Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

Smartphone brands invest in fancy service centres

We look at the shift from small shops to mega experiential stores laid out across thousands of square feet. Brands like OnePlus and OPPO are at the helm of the shift.

What does a phone servicing centre look like? And, what does a retail phone outlet look like? And, why does a customer visit these?

Service centres of smartphone brands are mostly outsourced service providers hired by the brands. The venue has little branding or identification and is often located in not-so-prime locations. The relationship between the service provider and the customer is transactional, that is, queue up, wait for the turn, submit the device and hope that it gets sorted as soon as possible at a reasonable price. The customer may also have to resort to an unauthorised repair shop due to high charges or unavailability of authentic parts. All of that if there at all exists a service centre of the particular brand in the city.

Similarly, a typical retail outlet has a counter, a keeper who sells a host of brands. Situations might arise when a model of choice might not be in stock and the customer has to settle for a different model/brand (influenced by the keeper) or has to return later. The shopkeeper's influence on the purchase process has probably dwindled over the years due to sales and research moving online. In certain cases, brands might deploy their own staff (in identifiable uniforms) in-store to influence purchase decisions. However, experts suggest that today most smartphone customers already know what they want before buying.

The two cases mentioned above are transactional situations where the customer seeks a need-based service and pays for it. Bad service leads to a grumpy consumer and the service that fulfills the need (repairs the phone) means a satisfied customer. But smartphone brands like OPPO and OnePlus are looking beyond just satisfaction and fulfilment of needs. They are investing in providing an experience which is being cultured as part of the brand. Say, a brand-owned service centre/retail outlet that's equipped with a swanky lounge, waiting area, displays and offers a welcome cup of coffee. An experiential offering beyond just transactions.

OPPO Flagship premium store in Hyderabad
OPPO Flagship premium store in Hyderabad

OPPO wears the crown of No.1 smartphone brand in after-sales services (Counterpoint Research) and aims to provide a 'comprehensive customer experience across verticals'. As per the brand's claims, it aspires to stay true to its reputation while providing services across its 500+ OPPO service centres spread across 486 Indian cities, including remote places in the country.

OPPO was declared the quickest in after-sales service delivery with 51 per cent of the issues fixed within an hour. The report showed that the wait time for OPPO's service centre visitors was the least, as around 41 per cent of the visitors waited for less than 15 minutes, as against the industry average of 30 minutes. As per the Counterpoint report, customers also found OPPO's service centres easily accessible.

OPPO Premium flagship store in Hyderabad
OPPO Premium flagship store in Hyderabad

OPPO launched its first premium flagship store in South Asia in Hyderabad. What's flagship about a store? And why does a brand even need one? "The store located at Sarath City Capital Mall is built to give customers an unforgettable experience as they can walk up to any demo section in the store and interact with various phone models before making up their mind," says an OPPO spokesperson.

Also Read: "All the media we've done is one big experiment": Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus

In an interview with afaqs!, OnePlus' Vikas Agarwal mentioned that the brand is investing heavily in after-sales experience. The brand has discontinued all external service partners and is busy creating its own service centres, managed and operated by the brand itself. These centres are fancy, at polished locations like malls. "We want our service centers to be used as lounges, with free internet and coffee. In some of the bigger centres, we have game rooms with Play Stations. It can be a family outing," Gupta had then said.

OnePlus Store
OnePlus Store

OnePlus also launched its first global Experience Center in India. "With its Experience Center concept, OnePlus stands among the pioneers for offering a truly global brand experience to the people of India by creating these unique, iconic offline spaces specially designed for its community and users to physically engage with the brand; as well as explore and experience latest flagship products," says a brand spokesperson.

OnePlus store
OnePlus store

The brand is also also operating nearly 70 service centres and is in the process of setting up large format, state-of-the-art service centres, each spread over an average area of 2000 sq ft. The brand now plans to have 5000+ offline store across India in 2020 and plans to open 100 new Experience Centers in top 50 cities in the same year. It also plans to open its largest Experience Center in Hyderabad, spanning 16,000 sq ft.

That's a significant departure from the 'transactional' relationship that the customer knew so well.