After-sales service: The unreviewable element that makes buying decisions a matter of luck

Written by Mihir Patkar | Updated: Mar 22 2014, 17:39pm hrs
AppleThe question about after-sales support is answered on the basis of anecdotes and personal experiences
The gadget review process doesnt account for after-sales support. The buying process in a showroom has only one aspect of after-sales: the store trying to sell you an add-on support service for a nominal fee. Buying additional warranty isnt the Indian waywe think (and perhaps rightly) of the company as a mistrustful entity who is going to say our complaint is not valid and legal recourse is not a process most Indians are willing to go through.

In the end, when it comes to buying any device, the question about after-sales support is answered on the basis of anecdotes and personal experiences.

How The Illusion Of After-Sales Support Works In India

Suppose I have a problem with company A. They promptly address it and I start talking about how their after-sales is great. The same company on the same day might have messed up three other support calls, but since I am unaware of that, I am ready to call the after-sales greateven if one other person had told me company A does not have good service. Experiential reality trumps anecdotal evidence, in this case.

Tomorrow, I hear from two people in my limited social circle that they faced a problem getting support from company B. In my mind, the equation has already become: Company As support is twice as good as company B.

You get where this is going. All talk about after-sales support involves no science and no quantifiable metric to tell you that some company is better at it than another. But through word of mouth, whether right or wrong, we form opinions which we pass on to others.

Of Unquantifiable Words And Experiences

Lets take a real-world example. Apple has a reputation for having fantastic after-sales support, yet I know enough people who had a bad time with them, including myself. You think buying a Sony gets you the support of a major brand, but again, I know enough people who are happy with it and unhappy with it. Dell too enjoys the image of being a brand with great customer serviceIve been on the receiving end of that and been pleased, but I know others who had a terrible time. Micromax service centers, on the other hand, were notorious for their shoddy experience and Ive been through that; but in the recent past, I hear people talk about how this isnt the case and how it has improved.

Fantastic. Bad. Happy. Unhappy. Great. Pleased. Terrible. Notorious. Improved. Not one of those words has any quantifiable unit or any universal meaning. What they represent is going to be subjective. Yet this is the feedback we rely on when making a decision about what to buy.

Invariably, it leaves us so confused that we turn to flawed transitivity: bigger is better. If HTC is a bigger and more well-known brand than Karbonn, then that must mean HTC has better service than Karbonn. Its not always wrong, mind you, but there is no evidence to support that it is right.

And full confession: as a tech reviewer, I rely on the same flawed data and the same flawed logic to suggest buying a bigger brand over an unknown one. Because bigger brands are more familiar to us through advertising and other marketing exercises, we naturally tend to find them more familiar and, because of that, more trustworthy. Its human to do that.

At This Point, Its All About Luck

So what do we do when faced with a new entrant in the mobile space, like Atom Mobiles The new Atom Supremus is a pretty good phone, but at Rs. 17,000, would you buy it over a more well-known brand like Samsung or even Micromax

The answer to that question is all about your risk-taking ability. We think big brands reduce risk and small brands increase risk, so depending on how much value Rs. 17,000 holds for you, you will either take or abstain from that risk. We try to understand that risk better by reading a review of the phone, or researching the company selling it, or reading customer feedback on e-commerce sites, or checking sites decidedly about product feedback. But all of these still dont give an honest pictureat best, its an educated guess, and thats if youre lucky.

In a nutshell, your buying decision is not about the actual merit of the phone against a competitor, its about the perceived legitimacy of the brand and the unquantifiable, intangible, unexplainable risk quotient you are comfortable with. Theres nothing wrong with that, and theres no foreseeable solution on the horizon. But recognizing and admitting the flaw in the buying system is perhaps the first step in being a better buyer.