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Mend games

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Vendors and carriers can make savings and enhance customer relations by improving the workflow around handset repair and trouble shooting, says Karim Barkawi, founder and CEO of B2X Care Solutions.

At first glance, the recent global mobile sales numbers would have brought smiles to the faces of the industry’s major carriers and manufacturers. With the public possessing a seemingly insatiable appetite for smartphones, the wider market surged another 20 percent in the first three months of the year.

To outsiders, the main challenges handset vendors face centre on trying to rejuvenate flagging sales of their feature phones by improving functionality – while simultaneously driving down the production costs for the ever-increasing range of high-end models demanded by the public

But this ongoing boom in sales carries significant implications and obligations for both manufacturers and retailers in the area of after-sales and warranties.

When we talk about mobile phones – and increasingly smart phones and tablets – it’s understandable that people think of beautifully functioning, shiny technology. However, research shows that two out of every ten smartphones will be returned after purchase and that the list of potential things that can – and do – go wrong is virtually endless.

The sheer scale and complexity of the units already in circulation – allied to the continued growth in sales – has seen costs related to faulty products skyrocket in recent years. In Europe alone manufacturers spend more than €4bn a year on warranty, a figure that’s forcing stakeholders to re-evaluate how they manage their own customer service operations.

It’s at the front end of the process, when owners contact the maker or vendor about problems with their smartphone, that the biggest savings can be achieved. A full 60 per cent of ‘broken’ units that enter the repair and warranty chain are suffering from software, configuration and usability problems.

These are issues that can – and should – be detected and fixed at the customer point of contact. The central problem is that this process normally takes place in an operator’s shop, a place where staff are trained to sell phones, not diagnose potential faults.

But instead of being viewed as the weak link in the chain, this exchange is where maximum efficiencies can be leveraged. By working through guided diagnostics, sales staff can screen out the costly ‘no fault found’ cases that would otherwise have slipped through the net. A third of cases are normally fixed by updating the software, via USB or over-the-air.

On an industry level, the challenge for manufacturers is to design software delta packages that work across the myriad of models that will be presented as ‘needing fixing’. And if manufacturers and carriers aren’t alive to the issues associated with managing their obligations, earnings can take a dramatic hit. Studies have shown that inefficient customer service operations and poor repair quality can impact profit margins by up to 20 percent.

As well as improving profitability, efficient after-sales and warranty services also offers another key benefit – a strengthening of customer loyalty and retention. The consumer’s focus on repair and warranty service focuses solely on getting their own phone fixed quickly and reliably. Research has shown that by meeting this demand, they’re more likely to stick to that brand.

But as many OEMs have discovered, providing high quality warranty service is no easy task, especially for global companies. Working in over 100 countries, we’ve discovered that every market presents a unique set of challenges – and that no single model can be transplanted successfully from one country to another.

Laws and the levels of service requirements differ; customer types vary widely; you learn to allow and account for the different skill sets and capabilities of repair vendors; while at the same time working on standardising process to extract synergies. All of which impact on repair quality, turnaround times, customer satisfaction and ultimately, warranty costs.

The provision of after-sales service for mobile phones may not be the sexiest role in the handset sector. But it’s becoming an increasingly part of the game – one that presents a ‘win / win’ situation for both suppliers and customers.


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