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Support: a Neglected Factor in Smartphone Purchases

Smartphones are technologically advanced,  and therefore need excellent support,  both from a help-desk perspective and repairs or maintenance.

A simple search for support or repairs reveals most of the story: Samsung has a walk-in Smart Care Centre near me in Johannesburg. Nokia has a Care Centre in Umhlanga, a 6-hour drive away, but does have service agents nearby. I had to search 14 different websites to find that Sony is based in Randjespark, in Midrand, but their accredited service agent is… far away and doesn’t service mobile phones! How sad, since their new offerings are world-class. HTC has a new “fulfilmentpartner” in Brightstar, which is untested in terms of this service, and HTC will continue to operate from its aloof Global office, it seems. Dubai, anyone? It is,  of course, part of Africa, if the distribution of authority is noted. Great phones, previously let down by the demise of Leaf and their successor, to be “supported” from another continent…

Samsung has managed to get many things right in South Africa, a factor in their ever-advancing market share, more so than the odd billboard. Offering attractive packages and pricing to networks helps, too, as does availability of product. Samsung includes its ADH – accidental damage from handling – warranty on new smartphones, as well as a 1Gb AlwaysOn wifi partnership. These two gestures demonstrate a response to two customer fears: their beautiful display dying due to a drop, and the data costs often associated with fast online services. I have personally not needed ADH yet,  but it is comforting to know that it is there, allaying product fears.LG has met customers in terms of product design, and Samsung met us where our fears meet theirs, while persisting with incremental change with bland, lack-lustre industrial design.

Apple’s popularity has shown that good support trumps price, and that people are prepared to wait for what is distinctive. Seth Godin, in his exceptional work, The Dip, highlights how “scarcity”  creates value for customers. The queues outside an Apple iStore before a release are only matched locally by queues outside good public schools on registration day. This all comes at a price, for every proprietary accessory you will need, and having to sync your universe through iTunes.

LG, for their part, has been manufacturing good phones for a while – the L5 my wife had a while back is still thundering ahead – but their new G3 is arguably the best new phone released this year. That is, if awards and acclaim meet service and supply. The G3 does not have some of the features of rival evolutionary models, such as the S5 or Z2, but it does have a great advantage, besides its revolutionary qHD screen: crowd-appeal. LG listened, and incorporated most of the customer feedback from their equally well-received  G2. They simplified (beautified) the user experience, continued useful customisations of stock Android, such as the knock code, and made changes where they matter to the customer – returning to a removable battery and including expandable storage, for example. What remains to be seen is how they match the service experience to their design. Though the service offered by Technocare there may still be a dream, even for LG locally, which has Executronix listed, along with local celebrity Clive Simpkins’s rant about them, from ages ago. In fact, two of the top five Google searches for them concern complaints. Is life good? Well, it can improve from that, for sure.

I am aware that our market size is much smaller than others, but this may not always be the case, and loyalty is not a given, once a contract ends. My Galaxy S4 and Note 10.1 2014 Edition may, in fact, be my last Samsungs, indeed, if they persist with the current lifeless design philosophy. I don’t have the urge to explore, curiosity piqued. Offering attentive, adaptable service to clients, in spite of market considerations, has served Coca Cola well, and made SAB a global player. Nokia – or rather Microsoft Mobile – operates out of Dubai,  but has had decent support to date. With all the retrenchments, though, I am concerned. Dr. Pieter Pretorius, operations expert, spoke to me when I was at GIBS,  and reminded me that capacity has a critical tipping point. Fashion boutiques, for example, can only lose limited capacity before affecting service levels on the floor: people want to connect with people and be served swiftly and efficiently.

It’s not too late to build service that matches product quality, and relationships that surpass 24-months. But they are no longer a given, and no longer an option.

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