HTC is adding a key reason why a consumer might want to give its upcoming One M9 smartphone a chance.
The Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer unveiled on Wednesday the "Uh Oh Protection" program, which guarantees that HTC will send a replacement unit of the One M9 to a customer within the first 12 months of ownership for any reason, no questions asked. HTC said the program is available only to US customers and that it will extend to the M8 after the M9 launches. The company hasn't provided pricing information or availability on the new phone.
Uh Oh represents an expansion of last year's HTC Advantage program, which replaced a cracked screen on a One M8 within the first six months. The offer, an industry first, illustrates how far HTC will go to get noticed in a crowded field of premium smartphones dominated by Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy S franchises.
"This opens up more customers to consider HTC, which ultimately will sell more HTC Ones," said Jason MacKenzie, president of HTC's Americas business.
The competition has only heated up with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus proving to be more popular than even the most optimistic expectations, and a radically redesigned and retooled Galaxy S6 set to hit stores on April 10.
For HTC customers, the process for getting a replacement is simple. They dial a toll-free number, where a customer representative checks the identification number of the device to make sure it's active. Once the device is verified, HTC ships a replacement smartphone overnight, which includes an envelope for the old unit. The customer has 20 days to send it back.
Though HTC is highlighting worst-case scenarios of a cracked screen or a device that gets wet, customers can take advantage of the program regardless of the reason.
"The phone call is not going to be an interrogation," MacKenzie said. "If it's dinged up or damaged, I'm going to take care of you."
It's part of a bigger push by HTC to liken the experience of buying its flagship smartphone to that of purchasing a luxury item. MacKenzie compared it to shopping at upscale department store Nordstrom because the hassle-free return policy provides peace of mind.
If you don't take advantage of the replacement program, HTC will kick in $100 toward the purchase of a new HTC One, providing another benefit but also potentially locking a customer into the HTC world of products. Customers don't have to return their old smartphone to the company.
"We're going to help make sure you never have to pay full price for an HTC One again," MacKenzie said.
UH-OH was a program that MacKenzie's team had been working on for a couple of years, he said, noting that HTC Advantage served as a sort of trial. He noted that customers who utilized Advantage were far more likely to give HTC and the One M8 a thumbs-up to friends.
The cost of the program is part of HTC's investment in growth, MacKenzie said. Rather than pour the money into a splashy marketing effort, it's utilizing some of its resources to ensure customers have a positive ownership experience.
"This is something Samsung is not going to do," he said.
Much of HTC's marketing will include a reference to the Uh Oh program, and the company is coordinating with retailers and carrier partners on how to pitch the protection program. At 9 a.m. PT/noon ET, MacKenzie will host an ask-me-anything live stream session where he will answer questions about the program, reiterating the point that there are no strings attached.
MacKenzie declined to say when the One M9 would be hitting the market, saying only that announcements with HTC's carrier partners would come out shortly.