Vodafone NZ needs to remember that an earlier offshoring attempt went wrong, a consumer watchdog says.
The telco is undergoing a major review that its new boss, Jason Paris, acknowledges could see some of its 2700 staff made redundant and their roles go overseas.
"Vodafone has in the past tried to move a significant chunk of their customer support overseas including Egypt back in 2011 but that ended up in bringing that function back to New Zealand," says Telecommunications Users Association of NZ (Tuanz) head Craig Young.
"Our concern is always the level of customer support, and that users who ring their provider get someone who understands where they are, what services they have and how to fix it quickly."
Vodafone NZ's helpdesk operation struggled in 2011, in part because its remote workers in the Middle East couldn't always make it to work because of political unrest.
In April that year it decided to bring hundreds of call centre jobs home. At the time, it sought to make PR hay from the move, telling the Herald, "With more and more customers now having their mobile and fixed telecommunications with Vodafone, they want a consistent experience across both our mobile and fixed contact centres. Consolidating our customer management in New Zealand enables us to do that."
Young notes that these days, it's become the norm for all large telcos to outsource some of their functions, with a trend towards automation helping to grease the wheels. Paris says that for simpler queries, many customers would rather deal with a digital channel such as an app or chatbot than talk to a person.
This week, a Vodafone spokeswoman told the Herald that "while our CEO has said as a proud Kiwi he would love to retain all jobs in New Zealand, we need to make tough choices as a business".
"Where we believe outsourcing, such as to India, may reduce cost while also preserving or improving customer service, those are options we need to look at given our commercial reality and our desire to have freedom to invest in our strategy for the future."
Paris says Vodafone NZ missed some of its targets last year, and didn't always hit the mark in customer support - a view shared by a Consumer NZ survey, and the Commerce Commission. The commission has made phone companies one of its key targets this year after a deluge of complaints against Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees saw telecommunications become the most complained about industry of 2018.
More broadly, Paris says his brief is to whip Vodafone NZ into shape this year ahead of a stock market listing in early 2020.
Paris says the company needs to improve its bottom line, and free up funds to invest in new technologies. He says his company will ensure service is improved by any changes.
There are wheels within wheels with the call centre issue.
Orcon, Slingshot and 2degrees have promoted their NZ-only call centre policy (Spark outsources to Manila).
But a manager at a rival pointed out to the Herald that while 2degrees might brag its call centres are "Kiwi As", many of the staff are recent Kiwis, with the telco approaching Immigration NZ to help it with visas for about 40 staff.
The net result is that most call centres have a mix of accents, the manager said, regardless of whether they are located in South Auckland or the Philippines.