Sunday, 1 March 2015

Why are staff ignorant?

Why do some companies leave their staff so untrained and ill-equipped to do their jobs?

Of course there are organizations that do their best to ensure that their customer-facing staff have all the knowledge and skills necessary to serve customers well, there really are but there are still so many that throw their staff, in particular their junior managers, in at the deep end and just expect them to be able to swim.

For instance why don’t companies teach their staff about consumer rights? Why do they waste time and money on hugely expensive seminars and workshops where their staff are told the usual stuff about showing empathy, smile and making the customer feel important but they totally ignore the law.

It’s very simple really, store staff, in particular managers urgently need to know what rights their customers have so they don’t breach them.

Very recently we heard from a consumer who had bought a TV last August on hire purchase from a furniture store. A few months later it developed a fault and he returned it for a repair. No problems so far, the store were happy to receive it. However the repair took longer and longer and eventually he asked for our intervention. A few phone calls and a couple of days later the TV was back with him. Or was it?

He immediately noticed that the remote control didn’t work with the TV. A little investigation later he discovered that it wasn’t his TV that had been returned, it was another customer’s TV that had also been for repair. He then mentioned something curious to us. When the original TV had been delivered to his house last August it hadn’t been in a box. So we asked the store whether the TV had actually been new?, Yes, of course they said, it had been “new used”.

“New used”? What does that mean, we asked? It was new, they said, but had been on display in the store.

So not new at all then?

Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations is very clear. It says that a supplier “fails to meet minimum standards and specifications” if “representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

New means new. It means still in the box, sealed, unopened. It means new, dammit. A display model has been used, it’s not new and there’s simply no such thing as “new used”, that’s just a pair of words being used to deceive customers.

I should stress that there’s nothing wrong with buying former display models. Sitting next to me as I write this is an iMac we bought recently that was a former display model. Understanding the rules the store manager offered it to us for a 15% discount. It wasn’t scratched or marked in any way and we were perfectly happy to have it and even happier to get a discount. A friend bought a car from a major dealer a few years ago and was given an enormous discount because the vehicle had been their demo model, the one they used for customer test drives and that the bosses sometimes borrowed at the weekend. It had only done a couple of thousand kilometers, it was as good as new and he was a very happy guy to get a bargain.

Once we explained to the guy with the TV problem what his rights were, and then explained them in very simple terms to the store (and even to their Regional Manager who was so pleased to learn this that he hung up on us) the problem was quickly resolved. A brand new TV (in a sealed box) was shipped to him and he’s happy again. Eventually.

Surely if the store manager had known that you can’t sell something as new if it isn’t in fact new, this wouldn’t have happened? Surely if the manager knew a bit about consumer rights problems like this wouldn’t happen?

It would also probably be helpful if employers taught their store managers that they’re not allowed to be bad at their jobs. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that a store “shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance” if “the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill”. That doesn’t sound controversial, does it? Put more simply it means that the store and its employees must be at reasonably good at their jobs. A computer store that says it can do repairs must be able to do repairs. The builder who said he could build your house must be capable of building your house.

Perhaps the most common mistake that employees make when they haven’t been sufficiently well-educated by their employers is that they then do their best to defend them by just making stuff up.

Over the years we’ve heard so many times of situations where staff just make things up because they really don’t know any better. One of the Consumer Watchdog team was told many years ago that as an non-working expatriate woman bringing up children it would be illegal to give her a bank account. Another bank once told a customer that post-dated cheques were illegal. Furniture store staff will insist that it is mandatory to take their store insurance when you buy a product from them, even if you already have your own insurance policy that will cover the item you want to buy.

All of this is nonsense that a member of staff made up on the spot when confronted with their own ignorance.

Can’t stores do better by giving their staff the knowledge they deserve? Or do they want their staff as ignorant as their customers?

The Voice - Consumers Voice

A lottery warning

Good day. I have been playing a lotto for some time now. I have always wondered who can help me how to find if this is a legal lotto or one of the scams. Please may you check and advice if this is scam. Their website is Please send your findings and also advice others people if this is a scam lotto as they will also fall for it. I have been paying US$14.99 for more than 5 years now.

