Jamie McGee , firstname.lastname@example.org Published 7:24 p.m. CT Dec. 30, 2015 | Updated 7:24 p.m. CT Dec. 30, 2015
Asurion executive Sue Nokes is candid about how a customer service line typically works: Representatives who know the least amount of information are the first responders.
If a caller’s question exceeds their training, the caller is transferred to a more advanced, better-paid employee. If that individual can’t solve the problem, the caller is transferred again, forced to explain their problem from the beginning until they finally climb the tiers to a fully trained technician. It’s cost-effective for the company in the short term, but makes for an unhappy customer base over time.
That’s where Asurion’s new service comes in. Established in 1995 as a cell phone insurer, the Nashville-based company is developing new expertise offered to mobile device and television consumers. Asurion’s new niche, called Premier Support Solutions, is all about providing answers to consumers, and the rule is no transfers, Nokes said.
“We give you tech expert right away,” said Nokes, a straight-talker raised in Detroit. “We don’t transfer.”
About 1,000 Nashville employees are part of this fast-growing niche — they field tech support calls as well as anticipate customers’ tech problems. The technicians research solutions and disperse information to their teammates on how to solve problems that users are likely to face. Ninety-eight percent of calls are resolved on their first call, according to Nokes.
Asurion's new growth engine
Asurion was founded in Silicon Valley and Houston. It moved its headquarters to Nashville in 2001, and its local workforce has swelled to 4,000 employees working out of five buildings throughout Middle Tennessee. The company, which includes 16,000 workers and generates close to $6 billion in annual revenue, serves 280 million customers who access the company through wireless carriers, retailers and television services.
Premier Support Solutions is led by Nokes, head of Asurion's customer solutions. Until 2009, Nokes led customer service and was chief operations officer at T-Mobile, where she was responsible for $21 billion in revenue and 33,000 employees.
Later, as a consultant to Asurion, Nokes was introduced to the company's product ideas based on what it heard from clients. The concept she recommended they pursue was Premier Support Solutions, which is driving the company's growth engine today.
“I said, ‘There is your winner,’” she said. “It will help (clients) grow revenues and create stickiness, and they will provide more value for their customer.”
Since launching the product in 2011, more than 37 million consumers have signed up for the service as part of a bundled insurance plan for their mobile devices, costing $7 to $11 per month depending on the carrier. Asurion’s expertise is brand agnostic, helping consumers to sync mobile devices to other devices made by different companies.
While wireless carriers have tech support teams in place, their expertise is wireless service, not how to sort music on a phone, share photos or connect to another device — a printer, a Fitbit or a sound system.
“What we wanted to do was say, 'OK, you still have the insurance protection, but when you want to learn how to work this thing, call us and we will be, in effect, your Genius Bar from the couch,' ” Nokes said. “We won’t just help you with just one manufacturer. We are going to help you with anybody.”
The service comes with an app that allows consumers to reach technicians. Asurion can also push notifications to users alerting them of problems they may have with updated software.
In the case of Apple’s iOS 8 launch, Asurion developers prepared 240 articles on questions that callers were likely to have, all written in advance of the software’s release. Days before the launch, new programming changes made several apps incompatible with the new software, including Dropbox. Based on its database, Asurion could alert Dropbox users with i0S 7 software to help them avoid losing important files or data.
"It's about preventing problems from happening, and we help our clients become more valuable to their customer base," Nokes said.
The local Premier Support team members work from Asurion’s building at One Century Place and on Crossings Boulevard in Antioch. At One Century Place, a lab replicating a studio apartment allows technicians to research apps related to home automation — security systems, locks, thermostats, smoke detectors — and troubleshoot potential problems.
"This is the future of the connected home," said Vincent Phamvan, innovation director for Asurion Customer Solutions. "We are on the cutting edge of being able to set up, integrate and understand issues with that technology before our customers even have those problems."
Asurion is also in conversations with auto companies as technology transforms vehicles into work stations and entertainment centers. Nokes said she also sees opportunities in the health care sector.
Given the depth of technology skills its employees need, Asurion has had to think outside traditional recruiting methods to find qualified hires. They target tech blogs through social media and also go where techies tend to gather. In Nashville the company has hosted a gaming tournament, and in Las Vegas, Asurion representatives have sought employees at a Star Trek convention.
"It's somebody who is passionate about technology, who wants to know about the latest and greatest technology," Phamvan said. Also, "they are passionate about being able to help other people."
Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter @JamieMcGee_.
Asurion's facilities in Middle Tennessee:
One Century Place
Ragland Building on Second Avenue
Asurion by the numbers:
Middle Tennessee employees: 4,000
Customer base: 280 million in 14 countries
Annual revenues: More than $5.8 billion
Originally published in The Tennessean on December 30, 2015