Friday 15 June 2007

Time to be nasty

Over the last few weeks we’ve been very nice about service providers and, in particular, some of their employees. It all culminated in our recent Consumer Watchdog Birthday Party, very generously sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank. Hundreds of service stars were celebrated in front of the President and loads of other VIPs and we all had a great time.

Take a look at our web site at for some pictures from the party.

Incidentally we had huge fun at the party being entertained by the cast of Bye Bye Birdy, Stuart White’s latest show, opening very soon. If you haven’t been down to Riverwalk and bought your tickets already then you better hurry! It’s going to be a blast.

Following the party and all the good news we were in a pretty good mood and we were still in the mood to be positive.

Well, that was until we picked up our email and letters. A whole series of stories of disrespect and abuse from disreputable suppliers.

First there was the customer who bought a cellphone from a store only to find when she got it home that the instructions were written only in Finnish and Dutch. Not surprisingly she speaks neither so they were utterly useless to her. Our argument was that these days cellphones are so complicated that the instructions are a core part of the product. If they are unreadable then the product is effectively unusable. That’s where the Consumer Protection Regulations come in. If a product isn’t usable it’s "not of merchantable quality". This means that it’s not "fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased" and therefore the supplier has failed to meet his obligations under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001.

Eventually the shopper got her money back but this should never have happened. There seems to be an epidemic of cellphone problems these days and according to my sources part of the problem is that some cellphone stores are importing a load of second hand phones from Europe (hence the Finnish and Dutch instructions?) and selling them as new. Very dubious so be warned.

Next was the shopper who left a bag containing a pair of jeans she had bought elsewhere in the changing room of a store. She later called the store who very nicely offered to put them aside for her until she could get back to them. So far so good. Well, until she got back to the store a few days later and found to her distress that the jeans had gone missing.

However, the store people were apologetic and gave her P300 to cover the cost of her jeans that they had lost. Again so far so good!

Well, it was until she got a call from the store saying that some very (self-)important Area Manager had heard about this, blown a fuse and instructed the store staff to get the money back from the shopper. She was summoned to the store to return the money. At this stage she contacted us. Our recommendation was simple. She should tell the store to “go forth and multiply”.

When she got in contact with the store again they updated her. It turns out that they had now established that one of their staff had errrr….. “borrowed” the jeans and had now returned them. I still think that given that the jeans had probably been used she should stick with the P300 but she decided she wanted her jeans back and, quite fairly, she did return the P300.

But where do these people get the idea that they can insult customers in such a way?

Then there was a major store who engaged a debt collector to get some money back. When one of the customers who owed them money went to the debt collector he admitted that he got a little angry but was it necessary after he left to call the police and lay charges? Perhaps that was just a little excessive but there were certain things that surprised us and confirmed a theory I have.

Firstly, the debt collector didn’t have a conventional phone number, just a cellphone number. They didn’t have a fax number, email or indeed anything you would expect a reputable company might have. Apparently they have just moved offices but isn’t it just a little strange that a company wouldn’t sort those things out before an office move? It just struck us as a little strange.

My theory is that you tell a lot about a company by the communication tools they use. There is obviously nothing wrong with having a cellphone. Nor is there anything wrong with having a free email account from Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail. We all have one of those these days, no matter how big our companies are, they are always useful as a backup. However when a company relies on these as their primary means of communication it just shows everyone that they aren’t really established. That may be fine for a decorator or a mechanic but a debt collection agency?

This week’s stars!

  • Botsalo at DHL who keeps her customers up to date with shipments really well. According to our reader “she is my star”.
  • The staff at the Land Utilisation Division of the Ministry of agriculture in Serowe who “have provided exceptionally good, cheerful, interested and effective service”.
  • Also in Serowe from the same Ministry the Bee Keeping Unit for “splendid service”.

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