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Driver, take me to the phone store

21 APR 2015

NEW BLOG: I want to buy a new mobile phone but am too lazy to visit a store down the road to upgrade. Poor me but never mind because, if I ask nicely, a car will be sent round with a willing customer service rep to demonstrate the latest models.

Later, I am out and about with my new phone but, rather forgetfully, I have let the power run down and am in need of a recharge. No fear – I can pop into my nearest phone store and have it recharged.

Welcome to the new dynamic in the mobile industry. It’s not acquired its own acronym yet, but just wait until every operator starts doing the same thing (which they should do).

From this week (20 April) Sprint launched its Direct 2 You programme in Kansas City with the ambition to spread it nationwide by year end. The operator is sending out one of its people in a car to set up new phones for customers ready for upgrade. By year end, the initiative will have 5,000 Sprint-branded cars on the road.

According to Re/code, the scheme is the brainchild of CEO Marcelo Claure, so the idea has some corporate heft behind it. The hope is to appeal to shoppers, such as working parents, who are too busy to drop into a store.

Meanwhile last week (16 April) EE launched a so-called Power Bar – a free portable charger – that users carry around with them to ensure their smartphones are fully charged. Users also have unlimited instore swaps available, meaning they can swing by an EE store whenever their charger is low and pick up a new one. The operator received over one million customer requests in the first four days, with the company admitting its stocks needed replenishing.

Going back to Sprint’s launch, it’s actually quite an old-fashioned idea. Think of the travelling salesman going door to door with their wares. Even EE’s idea of encouraging users to pop into their nearest shop is something of a throwback. Both strategies are traditional, involving face-to-face contact. Neither are intended to drive users online or towards a contact centre,. In fact, the reverse; both initiatives suggest Sprint and EE want to interact with users in the physical world.

Conventional logic dictates that such an approach is madness, since it makes far better sense to blast a massive number of subscribers with an identical message, via online or mobile device, so increasing the chances of success.

But I suspect users have become jaded with this scattergun approach, and operators have realised this. Instead users will welcome a more individualised approach. From an operators’ perspective, adopting such a strategy can offer a new means of differentiation.

When rivals are likely to sell the same handful of top smartphones, and technical innovation is purchasable from the same batch of vendors, a more personalised service can put a positive shine on an operator’s brand.

This could be of particular value as operators attempt to enter new segments of the market. Take mobile financial services, for example, where market research frequently finds scepticism about traditional brands. Particularly among millennials, there is very little loyalty to conventional banks.

Banking feels like an activity that is very much up for grabs as online and mobile technology go from the peripheral to its heart. Many bankers admit it is a very uncertain time. And trust is central when engaging with users about their money. But typically it’s the likes of Apple who figure strongly in market research. Mobile operators less so. Establishing credentials for personalised, old-fashioned even, customer service is one way of doing it. So how about that lift to the phone store, then?

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.

Author

Richard Handford

Richard is the editor of Mobile World Live’s money channel and a contributor to the daily news service. He is an experienced technology and business journalist who previously worked as a freelancer for many publications over the last decade including...

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