Here’s a simple question. You’ve been paying about P150 every month for five years for a lottery that has “free” in its name? That doesn’t sounds free to me. You’ve paid a total of around P9,000 over the past few years and I guess you’ve not won a single thebe in return?

The site you mention makes some extraordinary claims, including that they have “already awarded $103,141,469.00 in cash and prizes to lucky FreeLotto® lottery-style game players”. That’s a truly extraordinary amount of money but I can find no real evidence that their claim is actually true. And did you spot something else in that claim? “lottery-style game”. This isn’t a lottery at all, it’s a form of online gaming.

If you do a quick Google search you’ll find that there are many complaints and criticisms of this site, suggesting that you have to pay to win prizes. As your experience shows, they’re not free in any way.

I suggest that you do your best to cancel your monthly payments although I’ve seen comments online that suggest getting them to stop taking the money can he difficult. Good luck!

Can they search me?

Is it rite for security guards to search our bags when we leave a shop?? I was told either I leave my handbag at the door or I’ll be searched when I get out.

You’re not the first person to ask us this questions and I know you won’t be the last. So many people contact us asking this, usually because they’ve felt violated and insulted by a guard who has insisted on searching either them or their belongings when they go shopping.

So let’s make this perfectly simple. Security guards have no right to search you. They can only do so if you agree to being searched, otherwise they can’t touch you. The only exception to this is if they have a good reason to think you’ve committed a serious crime like theft but even then all they can do is detain you and then call the Police. Only a Police office can insist on searching you or your belongings. Security guards are just civilians like you and me. Think of it this way. If I come to your house or office and when I leave you think I’ve stolen your laptop all you can do is to detain me until the cops arrive.

A couple of years ago a woman was stopped by a security guard at a major supermarket in Gaborone. The guard insisted on searching her handbag even though he had no evidence to think she was a thief. This brave woman got extremely angry and took the security company to court and was later awarded P60,000 in compensation. The judge explained that she deserved this ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”. What made that case worse was that the Managing Director of the security company told the court that he thought his guards had the same rights as police officers. Not so, the judge told him.

Those of us who are honest members of society have a right to exercise our freedom unimpeded by security guards who have been told they have special rights and powers. While we all understand how much stores lose to shoplifters they have to learn that the vast majority of us, the ones who are decent and honest shouldn’t be treated like criminals.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Did we defame them?

We were accused of defamation recently. With great subtlety and courtesy, it was suggested that we had defamed an organization by permitting posts on our Facebook group to remain and not deleting them.

In fact over the last few weeks defamation has been in our minds quite a lot. It started with the subtle threat. A member of the group posted a message reporting a problem she’d experienced in a well-known service provider (who for now can remain nameless). Her problem was the length of time she and a relative had been forced to wait before being served: several hours. Her post was reasonably worded and I thought it was polite. What she really wanted was advice. “I want to log a complaint, where do I start?”

So far, so good. I forwarded the complaint to the Managing Director of the establishment and his response was swift. “We have started investigating the matter.” He also promised a very swift investigation. However it wasn’t all positive. He also said that if the “allegation turn out to be are false we will this time around have to consult with our lawyers to consider a defamation suit”.

That really isn’t very good, is it? If the complaint is valid they’ll take action to fix the problem and if not they’ll drag their critic to court to get revenge?

Let’s talk law. Defamation is defined in the Penal Code as:
“matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.”
The first question I’d ask is whether this particular organization actually has a reputation that could be damaged? In fact I think it would be hard to find many people who have a good opinion of them. I certainly don’t.

Meanwhile there are various defenses to the accusation of defamation. For instance you are permitted to say something defamatory if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. I think it’s clear that if the public would be concerned about delays in this company and that customer genuinely did experience the delay she claims then she’s allowed to say so. More importantly the law also permits you to make reasonably expressed complaints so long as “it was published in good faith”. In other words so long as you aren’t being malevolent you’re allowed, in a free country likes ours, to express your opinions about how a person or a company operates. It’s called free speech. The company might not like it but it’s a right protected by the law.

