Friday 18 May 2007

Who are we?

Who actually are Consumer Watchdog? What do you do? Are you part of the Consumer Protection Unit? Can you help me? How much do you charge?

We get asked many questions about Consumer Watchdog and by far the most common is the last one. How much do you charge?

It’s time to explain again who we actually are.

Firstly the boring bits. Consumer Watchdog is a non-profit-making, registered division of Business & Enterprise Solutions Botswana (Pty) Ltd, a private company that focuses on things like customer service, organisation effectiveness and HR management. We work with all sorts of companies helping them to run their business a bit more effectively, keeping their customers happy and their shareholders even happier.

We set up Consumer Watchdog a couple of years ago because we’d had enough. Enough of stories of people being abused, of companies treating their customers with extraordinary disrespect and of charlatans and crooks doing their very best to get our money away from us.

So what do we actually do? How can we help you? It’s actually quite simple. Any time you feel that you’ve been given second-rate service, that you’ve been ripped off or that a supplier has deceived you call us and we’ll see what we can do to fix it for you. Obviously we can’t guarantee anything but we have a pretty good track record. We’ve helped injured shoppers get hefty compensation from negligent stores. We’ve helped banks to change the way they operate so that customers are better served. We’ve even got the occasional apology for a customer when they’ve been disappointed. Miracles DO happen!

Are we connected to the Consumer Protection Unit? No. The Consumer Protection Unit is an official body with official powers. They are the ones that have the full power of the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations behind them and even an obligation to act when a complaint is raised. They are the ones who can prosecute people who refuse to play ball. We can’t do any of those things but bizarrely we think that’s actually an advantage. We have much more freedom to investigate things that interest us without waiting for a complaint to come in. We can operate with a lot more freedom because the only people we report to are the readers of Mmegi and listeners to YaronaFM.

We also have two really serious weapons. We have this column in Mmegi and we also have a weekly radio program on YaronaFM at 7:20am every Tuesday morning. We can use publicity to educate, to persuade and to even on a good day, to entertain!

So the big question. The one everyone asks. What do we charge? How much will it cost you if you need our help? The answer is simple. Nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. It’s free. On the other hand it might end up costing a supplier or store quite a lot if they have abused you. It will cost them when we force them finally to offer you compensation, a refund or a replacement. It will cost them huge embarrassment when they are obliged to apologise in public for deceiving people. It might even cost them their business if their sales go down when the public hears that they don’t treat their customers with a little respect. But the consumer? It costs nothing. Our services are free. How many other ways can I put this. No cost. No money. Free.

The other thing we can do is campaign for change, for a better understanding of the things we think are most important and maybe even to educate to a small extent. We do our best every now and then to encourage other bodies to get their act together and to use their powers, their role and their position to help us all.

We have a range of very profound beliefs that we use this column and the YaronaFm radio slot to broadcast. Firstly there’s competition. There are so many examples of how free and fair competition in the market place helps us all. Look at the keen competition between Orange and Mascom these days. They are constantly launching new ideas, actively trying to get customers to buy their products and services rather than from the other guy. Banks are an even better example. Hardly a week goes by without one of the banks launching some new form of account, a new cheaper account or service guarantees, all in an effort to persuade us to take our money to them rather than anyone else.

Then there’s privatisation. Yes, I know it’s controversial at the moment but the obvious challenges arising from the Air Botswana privatisation don’t change the general idea that a company freed from state control is one that’s free to address customer’s needs rather than some grand government plan.

We make no apologies for going on and on about these things because we believe that they genuinely make things better for us customers.

The last thing we do, and I sometimes think it’s perhaps the most important, is we celebrate. We take every chance to celebrate the excellent service that is available out there. We celebrate it here, on YaronaFM and at our birthday party every year when we show the nation and the world every single person we’ve celebrated in the previous year.

So who deserves to be celebrated this year?

This week’s stars!

  • Godwin and crew from the A-Team for great building work.
  • Aunty Betty at Thornhill Primary School for “being Aunty Betty”!
  • Babadi at FNB for fixing a problem with efficiency and a smile.
  • Heather and the team at Face and Body Care for soothing and relaxing service.

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