Android device returns cost operators $2 billion per year

The return and repair of Android smartphone devices is costing mobile operators as much as $2 billion per year as they try to evolve their customer service strategies to keep pace with the rapidly growing ecosystem.

This is the key finding of a study ‘Controlling the Android’ by wireless experience management experts WDS. The study analyses over 600,000 technical support calls that the WDS teams around the world have handled in the last 12 months.

Taking a comprehensive view of the four leading mobile operating systems, the study finds that fragmentation has led to a higher than average propensity for hardware failure on Android-based devices: 14% of technical support calls on Android relate to hardware, versus 11% for Windows Phone, 7% for iOS and 6% for BlackBerry OS.

“One thing we must be absolutely clear on,” says Tim Deluca-Smith, Vice President of Marketing at WDS, “is that our analysis does not find any inherent fault with the Android platform. Its openness has enabled the ecosystem to grow to a phenomenal size, at a phenomenal rate, and it’s this success that is proving challenging.”

The report found that the introduction of low-cost hardware, a variety of software customizations and the process for delivering OS updates to consumers were all resulting in operators’ retail operations and their return and repairs processes being stretched.

“Many operators are treating Android as a standard implementation with a consistent customer experience. Given its nature, this of course isn’t the case. The Android customer experience differs enormously between devices and this means that the way in which Android devices are retailed and supported must consider factors such as the hardware build and quality of components,” adds Deluca-Smith.

Hardware faults are of particular concern to carriers because they are very expensive to fix. Software or configuration faults can typically be rectified by the customer service representative remotely, either through manual configuration or an over-the-air update. However, hardware faults often result in the device being returned and entered into an expensive reverse logistics process for repair or replacement.

“Android features heavily in almost all operators’ smartphone strategies. It’s clear from the evidence in this study that if they are to maximise their investment they must better manage how they bring Android products into their network, retail them and support them,” concludes Deluca-Smith.

In the short term, operator profitability can be improved by implementing the following changes: Improving device testing and the on-boarding processes when ranging Android products to minimise risk of hardware failure and assess the Total Cost of Ownership; Analysing and understanding the propensity for a hardware failure pre-launch to ensure customer support channels are populated with accurate support documentation and returns procedure; Educating customers from the beginning of the sales process to better manage expectation of experience, minimizing technical support calls.