Unfortunately their approach worked. Under pressure from them the woman deleted her comments and felt herself forced to apologize to them.

Consumer Watchdog is not as easily bullied.

On the other hand just a few days later we had another post on our Facebook group that WAS defamatory. A member posted a complaint saying that he felt he’d been short-changed by a store when he’d paid P100 for airtime but had only been given P10. His mistake was then to post pictures of the managers at the store and to use the word “thieves” in his comments. The fact is that even if he did feel that they hadn’t responded well to his complaint his comments were unacceptable and I removed them as soon as I saw them. I contacted the guy and suggested that he was welcome to complain but he needed to moderate his comments to stay on the right side of the law.

Over the years we’ve had a few encounters with organizations who have said they’ve felt defamed by various things we’ve said on the radio or written here in Mmegi. To their eternal credit every time this has happened I’ve contacted the team at Mmegi and explained what’s going on. Their response has always been the same.

What you said was true and you can prove it. Bring it on.

There was the holiday club that really objected to us describing their customer agreements as “lifetime contracts” even though they wouldn’t let their customers cancel the “irrevocable offer” they were required to make to join the scheme. They came to see us to insist we retracted the suggestions accompanied by their lawyer only to find that we don’t scare that easily, particularly when we seemed to know the law on defamation better than their lawyer did.

Then there was the car firm who objected when we suggested that one of their South African dealers “are incompetent, discourteous and have shown massive contempt to one of their customers”. This was the dealer that had failed to repair the car belonging to a customer in Botswana for nearly a year. They also “lawyered up” and threatened us with hell and damnation unless we retracted our comments.

We didn’t. In fact we told their lawyers what we thought of their client’s bullying approach to criticism and we didn’t hear from them again.

There was even the legal threat we received from a lawyer representing a rather suspicious debt collector who threatened to sue a client for defamation for something that appeared in this column in Mmegi even though she didn’t write it, I did. A letter to the lawyer telling him to bugger off (metaphorically) did the trick.

The lesson about defamation is a simple one. If someone says something bad about you or your organization you have a couple of choices. If what they say is genuinely untrue and damaging then get your cheques book ready and talk to a lawyer. Otherwise just learn to take criticism like a grown-up.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

A loan scam warning

In August 2013 we heard about someone in South Africa called Mandy Louw who claimed to represent a company called Express Finance and was offering to lend very large sums at a mere 2.5% interest per year. Was it real, we were asked?

No. There IS a lender in SA called Express Finance but this “Mandy Louw”, was nothing to do with them and in fact was stealing their company identity to run an advance fee scam.

In April 2014 a South African woman contacted us to confirm whether she had been a victim of this scam. The fake Mandy Louw had offered her a loan of R500,000 and all she had to do was fill in some forms and then send “Mandy” some money. Yes, in order to borrow money she had to give the lender money. Don’t you think that alarm bells would have been ringing by now? Don’t you think the words “advance fee” would have occurred to the victim by then?

Here’s the worst bit. The victim worked for the lending division of a bank. If anyone knows how genuine loans work it should have been her.

I told the victim very clearly that she was being scammed. My exact words were “This is a scam. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.” I urged her to contact her employer and let them know what had happened but then she went quiet.

Then it got worse. The victim got back in touch with us a few days ago. It seems that since we last emailed each other she had continued to give “Mandy” even more money in the forlorn hope that the “loan” might eventually appear. So far the victim has given the scammers a massive R184,000 and it’s only now that she’s understood that she will never see that money again. Worse still is that she borrowed money in order to raise the money the scammers were demanding. As well as being embarrassed and ashamed of herself she’s now impoverished because of her naïveté.

Luckily she’s now spoken to her employer, which we felt we needed to do for various reasons. Firstly she needs their emotional support but just as importantly they need to know they employ someone who is catastrophically gullible. Put these two things together and you have an enormous threat to bank security. She has also now spoken to the South African Police who will investigate the crime.

The lesson is a sad one. There are people out there who are so hopelessly gullible that scum like “Mandy Louw” find it easy to steal their money.

