If you’ve attended any wireless repair events, you’re likely (or should be) familiar with Michelle James. Michelle is the producer behind Wireless Repair Events and most notably the Wireless Repair EXPO and is dedicated to building the repair community alongside strengthening the standards within the industry.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Michelle about the state of the industry and where she feels the biggest opportunities are.
Wireless Repair EXPO exploded on the scene just a few short years ago (2014) as an adjunct to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Super Mobility Show in Vegas. What insights led to you to continue to grow this community effort for the mobile phone Service & Repair industry?
M.J. – Beginning about five years ago, entrepreneurial shops focused on device repair started cropping up. After many years working in the hardware side of the business at Nokia, and being responsible for various indirect retail channels for the carrier community, I knew this new retail channel emerging would have some of the same challenges as traditional independent wireless retailers had before it, but also poised for great upside. The majority of owner-operators started in this business as technicians, then transformed themselves into merchants. It was – and is – a little bit of a Wild West situation in making the leap to a merchant, plus add the fact that most seasoned retailers fail when it comes to offering services at retail. With barriers to entry still pretty low and industry-recognized standards few, we still have some work ahead of us as a growing retail channel.
These merchants are growing beyond just being great technicians performing the actual repairs. They are slowly but surely focusing on customer service skills, financial planning and staffing discipline, and getting better at procuring reliable sources for replacement parts. What has been clear over these last few years is the need to establish “community” through regional and national events where owners and managers can obtain hands-on training, advice, and interact with their peers, which remains a critical touchpoint for the industry to grow stronger together.
What factors make this industry stand apart from other retail businesses?
M.J. – Our mobile devices are the “remote control” to our lives. With the mass adoption of smartphones we’ve created this unrivaled addiction that provides the efficiencies for a connected life as well as a strong emotional tie to the device itself.
This retail channel presents a service opportunity unlike any other. For the business owner, there is an opportunity to see the same customer twice, at drop off and pick up. That’s double the opportunity to be their hero. I am forever asking retailers to stand in your store, close your eyes, then open them and honestly note if this is a place you would want to be? What story is your store telling? What is the experience like in your store? Is it what you want it to be? What are you doing to stay relevant inside your store? All merchants should do this, and be honest with where your business is today and where you want it to be.
How do you view your role?
M.J. – I’m forever on the soapbox talking about customer experience. Like any service, mobile device repair is highly personal. It’s important that customers can feel confident in their service providers. Good customer reviews and word of mouth referrals are everything in this business.
Part of my mission is to make sure this channel is ready for market changes they don’t have control over. As mentioned, very few retailers deliver service well in any industry. We don’t actually have many really successful models to follow relative to service, so we need to collaborate as an industry together on creating best practices.
While the front office is all about the customer experience, the back office is about running your business like a merchant – like a business person, whether you have one location, 40 locations, or are part of a franchise operation. That means managing your supply chain, parts access, inventory, ROI, and technician hours on the bench. If you are a merchant, be a merchant. I see too many merchants trying to shave a couple points of margin off their supply chain by trying to be their own supply chain. Or, suppliers trying to be their own software developers, instead of adopting tools others have spent years perfecting. Unfortunately, I have yet to see this work out well for anyone. Suppliers and developers take on a huge responsibility and harbor costs the channel never has to worry about, because they have different core competencies, have already cut their teeth on learning curves, or are moving scalable volumes and working hard at establishing best practices with their root suppliers.
My message to all in this channel is, always, “choose your lane” – choose the one thing you are really good at for device repair, and go for it. Do not try to be all things. There is no single winner in this category… yet. The national market is fragmented, and yet local markets are definitely driving their local market experience. Your customer relies only on you when they are in front of YOU.
What do you see are the next steps for the Service & Repair industry?
M.J. – We will soon formally announce the formation of a Reverse Logistics & Service Quality Leadership Council dedicated to establishing industry recognized standards and certifications for the device repair channel. It’s been a long road aligning all the key stakeholders and I’m really proud to be chairing this effort for this cross-industry working group, which includes participants from the OEM, carrier, insurance provider, and third-party supplier community whom are already starting to share the framework for establishing best practices. Industry collaboration is always the best way to solve industry challenges. I look forward to sharing more details about this effort as its agenda is defined.
Please join us onsite in San Francisco, where the wireless community will meet again during the inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas in partnership with CTIA. We will have a great lineup of experts at the largest wireless repair event in the world for our 2-day workshop series, September 12-13th. Daily show floor hours at the Moscone Convention Center, September 12-14th are 9 a.m. – 5p.m. 30,000 wireless industry attendees are expected. See you there!
iQmetrix is proud to support Michelle and the Wireless Repair Expo. Visit us to experience our mock wireless store including a full Service & Repair section, and catch our keynote on Tuesday at 10 a.m.