July 13, 2006 1:41 PM PDT

Gateway takes support to the heartland

Gateway on Thursday announced a new tech support facility in South Dakota designed to enhance customer support and reduce the company's reliance on third-party support providers.

The facility, which is expected to be operational during the third quarter, will not only include a group of customer support employees but will also be responsible for developing support tools that can be used internally and externally. The facility, which Gateway dubbed its Best Practices Center, will be based in North Sioux City, S.D.

"It's an opportunity for Gateway to pull a lot of our technical support back into the company," said Bruce Riggs, senior vice president of operations and customer care. Gateway has now brought all of its technical support back to North America, but still uses third-party companies to provide a lot of its technical support to customers, he said.

Gateway currently employs 1,000 people in Sioux City and expects to add more than 130 employees to the new facility within the first year.

"We think it's appropriate that Gateway people should be handling these calls ourselves," Rick Snyder, chairman and interim CEO of Gateway, said in an interview after the company's announcement. Handling more support internally allows the company's engineers to get a better feel for customer complaints, which will hopefully reduce costs over the long run through better product quality and stronger loyalty, he said.

Gateway's new tech support facility comes as the computer maker struggles to re-ignite its direct sales, which posted a 27 percent decline in revenues in the first quarter.

The company is also still searching for a permanent CEO following the resignation of Wayne Inouye in February. Snyder does not plan to take the permanent role for family reasons, but will remain as chairman, he said. The company hopes to complete the search by the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth quarter, he said.

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