Ausdroid has learned that Samsung Australia mobile technical support services will be moved off-shore to the Philippines as of June 1, in a bid to cut costs.
Many readers may not have realised that Samsung Australia operates a local 1300 customer care number, fielded by an Australian call centre in Wollongong operated by Xerox-owned WDS. This call centre houses five permanent staff and anywhere up to eighty casual staff members providing technical support via phone, email, and online live chat for Australian owners of Samsung mobile devices.
Ausdroid has been advised that as of June 1 2014 this customer support will be moved to the Philippines, meaning that a friendly Australian voice will no longer be there to help you through your issues.
We’re told that all of the staff will become redundant as of May 31, with their support work-load being transferred to the Philippines immediately at a rate of 25% of interactions per week. The full support load is expected to be taken over by June 1. Staff were informed of the plans, which was said by WDS local management to be purely a cost saving exercise, earlier this month.
Customers and Staff suffer
Fallout from this move will be two-fold. Ausdroid has been told that Samsung customers who have already been routed to the Philippines based call centre have expressed frustration on subsequent calls to the Australian service centre.
However, it’s the staff of that Australian centre who’ll also bear the brunt. We understand that the five permanent staff employed by WDS have been offered support positions with Samsung in either their Sydney headquarters at Homebush as ‘Voice of Customers'(VOC) representatives, or at the Melbourne Samsung Experience store as technical support representatives. The casual staff will receive no extra support.
While the obvious major casualties here are the casual staff, the permanent staff aren’t much better off. Moving to a Sydney-based position involves a 2.5 hour trip on public transport each day or a long drive, and a complete move to Melbourne to take up positions there. It’s not clear whether Samsung has offered relocation support for these staff.
It seems that WDS – whose local operations previously featured as a case study [PDF] in the Advantage Wollongong promotion to attract businesses to the area – is downsizing its Australian operations. We’re told that only three staff will remain with WDS in Australia at the end of the month.
Off-shore or local support
We’ve seen this transition happen to several high profile Australian companies in the past decade, and not just for technical support. It’s a no-win situation – Samsung is trying to cut costs in the current financial climate while still providing support services to local customers.
There’s a number of reasons why offshoring to the Philippines makes sense for Australian companies. The timezone (UTC+8) is a near-perfect match for Australian timezones (they’re two hours behind AEST, so covering Australian timezones from Sydney to Perth is less of a hassle). English is the standard language and there’s a high literacy rate, while there’s also a strong connection to western culture. Australian call centre operators make their case pretty well – see these pages on the SelectVoice and “nearshoring” activities. At the ABC’s The Drum, Rachel Buchanan wrote of her experience working for Fairfax in Wellington. A call centre in New Zealand can handle New Zealand and Australian operations with an extra few hours working into the night instead of an early morning, making it another attractive destination for operations servicing Australia.
It’s also possible for companies to route phone calls to different call centres in geographic regions based on the time of day. The practice, known as “follow-the-sun”, ensures that support staff are always working during the day in any particular region and requires time and effort to ensure continuity of support. Follow-the-sun support is often used by companies that need to provide 24/7 support worldwide, and isn’t used by any of these companies to support Australian customers.
It’s also worth remembering that Samsung’s largest competitor – Apple – operates a number of retail stores around Australia where customers can ask questions about their products, as well as receive on-site tech support at a single location, a service which many Apple customers point to as a defining factor for going with Apple over other brands for their mobile devices.
Samsung also has begun experimenting with retail stores in Australia. Their AllPhones run Samsung Experience retail stores based in Sydney and Melbourne, offer sales as well as Samsung support staff who can deliver similar services but we hear varying stories of quality of support in these stores.
Vodafone Australia has seen the benefits of a locally based support centre. The carrier has held an Australian based tech and support services in Australia for the last fourteen years, and with the introduction of their ‘Red’ plans in August last year, announced an expansion to those services through a Tasmanian based call centre. A move that is appreciated by the customers who have stuck with the carrier through some less than ideal circumstances.
Ausdroid approached WDS for comment on the upcoming move and we were referred to Kevin Lightfoot, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for Xerox who has so far not returned our calls or emails.
We also contacted Samsung Electronics Australia for comment on the move, and a spokesperson told Ausdroid:
Samsung Electronics Australia continues to work closely with existing service providers both in Australia and overseas in order to ensure customers receive the best possible service.
We cannot comment on the decisions, strategies or nature of other businesses.
The move towards an off-shore solution for email, call and online chat support for Samsung Mobile devices is not an unsurprising one. The consumer electronics industry is quite a cut-throat one which often operates on razor thin margins, with companies beholden to the bottom line of financial statements which are reported to shareholders each quarter.
The human cost of these decisions are what we as customers have to consider here. Also, how much are you willing to pay to speak to someone from Australia?
So, the question is: Would you be prepared to pay extra for a premium Australian based tech support solution next time you purchase?