Smartphones can go dumb. And subject you to heartaches when they conk off, making you wait endlessly to get them back to life. A recent survey by Munich-based smartphone customer care specialist B2X Care Solutions polled 2,500 smartphone and tablet users in the U.S., China, India, Germany, and Brazil, and found that Indians are the most addicted to smartphones. (Around 57% of the owners in India admit that they can’t survive without their phones.) But it takes them as many as eight days to get a device repaired, while users in the U.S. and China have to wait less than 24 hours.
Little wonder then, that customer support and after-sales services are among the top criteria for buyers in India, pegged to become the second-largest smartphone market by 2016, according to research firm eMarketer. So it’s not surprising that B2X, a cloud tech company that leverages its service platform to connect all components (customers, retailers, repair shops, phone makers, parts suppliers, insurers, etc.) for smartphone repair, has entered India all guns blazing. Late last year, the privately held German firm acquired a majority stake in Mumbai-based The Service Solutions (TSS), an Apple-authorised service provider and also a service partner of key local and global smartphone makers. Now that B2X has a sound local base, it is rebranding all TSS service stores, tying up with more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and looking at smart devices that can turn out to be the next big play. The B2X CEO, Thomas Berlemann, tells Fortune India about the company’s India plans and growth strategy. Edited excerpts:
Why did you expand into India, especially when the aftermarket support platform is extremely unorganised?
Given a low number of smartphone users but very high growth rates of mobile usage, India is a very attractive market. Plus, a number of fast-growing OEMs have originated here and could be going global soon. That means even more opportunities. So, the “unorganised” market structure is a perfect situation to be in. Our well-synchronised cloud-based model has created new efficiencies, helping us operate seamlessly across global markets. And India is part of our growth plan.
How does your service work?
We provide end-to-end customer care support through our Smart Service platform. This includes a device diagnostics app, customer touch points or Smartbars, backend repair hubs, and logistics services. Typically, most device issues are resolved at our Smartbars. A very small percentage of devices are sent to repair centres as they require high-end tools and set-ups. We have 100-plus Smartbars [some are mono-brand centres while others service multiple brands] in India to ensure a superior customer experience. They are fully process driven and use the Aftersales Management Software to monitor and optimise all functions.
Motorola has recently opened an experience centre in Bengaluru. Since you are servicing the brand, tell us about the Moto experience.
It’s a flagship service centre, probably one of the best-designed stores in the country currently. Customers are really excited about the look and feel of the place and their experience at the store. Since its opening, we have been able to resolve over 95% of the issues within 24 hours. There’s a big pull from the market for our products and services. This will significantly improve customer care and customer loyalty.
What’s your growth strategy post the TSS acquisition? How is the synergy working?
We already benefit from many synergies. Our India team greatly values the global reach of B2X, which will help it expand rapidly. [The Indian firm develops and licenses its ‘aftermarket support platform’ for OEMs, distributors, and service providers.] By the same token, B2X is using TSS’s tech backend and cloud capabilities and honing its products and services.
We are also in talks with a number of potential clients. As of now, B2X is working with all leading smartphone brands such as Apple, Samsung, and Motorola Mobility. We service around 20 brands and operate out of 27 countries, but serve customers in about 100-plus countries. We have a new India office now ... we moved to a bigger one in February, where 80-plus people are working. Then there’s a set-up in Dubai where we support a few customers. We plan to start full-fledged operations there in the near future. Moving forward, we’ll continue to use TSS’s deep expertise and capabilities to transform our existing Smartbar model into multibrand service and retail stores.
We are also considering servicing other smart devices. As increasing connectivity drives India’s growth in the coming years, we will see a wide range of devices requiring service. We want to help companies prepare for that. Moreover, cloud/SaaS products can be sold anywhere; so we’ve another huge opportunity. We plan to expand these offerings globally in the coming years.
Does the Apple focus of TSS help or hinder growth, given the low number of Apple users in India?
Working for Apple [and all other clients] is a big honour and we are very proud to serve its customers. Regardless of the market share today, our goal is to provide the best customer experience to each customer who walks into our Smartbar.
B2X raised a second round of funding prior to the acquisition (media reports put it between $15 million and $20 million or Rs 94.7 crore to Rs 126.3 crore).
How did you utilise the money?
Sorry, we can’t reveal the amount, but our investors are Barkawi Holding, Earlybird Venture Capital, and Grazia Equity. The recent funding has been used to improve our technology and platforms. All these have paid off. B2X has seen consistent double-digit growth over the past years and our revenues are in triple-digit millions of dollars. (Simply put, the revenue figure is above $100 million; globally, the estimated market is $25 billion.) We also invest heavily in our people and hire more team members. You have to do that if you want to innovate. We’re looking to hire high-calibre talent in India to support our expansion, tech improvements, and general business growth.
Will there be more hiring in India?
Definitely. B2X has hired more than 150 people since the acquisition and we expect to double that number by the end of the financial year. We’ve also made a pledge that more than 30% of our workforce [to be hired this fiscal] will be women and people with disabilities. We are keen to give back to society.
You have only serviced enterprise clients till date. Do you plan to enter the B2C market?
Yes, but I can’t discuss our strategic plans at this time. However, it is a very relevant market that requires new solutions for customer management and customer retention.