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Managing Customer Care in Emerging Markets

Max Grabmayr

Fifteen years ago, mobile devices were just making their way into the developing world. Today, the level of access emerging markets have to mobile technology is catching up to developed world, and they’re eager to adopt more modern, sophisticated devices.

According to a Gartner report, by 2018, 78 percent of the global smartphone sales will come from developing economies. We believe this opportunity for growth is due the abundance of first time buyers in these regions. However, device and service providers will have to adapt their strategy to suit these consumers. One key point they must consider: price. 


This craving for smartphone technology has given rise to a new mobile market – consumers looking for premium computing power in low-priced devices. A growing network of new manufacturers, many of them Chinese brands, has materialized to meet this need. With sales in the billions, they are rapidly growing their market share, while giving the mobile giants a run for their money.


Catering Device Support to Emerging Markets


As the trend toward low-priced smartphones expands, there’s also an increased need for customer support and aftermarket service to maintain these devices; often in countries where the current support is insufficiently setup. And of smartphone users in India and Brazil, 75 percent said customer support is highly important when buying a device.1


But again, to succeed, customer care providers must cater their services to consumers by understanding the type of support needed and the best way to provide it.

A survey conducted by B2X, found that in emerging markets the most frequent customer support queries involve apps and device set up. In fact, roughly only 1 in 3 consumers can set up their device without help. Customers in emerging markets need frequent support, with many requiring assistance at least once per month in China (26%), India (24%) and Brazil (13%).

Also, consumers in these countries prefer face-to-face support for smartphones. While Americans are more likely to visit the store where they bought their smartphone, respondents from other countries ask their friends for help. Less than 1 percent wants to use a call center hotline; users rather consult social media, or forums for support.


Repair it or Swap it?                                                              

While cost is paramount when selecting a device, speed is the priority for customer support and repairs. Consumers don’t want to wait for time consuming repairs and most (80%) prefer receiving replacement devices or a 1-2 hour express repair.2

The average selling price of a smartphone globally is $247, but in emerging markets it’s only $102,3  with some reaching an unsubsidized price of $35 USD in 2014.4 For the manufacturers, this will become a volume-play as they can only survive with large volumes. Slim margins on low-priced devices mean that repairs, which require equipment, infrastructure and manpower, may actually be more costly than subsidizing a device swap program.


Replacement devices make the most sense for consumers, but they may actually be the most cost effective solution for manufacturers as well.


A New Model for Aftersales Support

With nearly 1.64 billion devices expected to ship to emerging markets,5 and a typical failure rate of 10 percent,6 we expect to see 164 million potential repairs or swaps. We will see an increased demand for service from consumers; often in countries with poorly developed service channels. Adding the cost pressure of OEMs due to lower pricing, service needs to evolve from a fully owned, repair-based focus to preventive and self-serve model.  To meet this substantial need, here are essential ideas to consider for customer support:


  • Employ low-cost support, including online, social media, web-chat, automated agents and on-device diagnostic apps to keep costs down.
  • Enforce one-on-one exchange for defective high-value parts for tight controls around swap and material consumption
  • Reduce fraud by on-site verification by inexpensive testing tools with IMEI / software-load verification
  • Use walk-in service centers in highly populous cities to support customers and an established brand experience
  • Design devices that can be service and recycled

       Click here to read Gartner’s research note on its 2015 predictions for mobile  and wireless technology and the overall trend towards low priced devices in  emerging markets.

 Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its  research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only  those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research  publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and  should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all  warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of  merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.



1,2 B2X Global Survey December 2014: B2X Global Survey Reveals Device Addiction and Other Surprising Smartphone Habits Around the World

3 IDC January 2014

4, Gartner: Predicts 2015: Mobile and Wireless, November 2014

5 Gartner, Forecast: Mobile Phones, Worldwide, 2012-2019, 1Q15 Update, 17 March 2015  

6 B2X Data 2015

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