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0800 offshore

Published: 3:59PM Wednesday September 02, 2009

Reporter: Ruwani Perera

It's fine  to have an offshore operator if it's a minor query or when everything goes smoothly - but when there's a major problem, getting good customer service can be hugely frustrating.

The fact is companies looking at cost-cutting are increasingly outsourcing their customer 0800 numbers overseas.

Companies like budget airline Pacific Blue and Dell computers advertise here and promote their websites but when you call the toll-free number you're being put through to call centres in Australia, the Phillipines or Malaysia.

Jenna Hannah was trying to fly from Wellington to Christchurch with Pacific Blue for just $135 - great value for her as a university student.

Weeks before her flight Pacific Blue sent her an email changing her flights.  The new times didn't suit Jenna's plans  - so she tried to get in touch with someone at the airline to work it out.  But all she got was the runaround.  She called Australia directly at her own expense and also sent an email - to which Pacific Blue replied they would get back to her within 50 days.

James Burton reckons his computer died after downloading driver software from Dell's website.  To rectify the problem James could only talk to a call centre operator based in Malaysia.  As hard as he tried, there was no physical address for Dell in New Zealand to take a look at his laptop and try and solve his problem directly.

Dr Mike Lee from Auckland University's Business School says off-shore call centres are going to become more and more commonplace in tough economic times.  He says being put through to someone on the other side of the world is almost like hitting a bufferzone as opposed to getting any sort of resolution.  "You kind of get put on this loop, this bureaucractic loop where you ring someone half a world away about a problem we have here now about something you might have bought here or online and got delivered here but somehow the resolution which should be just as easy is miles apart," he says.

Dell's business model is all about being as low cost as possible so they can offer competitive deals. Same with Pacific Blue - you are dealing with a budget airline, cutting costs is everything.

But there must be a downside for them - not only from the bad publicity but also having customers repeatedly calling to sort out the same problem.

Pacific Blue say they have a dedicated team who resolve guest issues  (they call their customers guests) and say their head office number in Christchurch is easily found in the white pages.  The problem is, those numbers don't appear on their website - the first place you go to if you want to fly pacific blue.

Pacific Blue are reimbursing Jenna for the $135 flight.

Dell are looking into James' case and will follow up his complaint.

Dell says "our goal is to provide a superior experience to everyone who interacts with us online and with our customer care team every day. even one unsatisfied customer is one too many and we apologise to james for any inconvenience caused."

Dell alsohave an escalation plan for unresolved customer problems on their website

So what can you do to get good service from a call centre when things go wrong? 

As Fair Go found out, it's not that easy:

 *  If you're not getting anywhere with a call centre operator, keep calling until you get someone friendly on the phone who can help you.  You could be talking to the best customer service person or the worst - annoying as it can be, perserverance is the key.

 *  Always follow up with an email or something in writing outlining what's wrong.

 *  Ask for the physical address of the company in New Zealand - if they do have an office here then it's worth a try getting in touch with them. 

 *  Look for the management team on the company's website - you can usually figure out an email address - and send your complaint to someone high up.

 * and if this is all a bit much for you and you've had a bad experience in the past consider dealing only with companies that have a new zealand base and presence.

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