How CTIA, the wireless association, rallied the industry to raise the bar in reverse logistics
By Michelle James | Vice President of Strategic Industry Programs at CTIA
Let’s face it. Reverse logistics is a challenge in all industry segments, and mobile device reverse logistics isn’t any less complicated. At the end of 2017, the wireless industry association, CTIA, established the Reverse Logistics & Services Quality (RLSQ) program to build working groups to address common issues throughout the reverse supply chain for smartphones. The goal of the RLSQ program is to rally the mobile eco-system to collaborate on best practices, guidance, and certification pathways where appropriate by establishing voluntary standards that are created by the industry for the industry.
The mobile industry is deep with multiple stakeholders. The most important stakeholder is always the consumer. Consumer satisfaction during the entire lifecycle journey of their devices is of utmost priority. Since the journey of a device can take multiple pathways, there are many stakeholders throughout the supply chain coupled with fast-changing demands on various device types. The RLSQ Leadership Council, formed as a steering committee to address common industry challenges, is comprised of OEMs, network operators/carriers, service retailers, remanufacturing service facilities, 3PLs, on-demand technician organizations others. The council agreed upon five core areas to address common industry challenges in the following areas: grading scales, service facility certification, technician certification, retail service provider certification, and parts traceability across the supply chain.
The core common areas led to working group charters, and then the real work began to create standards. Through industry consensus and more than 50 wireless companies of all sizes and various expertise in the supply chain supporting the aftercare of devices, we marched forward over many meetings to frame a foundation for transparency, integrity, definitions and criteria for a better customer excellence experience. When any supply chain can speak the same language, through agreed upon terminology and common understanding of best practices through shared cross-industry knowledge, the entire industry wins. Most importantly, the customer wins when supply chains are operating with greater efficiency.
There had never been a recognized industry standard developed to legitimize this important skillset, nor one that the entire industry could collectively adopt.
Establishing grading scales was an important initiative the entire eco-system could benefit. For years, there were arbitrary criteria and definitions established between buyers and sellers of secondary devices across many trading partners. The terms were not universal. The methodology of how each device was graded was not consistent. Even common lexicon for defining the actual surface areas for cosmetic grading nor consensus on what constitutes a fully functional device. Notoriously, there were stories between buyers’ and sellers’ ongoing disappointment of trusting they were trading an A-grade product that was more likely a B-grade or worse because definitions were so widely different. The industry came together to create a collaborative criteria and definitions for device grading and published it for the entire industry to utilize. The goal is not to police the industry in any way, it is a document that can be adopted by the industry built by the industry and utilized voluntarily as a central point of criteria and definition guidance.
Next, a dedicated working group took on the task of establishing recommended baseline requirements for facilities, often referred to as a ‘depots’ in the mobile eco-system, to shore up supply chain expectations for operational excellence in facilities performing reclamation, refurbishment and remanufacturing of devices. The CTIA Authorized Service Center Program was born. This program certifies facilities that meet the highest quality and security standards, enabling the supply chain to provide high-quality pre-owned wireless devices to consumers. Facilities that qualify for CTIA Authorized Service Center certification must maintain a high level of service quality and possess ISO 9001 accreditation and SERI R2 certification. They must also maintain strong physical and data security standards and agree to regular auditing to ensure continued commitment to quality and security. Global Resale, based in Austin, TX became the program’s first certified facility early this year.
As we continue to look towards the future our next area of focus is a working group whose focus is centered on parts traceability, more specifically how tracking OEM batteries throughout the supply chain might benefit the channel and consumers.
One glaring gap across the entire eco-system which included the supply chain aftercare service centers as well as consumer facing service expectations was how to qualify mobile device repair technicians. They were everywhere, starting repair businesses in their dorm room to fixing phones in retail storefronts, to techs on wheels, to folks working on an assembly line inside service facilities. Yet, there had never been a recognized industry standard developed to legitimize this important skillset, nor one that the entire industry could collectively adopt. Several private training and certification companies had been established, but each represented independent business models, and some were sales funnels to other product engagements for their students. This working group brought together 53 companies across OEMs, carriers, service centers, retailers, and others to create the baseline for a technician certification. The goal was to make this certification equally accessible to anyone, no matter where they performed device repair. This program was branded, WISE™ Certification, which stands for Wireless Industry Service Excellence. The program educates and tests wireless device repair technicians on industry-recognized standards, certifying those that meet the highest standards for service quality and technical skill knowledge. Today, we proudly have more than 10,000 technicians on our learning platform since we launched the program last year. In a crowded marketplace, and especially now with many deemed ‘essential workers due to the COVID-19 crisis, having trusted technicians keeping us connected is critical.
Next, the working groups turned to consumer channels with a team called “Retail & Mobile Service Excellence” to begin to address standards that could be implemented in a retail environment to enhance consumer trust. The group, once again made up of a cross-section of the entire eco-system, to identify what requirements define a quality repair retailer or quality on-demand organization. We launched the WISE™ Authorized Service Provider (ASP) Program. The ASP program creates a network of certified retail locations, helping consumers identify qualified providers that meet the highest standards for service quality and wireless device repair. Certified retail locations must meet defined operational safety measures, security, device diagnosis and triage processes. Participating WISE ASP certified locations are also required to have WISE Certified technicians on staff with at least one certified technician during posted hours. Even in the face of COVID-19 this year, we have onboarded almost 1,000 stores nationwide, with hundreds in the queue progressing through the auditing process. National franchise operations and several independent stores were early to adopt the program this year, including; Batteries Plus Bulbs, uBreakiFix, Cell Phone Repair (CPR), iFixOmaha, FixIt Mobile, to name a few.
As we continue to look towards the future our next area of focus is a working group whose focus is centered on parts traceability, more specifically how tracking OEM batteries throughout the supply chain might benefit the channel and consumers. This is a very forward-looking objective of the industry to work towards refining ways the channel can work better together for confidence in knowing the device is powered by a certified battery without physically opening the device. Battery traceability at a data point level. The goal would be for greater access to the marketplace for the replacement of quality batteries throughout the lifecycle of a device. The consumer electronics manufacturers also have great interest in this effort, much like the stakeholders in mobility. This work will be a longer arc perhaps than some of the other challenges addressed, however certainly no less energy in this effort as with everything else the program has deployed since its launch.
It is very exciting to see the industry come together to help make itself better. Consensus and collaboration in any standard-setting arena is never for the faint of heart. The effort by all those who have participated, collaborated, and shared their bandwidth to bring this program to life has been an exciting chapter for the wireless eco-system and one we hope continues to evolve.