Friday 1 June 2007

No company has a right to make money

A few weeks ago we had a bit of a disagreement with a company we had criticised. We had mentioned them in this column and also on air during our radio slot on YaronaFM. They complained about something we said and, as occasionally happens, they threatened us with legal action for defamation.

The first time a company said this I was actually quite surprised at my reaction. I wasn’t upset. I thought it was hilarious. That was the company which had left one of their stores in such a state of disrepair that a shopper was injured. When we covered the story we got a hard time from them because they thought we had defamed them. Our reaction was quite simple. What exactly was it we had said that was defamatory? Err, nothing. So that was that. They left us alone from then on.

The next time was when we reported on a store whose store credit scheme appeared to have the highest annual percentage rate ever seen since the dawn of time. Well, OK, so perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration but it’s probably worth repeating the figures again for amusement. If you bought a certain DVD player from this company for cash you would pay P399. If, on the other hand, you decided to buy it on their extra-special 2-year credit scheme you would end up paying the store a grand total of P2,207. That’s 5½ times the cash price. If you do the maths that comes to a finance charge APR of 227%.

Perhaps there are higher store credit APRs around somewhere but we’ve never seen them. The store in question really didn’t like us mentioning these mathematical observations and told us they were going to sue us for, yes, defamation. Our reaction this time?

Well, this one was strange. Can it be defamatory to be able to do maths? We didn’t think so and the store must have realised this themselves because strangely we never heard from them again.

Then there was the much larger company who were really unhappy when we pointed out that there was some problems with some of the services they delivered. Relatively minor problems that most companies would have actually been glad to hear about so they could fix them. Not this one. Calls were made to our partners suggesting that we had recklessly defamed them. We were told ourselves that we had committed this awful crime. The trouble was that unfortunately we had only told the truth. Yet another empty threat it seemed.

Finally, and most recently, we were threatened extensively, again for just reporting facts. However this time there was an additional element. In one of their various letters the company suggested that we had interfered with their rights “to engage in free commercial activity”. I’m still not sure how we could possibly have done such a thing. Had we stolen the keys to their office?

It did get me thinking. What I think they meant was that we had interfered with their right to make a profit. But no such right exists. No company has a right to make money. No person has such a right. It’s something that has to be earned. Earned by hard work, honesty and a genuine commitment to serving customers. The trouble is that some companies think that they can make a fast profit by doing the exact opposite. They seem to think that just by getting a fancy office, by driving a flash car they’ve bought with someone else’s money and by selling services that sound good but are actually worthless they have a right to make money.

It’s not true.

The one thing that I still don’t understand is why some companies just seem to know how to do the right thing and how others don’t. I know I’m a failure. I’m supposed to know these things. I’ve worked in psychology. I’ve worked in Human Resource Management. I’ve worked in customer service development. I should understand this better.

However one thing I do know is that the good guys exist.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to celebrate loads of them. Yesterday was our Second Birthday Party. Every single person who we’ve celebrated over the last year in this column was invited. Their managers were there. All sorts of dignitaries from government, parastatals and the private sector were there.

The President was there.

This isn’t meant to sound like we’re showing off. We invited all these VIPs because the service stars deserved it. They’ve earned it themselves. By their hard work, their honesty and their commitment they earned the right to be celebrated by the nation itself.

We were privileged to be able to help allow these service stars to be recognised by us all, by the readers of Mmegi and by all those companies who have shown over the last year that they understand how customer service works. And the ones that have been forced to learn that lesson over the last year!

This week’s stars!

  • Standard Chartered Bank for again very generously sponsoring the party.
  • The President and all the other VIPS for being there to help us recognise that it CAN be done, it IS being done and it’s getting better every day.
  • All the service stars for being exactly who they are.

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