “it seems as if it isn’t a big deal” even though in my head I just wanted to exhange my Note 7 for an S7 edge. It’s not worth the less than .01% chance for me to hang onto the Note 7 given the chance it could potentially burn or even kill me. If I’m going to play my odds, I’d rather spend $850 on a Powerball ticket in hopes of a positive life change.

So I simply left the store and the manager appeared like it was no big deal.

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That was failed attempt number one.

Onto attempt number two

At 7:00pm PST, I walked into the same AT&T store and checked in with a different manager on her iPad to exchange my Note 7. My memory of tonight’s attempted exchange is very clear and very fresh in my mind.

After 15 minutes of waiting, a customer service rep got me started on my exchange. It was his first attempt at this process so he brought his manager over to help. She asked if I wanted to exchange the Note 7 or return it. I honestly didn’t know I could return it for a full refund, because on AT&T’s official Note 7 website, it states there is an exchange process in place.

From the AT&T website – link

What should I do with the Galaxy Note7 I purchased?
Because safety is our top priority, customers who purchased a Galaxy Note7 are strongly encouraged to turn off their device and exchange for a new device as soon as possible. Customers with a Galaxy Note7 may select a Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7 active or a new Galaxy Note7, and may also return any Note7 accessories. If a customer chooses another Samsung device, he or she will receive a bill credit of $25 per device.

Do I really need to stop using my Galaxy Note7 device?
Yes. AT&T, Samsung and the Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly recommend you power down your device, take it back to the place you purchased or to your local AT&T retail store, and participate in the exchange program as soon as possible. Please reference the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What if I don’t want to exchange my Galaxy Note7?
Due to a battery issue and potential safety concerns, we strongly encourage you to power down your device and exchange your current Galaxy Note7 as soon as possible for another device that meets your needs. New Galaxy Note7 devices will be available in store no later than September 21, 2016.

On the entire Samsung Galaxy Note7 Recall & Safety page, AT&T uses the word “exchange” 20 different times. It only uses the word “refund” twice. 

How is AT&T taking care of me if I purchased a Galaxy Note7 during this timeframe?
AT&T will exchange your Note7 for another device that meets your needs and refund the difference if necessary. AT&T will also refund any Note7 accessories.

AT&T only states that it will refund the difference in price for another device, as well as any Note 7 accessories. No where on the entire page does AT&T explicitly state it will offer a full refund for the Note 7. I interpret this language as AT&T doing its best to keep its customers locked into a new Samsung device.

Here is why I think that:

What should I do with the Galaxy Note7 I purchased?
Because safety is our top priority, customers who purchased a Galaxy Note7 are strongly encouraged to turn off their device and exchange for a new device as soon as possible. Customers with a Galaxy Note7 may select a Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7 active or a new Galaxy Note7, and may also return any Note7 accessories. If a customer chooses another Samsung device, he or she will receive a bill credit of $25 per device.

Since the recall is official, why not let customers exhange it for an iPhone 7? Was Samsung behind this messaging?

Regardless, I will continue with my story.

As the manager looked up my account, she asked me where the box and accessories were. I stated that I did not have them and her reaction to that fact was I needed to bring those back to complete the return. I then asked her, “so you won’t return my officially recalled Note 7 unless I give you the box and accessories? This phone has been reported to catch fire, and you’re really going to demand I bring in the box and accessories?”

She then answered, “we’ve been told we can take the Note 7 back in any condition, damaged, cracked, and broken but I’m supposed to get the accessories back to issue a full refund.”

I think her logic kicked in after that statement, because she stopped pushing for the accessories and started the return process. Honestly, I really don’t have them and have plenty of chargers and headphones.

After looking through my account, she could not find the Note 7 on her initial inquiry because I ordered it online and the AT&T billing center associated my IMEI with another person’s account. Her next statement was “wow you got a free Note 7.” That was not the case because I paid for portion my Note 7, nor do I consider a fire hazard a free gift. She then told the rep she was helping to call the AT&T call center. He did just that, and in order to return my Note 7 they would have to deactivate the other person’s account my IMEI was associated with. By the end of the call it was closing time and nor he or the manager wanted to call that customer to work out the situation.

The manager told me she would open an official case, and the soonest she could get back to me was on Monday by the afternoon.

She then went on to say,” the Samsung rep told us, if a customer comes into the store with a Note 7, do not let them leave with it under any circumstances.”

Here’s where her lack of judgement blows my mind.

She sent me home with my Note 7! Seriously, WTF.

At a BARE minimum she could have asked me if she could keep my Note 7 until Monday. I wouldn’t have liked that resolution since there was no way to prove that Note 7 was mine, but it would have fulfilled the Samsung rep’s order to not let customers leave with their Note 7s. Or she could have done the logical thing and did an exchange, or she could have let me put a deposit down on another device until this situation was resolved.

Instead she sent me home with my Note 7.

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Failed attempt number two.

While this story may seem like a personal complaint, I honestly wish I didn’t have to write this piece.

The reality is I am not the only person this is happening to. While some consumers are playing the odds and waiting for the replacement Note 7s, others like me are actually trying to return/exchange their devices, only to be rejected.

AT&T and Samsung are leaving customers in danger with their Note 7s. From the very beginning they have downplayed the stats. The 130,000 returns/exchanges of the 1 million devices out in the wild are proof they aren’t doing enough to protect the safety of its users. It’s been two full weeks and Samsung has only pulled in 1/10th of the devices that can potentially end a person’s life. Once ignited, the only way to stop a metal (lithium) driven fire is with a specialized class D fire extinguisher (read more at Wikipedia). Most consumers don’t know throwing water on a metal fire will make it much worse. One Note 7 already burned a man’s Jeep, providing evidence this is a serious and life threatening issue.

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Statistically, the number of incidents is increasing with each passing day. Given enough time, Samsung’s initial claim of less than .01% could change to 1% which is 10,000 devices. On the other end of the spectrum, it could even result in 100% of this batch of Note 7s catching fire. The truth is the consumer doesn’t really know how dangerous the batteries are because Samsung has not detailed why they catch fire beyond the “low quality battery cells” explanation.

However, not all consumers are facing poor customer service and difficulty returning/exchanging their Note 7s. Many stores across the country are probably handling the return process without giving their customers grief. But the AT&T store by me isn’t handling it the right way and they need to remedy this situation before they send someone else home with a Note 7 that might catch on fire.

Let us know in the comments below if your Note 7 return/exhange has not gone as smoothly as you’d hoped for.

As for me, I will never buy another Samsung device ever again for the way it bungled this recall and left me in danger.

 

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