Please don’t be that naïve!

I damaged my sister’s car

Few weeks ago I bumped my sisters car when I was reversing and the bumper is completely ruined. She wants me to go to the police to make a statement so that she gets the insurance to fix her car. My question is what happens after the insurance fixes the car? Will they come after me?

Isn’t it better if I just fix the car myself because I don’t have any insurance? Please help.

If your sister claims for this on her insurance the insurance company will almost certainly come after you to recover their costs. That’s how insurance works: innocent parties don’t have to suffer, the guilty parties pay. In this case your sister and her insurance company are the innocent parties and you’re the guilty one. I think your suggestion is probably best. Get the car fixed yourself. It’ll be probably be cheaper and there’s less danger to your relationship with your sister. Also, do you really want to run the risk of being fined by the Police?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Yet another fake university - Kentsbridge "University"

And another fake university emerges, this time calling itself "Kentsbridge University".

They appear to operate from a web site that was only registered for the first time on 29th November last year.

As always the best clues are to be found in the online conversation you can have with one of their "advisors".
David Vincent: Hello there
David Vincent: How are you doing today ?
[Me]: I'm very good thanks
David Vincent: Great
David Vincent: how may I assist you ?
[Me]: There is a vacancy in my department in a hospital that I want to apply for but it needs a Masters degree. How long does it take to get a Masters from you?
David Vincent: It would take 20-25 days to have it delivered to you
[Me]: Oh wow, thats' quick. Must I sit any exams?
David Vincent: It depends on your profile
David Vincent: if you have sufficient experience in the filed then you dont need to sit ina ny examination
[Me]: What experience do I need?
David Vincent: What program you are looking to enrolled in ?
[Me]: MBA Health Care Administration
David Vincent: OK, how many years of an experience do you have ?
[Me]: I've been working for 10 years.
David Vincent: Impressive
[Me]: Is that enough experience?
David Vincent: you can go ahead and get a Degree from us on basis of your working experience
David Vincent: Yes, for Masters Degree its enough
[Me]: A masters degree so I can get the promotion?
David Vincent: Indeed
[Me]: How much coursework must I do?
David Vincent: You dont need to
David Vincent: you will get the Degree on basis of your working experience
David Vincent: what we will do, is we convert your working experience into the college credits
David Vincent: on basis of that we can award you with the Traditional Degree
Interestingly this one is even prepared to haggle over the price.
[Me]: How much will this cost me?
David Vincent: which would be verified as a regular Degree that you have gone through online courses and classes
David Vincent: total one time payable fee is $1299.00
[Me]: That's a lot of money.
[Me]: Sorry, I don't think I can afford that.
David Vincent: How much is your budget ?
David Vincent: What is the maximum you can afford ?
[Me]: Around $500.
David Vincent: make it $600 and we can proceed
I don't think any further evidence is needed, do you? Real universities offer qualifications based coursework and exams, not just cash. Kentsbridge "University" is a fake.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The world has changed

It’s 2015 and companies need to get with the times.

Whether people like it or not, things change and progress happens. I know that some people would dearly like things to stay exactly the way they’ve always been but that’s often because they have an interest in the status quo. Usually they get some financial, power or psychological benefit from how things have always been.

I assume that the rest of us are happy to move forward into the future and leave the past behind?

But what about the present? Have all companies reached 2015 yet? No, clearly they haven’t.

Given that it’s 2015 here are some things that we now have a right to expect.

WiFi. We have a right to expect free WiFi in those places where we choose to spend our time and money. Obviously I’m not demanding it in supermarkets, furniture stores and bus ranks but I do think that we have a right to expect free, unlimited and reasonably fast WiFi access in coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. Go to any of the coffee shops in Gaborone and Francistown and you’ll find people there to do business. Some will be having meetings but a lot of them are sitting by themselves with their laptops or tablets getting some work done. So long as they buy the occasional drink and a snack they can expect to connect to the internet to do all those essential business things like check football results, update their Facebook profile and send messages back to their boss saying how busy they are. And maybe even to do some real work as well.

