Friday 19 August 2005

Consumer Watchdog Shows Off a Bit!

In the last couple of columns we’ve outlined a few things we think we as consumers deserve. We think we deserve a Consumer Protection law and as importantly in these electronic days, laws on Data Protection. You can see these and other articles again if you visit our website at, click on Consumer Watchdog and then on Mmegi Column.

This week we’d like to show off a little and report some of our recent successes.

The Education of a Bank Customer

In June Mr B called us because he’d had a number of problems with his Barclays account. He’d gone overdrawn as result of a misunderstanding regarding bank charges and as a result he’d had his account frozen and he couldn’t use his ATM card. We spoke to Barclays and they agreed to reinstate his account.

It turns out that Mr B, like a lot of customers, withdraws his entire salary on pay day. However when the bank later applies the monthly bank charges there’s no money left in the account and the customers then find themselves overdrawn. Then they get their facilities cut off. Of course when the next month’s salary is paid into the account some goes towards the overdraft and the customers find less than they expect in the account. This becomes a cycle with customers never seeing what they expect to see in their account.

Our success is that in conjunction with the bank we explained to Mr B that perhaps he should budget for the month in advance and only then withdraw what he actually needs. This may seem obvious but nobody had ever taken the time to explain this to Mr B. A little simple advice can go a long way!

We think that the lesson from this is clear. We really do need better consumer education. Banks should take the lead in explaining, in simple terms, how accounts work and should give real, practical advice to their customers. They should have clearly explained charges that we can all understand. Just as in a good restaurant the waiter is happy to explain the menu and find a meal that suits you, so should banks explain the options to their customers.

However we think that the community should take a lead here. Let’s use Kgotlas, churches and schools to get the message out. Surely every one of these gatherings is going to have a maths teacher with some spare time who can take the lead and become a community hero?

The Injured Shopper and the Two Good Samaritans

Also in June we heard about an incident in a local supermarket (we won’t name them - they know who they are!). During renovation work, some shelving was left in an aisle and pretty soon a senior citizen, Mrs M, tripped over it and injured herself. Eventually, and because of our first Good Samaritan (another shopper), she got some help and was taken to hospital.

Unfortunately the store in question has so far refused to take any responsibility for the incident. They tell us they’ve made an insurance claim but the victim has so far not seen a Thebe in compensation for the injury, inconvenience or travel costs to hospital. She certainly hasn’t had an apology and nor has she even had a phone call from the store to see how’s she’s doing.

Here comes the second Good Samaritan. Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing in Gaborone heard the story and contacted us to see what they could do. They were appalled to hear that someone had been unfairly treated by a completely unconnected store and offered to help. They offered Mrs M a P250 voucher and invited her to come and shop with them instead.

Needless to say Mrs M is delighted at their generosity and had a great time spending her voucher at Pick N Pay!

The lesson from this story? Well, we think it’s a pretty strange state of affairs when a store can’t even fix it’s own problems and a total stranger steps in to fix things. However it’s also a reminder to us all that there really are some Good Samaritans out there. Some of them also happen to be pretty smart business types as well!

The Damaged Furniture and the Fantastic Recovery

In July Ms S called us to tell us the story of her mother’s furniture. In February 2004 she bought her mother a sofa and a table from FurnCity in Gaborone. However when it arrived at her mother’s place in Palapye it was already broken. Despite loads of phone calls nothing was done to fix the problem and tragically in November last year her mother passed away without ever being able to use the furniture. So Ms S was left paying for broken furniture for her deceased mother on a 2-year credit scheme!

We contacted FurnCity and Ben the manager told us he was very upset to hear what had happened. He made a few calls and within 2 days we had a response. Ben made sure the fixed sofa was delivered to Ms S, he cancelled the entire outstanding debt and gave her P1,000 in cash as an apology.

Now THAT is a recovery!

The lesson? Well, despite what we sometimes might think, a lot of store owners really are good people and will respond well if given the chance.

And even more good news!

Consumer Watchdog believes that as well as complaining, we should all celebrate success when we find it. This week we want to celebrate:

  • Tebogo and Joyce at Botswana Life for being friendly and offering solutions
  • Vera at FNB Industrial Branch for her tireless efforts and courteous service
  • All the guys at Pick N Pay Molapo Crossing for fixing someone else’s problem
  • Ben at FurnCity for really recovering from a problem very well indeed!

Purely in the interests of our readers Consumer Watchdog saw Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat again. There isn’t much time left so if you haven’t already got a ticket, beg, borrow or acquire one somehow!

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