Caring for Smartphones

smartphone revolution, costs, subscriber services, sicap customers, call centres, handling, device returnsThe recent smartphone revolution has increased the number of calls to customer careAre operators ready for the $140 smartphone user and the costly support they need? One 30 minute support call can wipe out a subscriber’s entire profitability



The challenge for operators is to reduce the escalating customer care costs linked to smartphone complexity and the time it takes to resolve issues on them. Induced challenges include first call resolution of issues, faultless service availability and ultimately, customer satisfaction.

The recent smartphone revolution has not only increased the number of calls to customer care, it has also lengthened the duration of each call. Customer care agents spend longer handling each issue, due to the number of parameters to be taken into account before identifying root causes. Also, smartphone owners, compared with traditional phone owners, are significantly more likely to have contacted their operator with an issue during the past six months (48 per cent vs. 35 per cent, respectively in a recent US study).

How can operators reduce costs without impairing service and the loss of trade that this entails? Competition for the subscriber relationship is fierce and it is a well-known fact that it is harder to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Upselling and cross-selling opportunities are the most obvious drivers for customer attention, especially for mobile device manufacturers, who aim to be the single point of contact for users of their products. For operators, improving Quality-of-Service (network and device interoperability), service usability (minimise downtime, stimulate ARPU) and subscriber loyalty (avoid churn) are equally good reasons to set up and maintain relations with subscribers, via their device.


Three costs areas

There are basically three areas where costs need to be controlled. Firstly, costs linked to setting up and maintaining service usability on subscriber devices, i.e. making sure devices work “out of the box” and always. 85 per cent of subscribers are frustrated by the difficulty of getting a new phone working, and up to 70 per cent of call centre calls are initial configuration setting requests. Furthermore, once up and running, 95 per cent of subscribers say that if initial set-up was easier, they would be willing to try more new services.

The logical conclusion is that subscribers reluctant to change device are perhaps ‘frightened’ of potential set up problems or even getting started with a new device. Data taken from global Sicap customers shows that the vast majority of new device buyers prefer that someone personally guides them through first time app experiences. A high performance Device Management platform with Automatic Device Detection (ADD) is an invaluable tool for call centre agents since it can detect and display key data needed to effectively understand the reason for the subscriber’s call. It can also offer live access to device parameters and enable advanced interventions such as updating applications on the device in order to keep it up to date.


Handling issues

Secondly, costs linked to the time spent handling issues, due to the complexity of smartphones and the extent of their capabilities. Smartphone buyers have the choice of millions of applications, mind-boggling handset features, capabilities and functionalities with varying standards, compliances and individual support needs. The array of device Operating Systems (OS) make the smartphone ecosystem even more challenging. There is no industry-standard OS. BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, iPhone, Symbian, and Android are all here to stay. The OS ecosystem war will consolidate the application opportunity in the four biggest platforms (Android, Windows Phone, iOS and BlackBerry OS). Device manufacturers are competing with operators for the subscriber relationship and improving their ‘value-add’ positioning, e.g. App stores and firmware updates.

A Device Management solution should have the capacity to update all the latest smartphones on all OS, and be future-proof, i.e. the vendor should have device manufacturer agreements and relations with major operator groups, for device roadmap knowledge. It should include an over-the-air Automatic Device Detection (ADD) solution which can trigger configuration files to set up customer devices seamlessly, thereby drastically reducing the need for frustrating and costly configuration help calls.

When triggered manually by call centre agents, over-the-air configuration help makes calls shorter and solves issues more efficiently. Moreover, ADD empowers support staff with knowledge of the customer device status during the call. As part of the Sicap offer, call centre agents also dispose of Device Configuration Help files for quick diagnosis, mapping and knowledge of capabilities on each brand and model of smartphone. They can browse the specificities of each smartphone’s WiFi, bluetooth, memory, camera settings etc. on a navigation screen, and then simply click on a function to activate the corresponding function on the customer device. Another innovative part of the Sicap offer is a remote control DM tool. Call centre agents can, with permission from the customer, take command of the smartphone, locate the faulty or wrongly configured application, and carry out remedial action during the call session.

The customer, witness to the manipulations on his screen, gains know-how and therefore autonomy in managing his phone. Sicap’s unique combination of Device Management tools enables a 40 per cent reduction in call time for 1st level, and an 80 per cent reduction for 2nd level handling of smartphone issues by call centre agents. In fact, calls ordinarily passed to Level 2 support due to their need for device interrogation and device knowledge can now be handled by first level support agents due to the simplicity of Sicap’s customer care tools, further reducing Average Handling Time (AHT) and significantly improving the subscriber experience through first contact resolution.


Device returns

Thirdly, costs linked to the logistics of device returns, i.e. physically diagnosing and troubleshooting devices on the customers behalf. Avoiding the return of what a subscriber thinks is a faulty device incurs a considerable cost for an Operator:

More often than not, subscriber frustration is the cause of handsets being returned rather than any handset fault. A total 3 per cent of all devices sold end up being returned. Of these, around 10 per cent are No Fault Found (NFF), i.e. 0.3 per cent of the device base is NFF.

Each returned device goes through a complex supply chain, starting with call centre ticket opening,, registering returned goods, processing, inspecting, through to the technical diagnosis of the device, check out, handling and finally shipping back to the subscriber. In European markets, the cost of each device return can be estimated at approximately 50 euros. The extent of the problem is easy to calculate. For a 50mn subscriber network with 16mn devices sales per year and 0.3 per cent no-fault-found returns at a cost of €50 per device, the annual cost for the operator is €2.4mn.

Through a combination of self-care, with user-friendly web interfaces to Device Configuration Help files, and efficient handling of issues by call centre staff, sicap Device Management Centre has significantly reduced the number of returned no-fault found (NFF) devices for its operator customers. Based on the previous example of an operator with annual costs of €2.6mn for NFF devices, the 20 per cent reduction in NFF returns enabled this particular operator to save over 0.5mn euros last year.


Value-added services

Once support costs under control with effective Device Management, operators can capitalise on the advanced applications available on smartphones and actually generate ARPU, using Device Management to stimulate the uptake of value-added services. Sicap Device Management customers have achieved up to 45 per cent new service-related revenue.

Some examples of new services are Back Up and Restore across multiple interconnected devices, protection from viruses, domotics (home device management) and diagnostics (modem, routers, domestic appliances). In the near future, mobile applications will extend into the car industry (automotive diagnostics), and into energy saving / green label initiatives.

The safest and most efficient way for operators to respond to these new ARPU-generating opportunities is to open up the network to their respective service providers. In addition to data revenue, real opportunities exist for 2-sided business models with third party service providers connected to network gateways, including business transactions using NFC technology. A high performance multimedia gateway incorporated in a Device Management solution will allow Telco 2.0 business agreements with third parties, while effective converged device and SIM management will offer the required security level for transaction-based offers.

Sicap’s 70 global DMC customers have reported incredible cost savings for call avoidance, reduced call duration, decreased handset return rates and improved service ARPU. All proof that, despite the smartphone customer care challenge, the equation can actually improve for operators who adopt a comprehensive and forward-looking Device Management strategy.

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