Friday 4 April 2008

Fly Away with Amway?

When I first started writing this column on customer service (and a million other things) nearly three years ago I sometimes wondered whether there would be enough material to write about. After all how many times can you tell people the staggeringly obvious about how to treat customers?

Well, I forgot about how many time things go wrong, about the companies who are actively trying to deceive us and those who just don’t give a flying whatsit about the law.

Every so often though things happen that just give me material for free.

Three weeks ago I wrote about Multi-Level Marketing, a not-so-distant cousin of pyramid selling schemes. If you didn’t get a chance to read the article then you missed a good one. If only it was available on our web site at If only all you had to do was then click on the Consumer Watchdog link and you would see it immediately. If only.

The article outlined some of the basic principles of Multi-Level Marketing and some of the general perceptions of how it can never really deliver on it’s promises. Some are mathematical, others are practical.

In particular the article mentioned Amway, one of the largest MLM companies in the world who have a multi-billion dollar turnover and who make their money by selling toiletries and household goods. Amway have been in Botswana for a few years and many of us will have had the phone call from one of their many local distributors offering us not only soap and shampoo but the opportunity to make money. The selling point is not just the chance of buying some perfectly ordinary products but of joining the Amway religion and becoming fabulously wealthy. You do this by becoming a distributor yourself and then by recruiting more distributors who will all feed money back through you to your “upline”, the guy who recruited you. Every stage in the pyramid, sorry multi-level structure, takes a cut and if you’re at the top of the monolith you could well make a pot of money. If you’re at the top that is.

Sorry, did I call it a religion? That must have been a mistake but it’s an easy one to make. The level of energy you see from Amway distributors really is like what you would expect at a religious festival. If you visit their South African web site there are many testimonials from some of their successful distributors with quotes like:

“Your upline is your lifeline - edify your upline and submit to counsel.”

“You must be loyal to the Amway Corporation and to your upline team.”

“Enjoy the journey - this is more than a business, it's a way of life.”

Now isn’t all of that just like a religion? I’m not even slightly surprised that some have even described Away as being cult-like.

So anyway, what happened after the previous article?

We got an email. From Amway.

Obviously they’re not happy with the coverage we gave them. In the interests of perfect openness I’ve posted their email on our website so you can read it. I haven’t changed a single word.

To their credit, and I must say this, the email is very polite. Unlike the Holiday Club’s lawyers who suggested we had defamed them and threatened all sorts of actions if we didn’t retract what we had said about them, the MD of Amway in South Africa was almost friendly. Incidentally the letters from the Holiday Club’s lawyers are on our web site as well. Needless to say we retracted nothing and everything went quiet.

The email from Amway was actually more than friendly, it was remarkable. It was generous. According to their MD, they want to “fly your editorial team to Cape Town where our head office is situated to assess our business”. There they’ll show us around, introduce us to their team, allow us to ask questions and “give an honest assessment and feedback to your readers/web visitors”.

A free trip to Cape Town. Damn, that’s tempting. And for our entire “editorial team” as well? I thought for a moment of expanding our team so it included all our partners, children, friends and gardeners but then sanity prevailed.

Much as I’d love a freebie to Cape Town it’s not how we do things. Since we started Consumer Watchdog we haven’t taken a single thebe for ourselves from any suppliers. Yes, we accept prizes and treats that we give away to service stars and sometimes the people who nominate them but never a single thing for us. However, as I’ve stated before, I WOULD make an exception if I was offered a Jaguar or one of the new Apple MacBooks. Hint, hint…

So we’ll decline the trip to CT but we WILL continue to offer Amway our normal unrestricted right of reply. Perhaps they can reply to the evidence entered in court records in the UK last year (and reported by The Times) which reported that 71% of British Amway distributors didn’t make a penny. 101 people between them took 75% of all the bonuses that were paid out. A certain Trevor Lowe was the highest earner and he made a magnificent £116,000 (which is well over P1 million) but it did take him 26 years to get to that level. Only 37 people in the entire UK made as much from Amway as the national average wage.

This was evidence submitted to the Companies Court by a UK Government Regulator that is trying to have Amway wound up in the public interest.

So, shame about the Cape Town trip, but there’s still hope for the Apple MacBook isn’t there?

This week’s stars!

  • Angela at BTC Accounts Department for “seeing the big picture”.
  • Shula, also from BTC, for being “really helpful”.
  • All the team at Musica at Game City for being really good at what they do.

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