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.

Buyer’s Guide: AT&T

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.

 

  • David Priestley

    I am in the UK.i i took my note 7 back to my provider(carphone warehouse) on friday afternoon and was told to expect a new phone on monday.got a call saturday morning to say my phone had arrived.so less than 24 hours to exchange phones,seems like the process in the UK is going smoothly for certain carriers and providers.

  • Blake Truax

    Holy cow!!! I swear when I read this it felt like you followed me around during my exchange attempts. I have a recorded phone conversation with one of my local stores representatives and she told me that exchanging for a temporary device has been causing customers to lose pictures, contacts, and other data so I should probably wait until the new batch of Note 7’s come in. Unbelievable.. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one dealing with AT&T’s incompetence and general lack of care or concern for customers. They only care about that almighty dollar.

  • MSmith79

    Got mine through an online order with Verizon. First I chatted on the website. Was told I needed to call and I couldn’t do it online or through chat. So I called and at the voice recognition prompt stated I was calling for a return. Waited on hold for twenty minutes and finally had to drop the call because I had to leave. Called a second time the next day. Waited on hold for thirty minutes and got a representative. They barely even knew there was a recall and told me a different department would handle it. They transferred me and I had to wait another twenty five minutes for a rep. Finally one came on who also barely knew about it. She put me on hold to research and after five minutes came back to say they haven’t received replacements yet and to try again next week. 1 hour wasted with no progress. I never got any warnings of the danger or directives to power it down from any of the reps.

  • JackedNY

    AT&T s dishonest marketing and bad customer service is typical. They swindled me big time by offering all sorts of false incentives for switching from another carrier. Now I am switching to Verizon mostly to get away from AT&T.

  • Chris

    I would think as adults you would be able to walk into a store and tell a representative what you wanted to do. I returned mine without any issues got the S7 edge and I am waiting for the Note 7. While statistacly the facts are true and everything said is true as far as the amount of incidents verses the amount of phones being sold ratio being a very unlikely situation. If someone told me that I still have the power of using my own brain and making a decision for myself. Att Verizon T-Mobile Sprint. I hear everyone complain about all of them. No ones gonna be truly happy with whom ever they chose.

  • Gregd548

    We have had the same problem with Verizon. Our local store where we got the phone would not exchange it unless we had ALL the original packaging. We contacted Samsung and Verizon corporate offices, and the added a note to my files that says we can return it to ANY Verizon store and that thenpackaging is NOT required. Since we dropped our son off at college 1000 miles away the day after this attempt, he has now only managed to arrange transportation to a Verizon store over 5 miles away. He will be attempting to exchange it today, so I’m anxious to see if corporate involvement helped or if it’s time to perhaps get attorneys involved. Wireless carriers need to have a lot more accountability and customer concern: if they can’t manage to do it themselves, maybe more government oversight of their industry is required!

    • Dad

      the store rep just doesn’t want the extra hassle + you bother them from taking other sales because they don’t get anything personally out of helping you

  • CJD

    After communication with Samsung and Carphone Warehouse here in the UK; I had to do this. At no point was I contacted. I was just being proactive.

    I returned my phone last Monday and the replacement was instore next day. Complete with the black square on the box.

    I do find it ludicrous the people and the reporter included vowing never to buy Samsung again. Really?! I’m no fanboy for any one device and review devices too. Exploding batteries happen; to be fair, this was on a grand scale. Samsung handled it not too badly. If this was an iPhone for example, Apple would have buried their head in the sand for about 10 days. Samsung were prompt and kept updating relevant sites.

    The Note 7 is a great device. Don’t be scared of it. This sort of thing will probably happen again. Hopefully not to Samsung, that would be unfortunate. Whichever manufacturer has to recall a device for whatever reason, don’t shut yourself off from an entire brand. That would be ignorant and a little sad.

  • kidred14

    Of course it’s ludicrous to vow to never buy the brand again over this battery issue and the issue of his carrier (not manufacturer). This is a pointless story and article about nothing.

