Just about every telecom subscriber has trekked to a retail store, waited in line, manually removed their SIM card, and returned a device - either because of buyer’s remorse, trade-in, repair, or some other reason.
While those return drivers are likely to remain the same, the subscribers’ return experience is liable to change.
To start with, there are many more channels to assist with the return effort - online, call center, etc. - complementing the retail store.
There are also several reverse logistics trends that could touch subscribers and affect their overall return experience. While most of these trends are likely to have a neutral or positive effect, anything that goes awry could create a disgruntled customer.
Higher Visibility for Returns
Returns used to be a bit of a supply chain afterthought. But that changed when used devices began generating good money in secondary markets.
Thus, many carriers are giving returns more prominence by setting up queues and store stations just for returns, buyer’s remorse, trade-in and other reverse reasons.
This helps speed up reverse-related traffic because reps become more proficient filling out RMAs or even evaluating the price for trade-ins, which can affect the profitability of the store.
At the same time, subscribers can benefit from the shorter wait times and more knowledgeable staff.
More Automation to Reduce Returns (Specifically No Fault Found)
Secondary markets aside, some telcos are attempting to reduce device returns – especially for no fault found – through automated wizards and chatbots (accessible by phone or desktop computer). Both are designed to trouble shoot device setup and common issues, with the chatbot using machine learning to become smarter with every interaction.
Although the jury is still out about how much chatbots, in particular, will lower device returns, one company saw a reduction of 2-3% in returned merchandise for a specific segment.
Subscribers can benefit from the additional customer service help, as long as it offers valuable advice. If it doesn’t, subscribers are likely to feel frustrated that their time was wasted.
More Preventive Maintenance
To preserve the value of their inventory, more carriers are deploying preventive maintenance practices. For example, updating iPhones with the latest OS patch to address a critical fix, before it’s shipped or sold.
This is both a win for subscribers and carriers, who avoid the hassle of fixing the phone after it leaves the store.
The Rise of the eSIM
Embedded or electronic SIM Cards are expected to increase nine-fold by 2021. These eSIMS may create a smoother customer experience for carriers and customers alike. But, with any new technology, a few kinks should be expected.
Say, for example, a customer has a broken phone and needs it repaired. Instead of manually removing the SIM card and inserting it into a loaner device, the telco will virtually de-pair the eSIM from the broken device and then pair it to the loaner phone. Once the phone is repaired, the carrier will then do the exact opposite process: virtually de-pair the eSIM from the loaner and attach it to the subscriber’s now repaired device.
Consequently, any reverse logistics company processing returned devices will have to add an extra step to verify that the eSIM is actually decoupled from the device. If it’s not, it will then need to notify the operator and wait for a confirmation. Alternatively, the operator can grant access to the reverse logistics company to decouple the eSIM.
The opportunity for any one of these steps to go awry is very real, delaying the returns process. This could, in turn, poke subscribers in the eye.
Artificial Intelligence to Accurately Predict Trade-in Value
With lots of revenue on the line, it’s imperative that stores don’t overpay subscribers for their used devices. But that’s quite a challenge because reps use some guesswork to determine a price, i.e. eyeball the device’s condition and then use a software program to establish value, using a fixed grading scale.
Fast forward with artificial intelligence. A rep just takes a snapshot of the device and feeds it into a specialized AI software module (a deep learning, visual neural network) that assesses the make/model of the device and its cosmetic condition. Then it grades the device based on market comps from hundreds, if not thousands, of sources. All of this happens instantaneously, ultimately giving the rep an accurate value for the trade-in.
For carriers, AI is a big plus. They will no longer overpay for their subscribers’ devices. For subscribers, they’ll get more consistent pricing for their trades, whether they trade-in online, at the retail store, or any other place.
Keep an Eye on the Customer Experience – Use Low-Code
Of course, all of these trends are forcing carriers to change their reverse logistics processes well beyond the subscriber touchpoint.
But this interaction with the subscriber should not be overlooked or dismissed because it could have a significant impact. For example, if things go poorly, disgruntled or disappointed subscribers could post their experiences on social media and possibly churn.
Thus, carriers need to triangulate how reverse trends will not only impact their processes but their subscribers.
One solution is to use low-code software to incorporate these trends. Low-code is quick to launch and even quicker to change because it uses little to no custom code. That’s important. Because when you need to fix the customer experience – or respond to any market change – speed is critical.
Gustavo Merchan, CMO, Beesion, Gustavo L. Merchan, a graduate of Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires in industrial engineering, has built software and BPM solutions for many industries in the US, Mexico and Argentina. Since 2010, he has concentrated primarily on the telecom industry and helped pioneer a low-code software platform, using pre-built software modules and visual modeling. He has served as CMO of Beesion since 2016.