Post-sales service: More than an after-thought

Standards of after-sales service vary tremendously in the Middle East IT market, but vendors are gradually beginning to realise that it is a subject which warrants greater attention if they are to harness the true power of their brands

Tags: Al Futtaim TechnologiesAxiom TelecomNokia Middle East and AfricaUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Andrew Seymour Published  August 15, 2009

Standards of after-sales service vary tremendously in the Middle East IT market, but vendors are gradually beginning to realise that it is a subject which warrants greater attention if they are to harness the true power of their brands.

Rightly or wrongly, it is generally the more dominant technology suppliers that gain the worst reputations for post-sales support, the quality of their service invariably betraying the expectations of their overall brand.

So when a vendor carries out a radical overhaul of the way that customers are treated when they have a query over the product they have bought it is often an exercise worth noting, if only to assess the kind of improvements that it can hope to achieve.

Handset vendor Nokia has done just that, disclosing details of a new after-sales strategy that looks set to dramatically alter its engagement with consumers — and the channel — when it comes to supporting its mobile devices.

Like most vendors, the mobile phone manufacturer’s previous regional policy was to lean on numerous retail partners that doubled up as ‘authorised service centres’. That approach has now been scrapped in a favour of a consolidated model that unifies its services offering under a single brand.

After-sales servicing for its devices in the UAE has now been outsourced to just two partners, namely Al Futtaim’s Technoserve arm and Axiom’s Phone Care division. Between them, the pair will manage all aspects of the post-sales process under the Nokia Care Centre store chain.

The rewards of shifting to a completely alternative strategy are likely to be followed with keen interest by other vendors that know their own after-sales services propositions are due a check-up, though whether they follow suit is an entirely different question.

There appear to be a number of distinct advantages offered by Nokia’s revised structure, not least the extra accountability for managing the customer relationship that comes its way.

By consolidating its services activities under one umbrella, Nokia ostensibly gains more control over the quality and consistency of the post-sales process — quite an attractive prospect given the impact that after-sales care can have over the general perception of a brand.

To further appreciate why that autonomy is so appealing, consider that its previous model saw consumers procure support from retailers providing the same kind of after-sales services for multiple, competing handset brands.

The modified set-up is also welcome news for the countless number of retailers that were not acting as ‘authorised service centres’. They can now direct aggrieved customers to a Nokia Care Centre, rather than having to convince them why they are obliged to take their broken phone to a competing retailer for repair as they had to before.

Of course, the move could be seen as a kick in the teeth for the dozen or so retailers that were accredited to provide after-sales services on behalf of Nokia until now. The level of upset on their part is likely to depend on how much revenue they were actually generating from post-sales services activities in the first place. Nokia certainly seems to think they will benefit from being able to return to their primary role of stocking and selling, however.

The reasons for Nokia’s shift to a centralised model certainly sound robust, though the prospect of its Care Centres actually serving as a sales channel for devices is unlikely to sit well with retailers already staring at an over-heated market place.

Most retailers can’t afford not to sell Nokia, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be unsettled by competition from the vendor’s own after-sales services outlets in the same way that Apple partners face competition from iStyle stores.

Whatever the end result of Nokia’s transition to a new Middle East support model, it will certainly give mainstream, consumer-focused suppliers food for thought.

The after-sales support policies of some vendors in this region could be described as disjointed at best. Speaking from experience, it can take ten phone calls to actually locate the name of a local service provider before even daring to entrust them with the job of repairing the faulty product and returning it in a reasonable period of time.

Nokia’s revised approach to after-sales support could well provide some interesting lessons for both vendors and the channel in the months ahead, if only serving to reassert the roles played by both parties.

Andrew Seymour is the editor of Channel Middle East English.

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