  • MrGalione973

    Samsung didn’t handle the situation as it was no big deal… they issued a recall once they got word that around 32-35 people have reported injuries, or incidents with the phone… and requested that all consumers return their phones, or exchange them. As they say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it. Them telling you to return the device does not mean that you as consumer would listen. Do they have to spell it out that possible DEATH or DISMEMBERMENT can occur because said users want to keep their devices?! No.

    they issued all retailers to stop the sale and to accept returns and or exchanges on their behalf. this particular case was an issue with representatives at an AT&T store, not Samsung and AT&T as a whole. This was a case of bad customer service. Trust me, I’ve worked in the field for 7 years as a representative for good old Comcast/NBC/Universal, and boy were our numbers poor… but I ensured that I offered THEEE best customer service to my customers day in, even so when i transferred to be an install technician.. But even with great customer service, consumers still do and think as they please. I am a consumer and I am held by those constraints as well…

    Had my note 7 not have a hardware issue with the digitizer and the SPen on the lower right hand corner of my device, i would’ve kept my phone until I got a replacement… but again anything that would’ve happened to me, would’ve been my own fault because I was given instructions to return a possibly defective device.

    • Dad

      + we don’t know what the situation is with a lotta folks. some phones may be used in a corporate setting with encryption on their devices. people need time to act. in a couple of days, it will be easier to move everyone’s data from one phone to the next if people are unfamiliar how to do that themselves, however if you have a LOT of stuff on you phone expect to spend 1-2 hours transferring all that in-store. Best to back up your current phone yourself, and restore the data at home after getting the safe Note 7

    • Derrick Miyao

      I don’t think you read the post. I tried to return my phone twice. I didn’t need someone to lead me to the water in order for me to drink. At least others here are speaking up with the same experience that I went through. I appreciate there are plenty of great people in customer service, but there are a lot of people who have similar stories to mine which is why I wrote this article.

      • MrGalione973

        No, I get that part, but throughout the article you mentioned the other facets which is what I touched upon. That is also why I touched saying that the representatives that failed at the AT&The stored were the issue… that is absurd that they allowed that to occur when you were trying to do as you were instructed for a replacement… but you also had a unique scenario with your phone, making it slightly difficult (but not to the point where they couldn’t do their job properly).

        • Derrick Miyao

          Ah I got ya. Anyways, we need more peeps like you. Customers would be much happier.

          • MrGalione973

            Yes that us true, but I moved on to greener pastures, but I’m a people person too so that helps.

  • Walter

    I have had 2 failed attempt the rep would not take it back with out the charger the second attemp they told me it was no big deal. Att on the phone told me it’s whatever and Samsung well Samsung is a Korean company with middle Easter phone support. They say call att I have recorded all of it from living managers to lazy call centers. I am hiring an attorney and file a claim with the safety commission.

  • Gue Claro

    My ordeal was fucked! Tmobile screwed up my preorder twice. By the time I got one setup. It was to be delivered AFTER the release date. Plus they charged me for my deposit before it was shipped, when they said I wouldn’t be charged until it physically shipped. Wtf?! So I told them to cancel it and I will go get it in store. I do so. But they charge an extra $20 to essentially have someone do their job, in store.
    Then the recall.
    I held on for as long as I could. Seeing all the reports on social media and news channels I finally gave in. This is after I had a webchat with tmobile who told me I could bring it in and get the Note5 I had traded in. I go into the store. They don’t have it. They have sent it back. So I have to take a “loaner” which I expected would be the case if they don’t have my phone. I get a Note5. I was told that when the new note7 shipment comes in to bring this back. Ok.
    The next day I get a call from tmobile saying I need to bring the phone I have back to the store and get a loaner phone. I said it is a loaner phone and told them they need to fix it in the system. I was told they cannot do it over the phone, that the store needs to do it. Which is mind boggling to me. So now I wait for the new shipment of Note7 to find out what this adventure will conclude as or drag on.
    Ugh.
    *still haven’t received one response from Samsung to emails I have sent them.

