Everything is too complicated. Asurion CEO Tony Detter joins Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel to discuss simplifying our experience with tech products, the problems with closed ecosystems, and why an insurance company like Asurion got involved with tech support.
Below is a lightly edited excerpt where Detter and Patel discuss what we can do about the “everything is too complicated” problem. You can hear this and more in the latest episode of The Vergecast.
Nilay Patel: Every year around the holidays, I write a post about how everything is too complicated. What happens is that I go home and basically spend the entire time driving around the Midwest to parents’ and families’ houses, and I just listen to my family ask me questions about their phones and what they should buy. I’m that guy for them, and it always strikes me that everything is so insanely complicated that no one really knows how anything works.
Every year someone asks me what the difference is between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. And every year I put it in the story. But you actually sell tech support to people. How big of a business is that?
Tony Detter: It’s a pretty big business. We have 300 million customers worldwide who are paying us either on a one-time basis or a monthly basis for some level of support.
But you’re right, everything is too complicated. What we realized was that the technology we carry in our pockets is so powerful. You can do so many things with that mobile device. And when we started, just getting it back in your hands was important. But as its capabilities have increased, there’s now so much more that you need to do with it, like boarding a plane or connecting Bluetooth to home speakers.
All of those things are very complicated and as we talk to people using their phones, we found it was a problem and they had no place to get to conclusions quickly. Our business in that space was really just born out of talking to people the same way you do.
This is more of a philosophical question, but why do you think it’s so complicated? We talk about ecosystem lock-in on The Vergecast every week. We know people don’t like it, but every company architects their ecosystem to lock you in — they all say “if you buy this phone and this watch and this speaker and use this cloud service and we own it all, then everything will work seamlessly,” but the second you step out of it, you create all this friction.
Do you feel as though that is by design or is that just an accident of the industry? A company like yours cannot exist in tech support unless there’s a need for it, and it sounds like that business is growing.
You’ve nailed it exactly, it’s the problem that the average American consumer faces. I don’t think there’s a single answer. There’s a whole bunch of different factors that go into making this happen. One is we’re in a society, particularly for technology, where there’s a reward for prototyping to get something to market to see if there’s a product / market fit.
When you do that, you’re not worried about how that product might interact with the myriad of operating systems it could come into contact with. In your article, one of the things you always talk about is Bluetooth. How many times have you as a customer connected something via Bluetooth and it works? And then you come back a week later and it doesn’t work, but you’ve done all the same things. The reason behind that is so complex: from companies wanting to get products to market fast, to there being so many different operating systems, to making sure customers remain loyal, to having some control over the environment in which this technology device operates.
All of these are factors, and they compound. But you’re right, tech support is a growing space because things are getting more and more complicated. The technology can do so much more. But as it does more, that means there’s more interactions and each of those interactions is a complexity point.