5 Reasons Why After-Sales Is No Longer An After-Thought
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Did you know, that there are an estimated 2.4 Billion Devices (electronics, smartphones and appliances) in Indian homes alone, in various stages of their life-cycle! Mostly, brands spend almost equivalent of, or at least two-thirds of what they would spend on marketing towards after-sales service to meet their warranty obligations. This approximately accounts for almost $4 Billion in India alone and globally over $40 Billion. Yet, the spend was more towards performing ‘transactions’ rather than delivering ‘experience’, primarily because most brands considered service as an obligation, instead of an opportunity to build life-long engagement with their customers. However, After-Sales Service over time is emerging as a key differentiator in garnering ‘Customer’s Trust’ for most businesses. Most customers today are channel agnostic and often prefer that support or assistance is available ‘always on’ at their fingertips and throughout the usage life-cycle; not just during a breakdown incident. Millennials, in particular, being mostly tech-savvy and impatient are constantly on the lookout for fast, convenient and reliable solutions. For them, the price could no more be a trade-off for the poor experience. To thus seek and foster enduring relationships with their customers - the relationship that goes far beyond the initial sale; there are some important aspects mostly related to after-sales service that is of absolute priority :
1. Trust is Either Built or Broken
When a customer buys a new product, he/she expects it to meet at least the basic purpose of buying it and stay durable for a reasonable period. While every manufacturer wishes to build a product that needs minimal to no support or failures; the reality is quite different. Some after-sales incidences could even be simple instances of software not working as it should be, or a customer unable to understand a new feature of the product, etc – unfortunately leading to unavoidable support incidents. However, most after-sales-service setups till date are still built to handle ‘real technical’ issues only and not simple customer education issues or are consumer focused at all; leading to poor customer experience most times. More so, the accessibility of a reliable support channel itself is a challenge and it’s mostly ‘Google’ coming to help as most brands spend money on pushing sales, and not on support and hence support not even easy to discover. Even when, there is a real support incident for an issue resolution, there are a number of players that come in picture (some in the front, some in the background) – like a call centre, a service centre, a service engineer, a parts supplier, a logistics service provider, a payments gateway etc; most of them operating with no common end goal, leading to a completely unpredictable or unpleasant experience mostly. Those who manage this complexity well, forge lifelong trust of their customers. As they say, trust is built when you are available to your customers when they need you the most, and not otherwise. It’s probably that one incident where trust is built or broken.
2. Service is Not a Cost Centre, Any Longer
India today has about 300 million households and on an average, there are about 8 devices (smartphones to home appliances) in each, given the rise of enhanced consumerism and increasing purchasing power of people. Surprisingly, there are more than half of the installed device base, that is no longer in warranty, but has the similar probability of failure like a new device in warranty (if not more, due to the age)! Unfortunately, most companies consider their responsibility towards service, only when the device is in warranty, and the accountability gets over the moment the device goes out of warranty, leaving the third-party unauthorised market to thrive. So, service is always a cost centre for such companies.
Now, take Apple as an example: AppleCare (the service arm of Apple) is an appx $6 Billion fortune 500 business worldwide. It is one of the few technology companies, that believes in delivering ‘life time experience’ to their users and not just during sales or during warranty. Also, because they know every single customer of theirs, thanks to the Apple ID being mandatory to start using any of their devices, helps them deliver a better experience and make money from it. On the contrary, there’s another top Chinese PC manufacturer who has 4 times the customers outside of their warranty customer base but doesn’t even have a defined process to support when a paying out of warranty customer asks for service. The reason: ‘Our CRM doesn’t support out of warranty business’. The automobile industry has seen this change and it’s only a matter of time the electronics industry realises this huge opportunity.
3. Downtime is a Bad Word
In the software platform world, the word “High availability” is non-negotiable. This means, the platform has to ‘always work’ and ‘downtime’ is unacceptable as it may impact businesses severely. However, the internet and technology evolution has made the gadgets we use on a daily basis also come with such highly sophisticated capabilities or features; the word ‘downtime’ is equally bad for these consumer gadgets as well these days. First, our photos and messages went digital, they were then followed by cabs, the baby monitor, the thermostat, the door lock now, and probably even your fans and the cars tomorrow. There’s even an assistant sitting in every room of your house, waiting patiently to take orders from you nowadays.
As more and more portions of our lives move online, making sure the devices and services that act as portals to these activities, uptime, is sacrosanct. You do not want to have your customers disconnected from life, because your support processes are still age-old, or analogue. So, identifying an issue proactively (and if possible, silently) is the need of the hour so that, the same can be addressed well on time, without causing much downtime and loss of customer trust.
Superior Service Propagates Customer Retention
Customer Loyalty and retention are no more linked only to the product quality or the brand reputation now; but also on your after-sales service perception today. It could be just five out of every hundred products that require service during its life; so the numbers could be small, but the ones who don’t get the service they deserved, ensure another hundred get to hear their ordeal – thanks to the social media and increased awareness of customers today in this digital world. So, with ever-evolving technology, it also becomes mandatory for manufacturers to update the skills of their service personnel regularly. Unfortunately, most service processes are still manual because it never gets the same priority as any other function within an organisation and there are only a few that actually invest in service. However, if customer loyalty is at stake, then an earnest approach to after-sales service becomes imperative. Especially, since the use of technology to solve after-sales issues has a direct impact on the customer service experience.
Imagine booking a service incident on a digital channel (voice assistant, mobile app or web), getting a qualified person from the manufacturer visit you at the scheduled time and his profile is visible to you before he visits you, you are able to track his journey real-time and then experience the service activities yourself at home, versus you calling a call centre. Then waiting endlessly for someone to visit you and they perform the job while you aren’t around, and all of this happening after multiple follow-ups. Wouldn’t such an experience as former yield greater customer retention? Or better still, you get to keep a track of all of this and this yielding some ‘service points’ that can act as cash back on your next purchase or service?
4. No Sustainability? No Future
Sustainability is imperative for our planet, our ever-depleting resources, and our future as there could be Plan B for businesses, but there’s no Planet B. And however grim that reality sounds, it is one that needs to be accepted with absolute consensus and urgency. We all are living on the same planet and we have to get equipped with the right approach on how we manufacture and then dispose-off those electronic devices. Especially considering that most devices are made with materials today that are quite sturdy and can last longer. For example, customers generally upgrade their smartphones every couple of years, which means older devices are simply ending up in either junkyard or in our own drawers and gets disposed off without any care for the environment, or reaches unauthorised recyclers who take such discarded devices only to profit from selling them in embargo countries or from trading parts from these devices, and never care for sustainability.
As responsible citizens, we cannot let these practices continue any longer and a better future for us stems from the ways we can incorporate sustainability in our lives. In particular, leveraging after-sales as the starting point, to ascertain the importance of treating devices with care. Longer the devices run, longer they stay out of landfills. Longer they stay out of landfills, the less we have to exploit resources from the only planet we call home. And, why not use the some of the parts at least from discarded devices back in manufacturing the next device!
Hence, an ever-improving after-sales process must be a norm, not an exception. It is important for organizations to understand the customer life-cycle end-to-end, creatively apply the right tools at the right time, be data-driven and thus build greater customer trust and loyalty. Several brands have reaped the benefits of this knowledge but not all. Many are still caught in the pitfalls of not investing enough in their after-sales service or simply not having any technology leveraged to enhance their customer’s service experience. Hope this changes soon!