CUSTOMER service and support in Asia have never been the best in the world. For many years, computer users in the region have had far less support locally than users in the United States enjoyed. But this trend has begun to change as computer companies introduce support programmes which resemble those offered in North America. Some software vendors now seem to be making it their mission to add value to their packages in an effort to curb rampant software piracy, a major problem in Hong Kong. Alfred Tsoi, general manager of Lotus Development Software, said customer service could play a major role in combatting the widespread use of illegal copies. ''[We offer support] in order to provide more incentive for people to buy original software,'' he said. ''We need to educate the market to such an extent that they know if they buy original software there are all kinds of benefits.'' Daniel Ng, Borland's general manager for Hong Kong, voiced similar sentiments. ''We need to find something effective [to combat piracy] instead of implementing something that's not going to help,'' he said. ''One thing we need to do at least is to make the present legal users feel comfortable - that's why we have all this support.'' For Mr Tsoi, the issue extended even further. ''In many cases there is no more reason [to use illegal software]. It used to be more expensive than the US with less support. That was the argument before - today the arguments are all gone,'' he said. For most software manufacturers, their support programmes focus around several key components: telephone hotlines, their distributor network, and most recently on-line communications. Many vendors worldwide are using electronic bulletin board system (BBS) technology to provide an added dimension to their support. This on-line dimension is expected to expand. ''I think this is the trend and I think definitely it is a facility we can make use of to enhance the things we've already been doing,'' Mr Ng said. Borland offers a BBS forum through XXact Information Service, an on-line service based in Hong Kong. ''I think it will increase in Hong Kong,'' Mr Ng added. Mr Tsoi agrees. ''The handicap of the telephone hotline is our people need to know more. It would be nice to transmit the whole file and it is easier to do that on-line. Also, we can do it practically 24-hours per day,'' he said. ''Networking is becoming more and more popular today.'' At Borland, Mr Ng expected that its on-line support service would become a forum of communication between users and value-added re-sellers and developers who have extensive first-hand knowledge of its products. They expect that through such inter-user communications many customers problems will be solved. On-line offerings are becoming increasingly common among hardware vendors as well. Digital recently created an Internet Business Group, a division of the company devoted to conducting business on the Internet. ''The Internet Business Group has been established as a means of capitalising on the incredible customer demand for the Internet,'' Digital's vice-president and director of sales for the Asia region, Graham Long, said. Borland's Mr Ng said the on-line solution may be well-suited to Asia because of cultural differences between Americans and Asians. ''Not a lot of people are making use of [our hotline] because of local custom,'' he said. ''Not a lot of people will pick up the phone and ask a company a lot of questions. ''We need the type of service where they don't have to ask questions in front of the public.''