Critically it should be uncapped and free. There are still restaurants that limit how long you can connect or who have to give you strange passwords that are different every time you visit but they need to learn from their more successful and welcoming competitors. Yes, there is always a risk that a customer will just sit there for hours with a glass of water exploiting the WiFi connection but the manager can always ask them to move on. They’d do that if someone just came and read a book for hours without ordering anything, wouldn’t they? There’s also the risk that someone will sit within WiFi range but won’t actually come into the establishment but the venues with unlimited free WiFi seem to cope well enough with that.

The plain fact is that in 2015 this has become a core part of doing the restaurant business. If you don’t like it then be prepared for customers complaining and choosing to eat and drink elsewhere.

It’s a similar situation in hotels. Whether you’re staying in the hotel as a guest or just as a visitor then free WiFi is fundamental these days. I was at a workshop a few days ago at a major hotel in Gaborone and they do offer a free WiFi connection throughout with no password and no restrictions. The last time I’d been there it made the interminable conference speeches a lot more bearable. But this time it wasn’t working. Luckily this workshop was actually interesting and I didn’t need a distraction but meanwhile it would have been very useful (as well as normal in 2015) to pick up my email for free rather than eating into my 3G phone data allowance.

Another problem the hotel conference room had was a projector no better than the one we have at our office and that’s just not good enough. Conference rooms need top-quality equipment or the conference room isn’t going to look sad, outdated and poor value for money like this one did.

So hotels and conference centers, if you haven’t invested in modern, reliable tech by now you’re going to need to soon.

Most importantly, we have a right as consumers to move forward from traditional ways of contacting stores and suppliers. In the past organizations had fixed complaint procedures that dictated how you and I could talk to them when we had a problem but those days are gone. Who writes a letter of complaint these days? Certainly we no longer get many letters to Consumer Watchdog and a dwindling number of faxes. Almost every communication we receive is electronic, mainly by email and Facebook. So why aren’t companies doing the same?

Actually a lot of them are. Almost all of the companies we deal with use email to a great extent but very few of them have taken the leap into Facebook and the reason for that is simple. It’s public.

When you post a message on a company’s Facebook page other people can see it. If a company representative posts a message in our group then every other member of the group can see what they say. All of this really scares them.

It scares them because it can so easily go horribly wrong. I’ve seen companies post a response that Facebook users have seen as arrogant or patronizing and instead of calming a situation it’s only made things much worse. On the other hand I know a few organizations who consistently get it right. They apologize if there’s been a problem, they don’t try to avoid blame and they offer a solution, all in public without fear or shame and Facebook users respect that. These situations have allowed the companies to show themselves as mature grown-ups not petulant, whining children and nobody wants to give money to a petulant whining child.

So to all these organizations the message is simple. Get with the times. Either embrace, use and exploit the technology of 2015 or be behind the times.

And behind your competitors.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where are my medical aid payments?

My boss has been deducting P450 from my salary which was supposed to be paying my Medical Aid. He was supposed to pay the other 50%. On Friday I went to my doctor and was told my Medical Aid has been suspended due to non-payment. When I spoke to my boss he admitted that he has not been paying the bills for 25 months now. I now owe the doctors P1,754 for 6 invoices. What advice can you give me? I need my money back. How do I approach him in a nice way as my boss? Seriously I need my refund and will start paying myself.

This is completely unacceptable. I know this might be strong language but your boss has stolen your money. Specifically he has stolen P11,250 from you AND he has denied you the medical aid cover you have been paying for.

I know it might antagonize him but you need to get some serious support and I suggest that the Department of Labour might need to be involved. They have the power to summon your boss and demand that he makes this situation right again. He owes you the P11,250 and the P1,754 in doctor’s bills.

However, in the meantime if you like we’ll be happy to contact your boss to politely explain that he needs to remedy this situation immediately by paying your medical bills and either getting you immediate medical aid cover or giving you back the money he’s taken from you. We’ll make it clear that it’s that or a call from the Department of Labour. Or would he prefer to be on the front page of The Voice? Does he really want that sort of trouble?