Adventures in After-Sales
When Bas first told me that Gabriel and I were going to be in charge of distribution, repair and take back, the first thing I thought was “OK, Gabriel, me and how many more?” Then I realized that the much of product management rested on the shoulders of Miquel and Mulan. And then I also realized that everything in Research was channeled through Bibi, before she got some help from Artúr. So I thought that I should better get up-to-date if I didn’t want to fall behind!
And this is what I have been doing during this last month. After all this time, and with the phone assembly just around the corner, it is time to give you a first update about what is going to happen to the phone from the moment it is shipped from China until we take it back to recycle or to reuse it. All this process is what we call after-sales and it includes the three tasks mentioned above: distribution, repair and take back. And this is where the fun begins.
What is making after-sales at Fairphone different?
The first thing you notice when you start working at Fairphone is that being here is not like being in any other company. In my previous experience, most of the tools I used fell into one of these categories: those which help you to increase revenues, and those which help you to reduce costs.
Here at Fairphone revenues and costs are only a tiny part of the huge array of considerations. And one has to consider all of them when making a decision about how to produce our phone.
The second thing that you notice when you are working in after-sales is how closely related the different areas are. For example, you cannot think about repair without taking into account how the phone is going to be shipped to the repair shop. In the same way, you cannot think about shipping the phone without managing the spare parts needed to repair it. Therefore, on the top of the thousands of criteria you want to account for when producing stuff at Fairphone, you have to consider all the different tasks involved in the process and how they relate to each other.
And the last thing that was different at Fairphone is the size of the team. Even if it doesn’t look like it – we are less than 15 people! And actually we are not even together all the time: Most of us are based in Amsterdam, but we are also in London and China. The areas of work that in any other phone manufacturer would be supported by a whole department packed in a shiny skyscraper; at Fairphone, it’s not more than one or two people.
So what are the steps we have taken so far?
Keeping this in mind, Gabriel and I devoted our time to setting up the after-sales department.
The first step we have been looking at was distribution or how to get the phones from China to you. Throughout the process, we have learnt more acronyms than we could imagine: WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), SAR (Specific Absorption Rate), GCF (Global Certification Forum) and others.
We also found ourselves in warehouses from one end of the country, to the other.
But we didn’t just stop at distribution, we are also concerned about taking good care of your phone, during and after its use. We want to make the phone easily repairable for users. This is why we are in discussions to work together with iFixit, to create online repair manuals and videos. However, we also know that not all issues are easily repairable, or you simply would prefer to have it done by professionals. For this reason we are looking at repair centers, not just the conventional ones, also those offering something new. For example, some details we are considering here are having the bill available for you so you know exactly how much it costs for us to repair your phone, or maybe even recording how your phone was repaired.
And there is also one last step we cannot forget: we have to think of what we can do after you are done with your Fairphone.
This includes how to properly collect your phone, recycle it, extract value out of the device, and provide transparency on this level. The aim of this journey is not just making a phone, but bringing it to market and making you and us understand the process and be part of it.
What is the criteria we have been using to select partners?
So, the question arises: can Gabriel and you manage all these steps by yourselves? We wish we could! …but unfortunately we can’t. And this is why we need partners to work with. So how do we select our partners? Well, there are many criteria (capacity, timeframe, costs, warranties, insurances) but probably the two most important ones are transparency and sustainability.
Regarding transparency we want to be able to trace the shipment and know exactly where it is and why. We want to act as a starting point for you and for us to understand what complexities lie behind the process of manufacturing a phone. Regarding sustainability we want to improve the consumption of components, improve the usage of recycled materials, or reduce gas emissions.
At the end of the day, all these criteria can be reduced to one single question: What are our partners bringing to the table to help reduce Fairphone’s environmental footprint?
And what are the next steps?
So as you see there has been some work going on here but we are still only at the beginning. We still have lot of steps to finish this process. We need to finally find the right partners in this after-sales process. We also need to finish with the streamlining of the steps. And lastly, we want you to know what is going on at Fairphone and ask you to provide us with feedback and ideas.
Do you have any ideas we haven’t thought of so far? Any way to improve our operations? Any partner that you think that might fit our needs? That would be more than welcome!