  • tl3703

    Had no problem with Verizon and will always buy another Samsung phone. Sorry you were dealing with the number 2 carrier but bad customer.service will do you in everytime

  • Kim chee

    Hahahahahhaha I’ve tried 5 yes five times to return my preorder device I paid in full no contract and they have pushed me to the corners of stores promised call backs that never come. And outright ignore my request for a full refund. I only have authorized retail in my location and can’t ship device back. $936.00 phone = million dollar headache. at&t fail!

  • Michael Mariano

    Same type of experience with T-mobile. Phone CS sent me to the store, store said no loaners left call phone CS. Phone CS said we’ll send you a loaner over night. 2 days later no phone, I call CS back – order was never completed. New order accidentally ships ground. I will likely exchange in store on 9/21 before loaner arrives.

  • michael basa

    i have had 2 failed attempts yesterday when they had the replacements in hand. they said they cant do the exchange becasue of their systems and the fact that i have a unified account. i spend almost 6 hours total at both stores to be told the same thing. they made it as if i was the one who wanted to do this return and i told them this was an issue on their part not mine and in the end they still made it out as if it was my fault. also they wiped my phone then handed it gingerly back to me and told me to leave.

  • PatrickO

    AT&T did a terrible job of preparing their sales people to handle the situation. I had to go back twice. The first time I went in to the store their computer system was down. Not just that store’s, but the entire US retail system according to the two stores I contacted.

    Next time I went back, I got hassled because 2 of the 3 phones I was returning were ordered from that store bu the third was purchased from AT&T online. The rep wanted the receipt from the order. I told him it was an email and a PDF, I didn’t have a paper copy. After his insisting 3 times he needed the receipt I asked him to check with his manager. A long pause later he came back and asked what we wanted to exchange them for.

    Next he started to refuse to take the return because one of the wall chargers was missing. I had to threaten to drop all my business to stop that demand (and promise to drop it off the next day).

    After taking forever to process the exchanges, he cautioned us that because these were exchanges, “you only get on change to an iphone or something else” – I guess he didn’t read the company email to customers. No mention of how we would be notified when the Note 7 is available, not apologies for the inconvenience, nada.

    He sent us on our way with the dire warning that if something was missing from the boxes, they would find out in the warehouse and we would be charged for it.

  • Jim McDonald

    This recall has been a nightmare for me. I added a Note 7 to my account and the number they assigned to it shows up under somebody else’s account. I have been to 3 different stores where they would not do the recall because of this. I have been dealing with this every day for three weeks via chat on on the phone and nobody is able to give me a straight answer. They keep telling me that as soon as the investigation is complete I will get instructions to exchange my phone. I keep asking why this is taking so long. Give a new phone and then continue your investigation…this was not my fault or my mistake? I have the box and all the accessories. I love the phone and want another Note 7, but I would like one that I know is safe to use. From my past experience, AT&T customer service has always been great to me but they have really dropped the ball on this one…so much so that I am considering a switch to t-mobile.

  • Erica

    This same thing happened to me just last night (10/14). I went in specifically return not 1, but my 2 note 7s and 2 hours later, they sent me Home with BOTH of my dangerous devices. To wait for them to send me a fire proof box to send it back in. So it’s so serious, it needs a fire proof box and has been banned on planes, but it’s ok for them to send them back home with me for a couple business day? This was Friday night, so by the time I get these boxes, it will be Tuesday, Wednesday?? Do you want me to keep BOTH note 7s another 4-5-6? Days after I went in specifically return them? Because you don’t want to refund my money? So now my question is.. if one or both of my phones catches on fire now, who is responsible?

  • Kim chee

    I just got my device returned to me by the authorized retail store I went in to to return my second Device they gave me back my original BRICKED note 7 from at&t update and recall. They said nothing we can do I have to call Samsung..ha..no really this is the 8th time I have tried to get a refund I’ve filed reports with bbb and went to at&t Resolution and told oh well we are working on it ..I can’t believe the crap I have been through..

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