Friday 3 August 2007

Too many cases...

Some weeks it’s actually quite a difficult life writing a column for a national newspaper. It’s not that there aren’t enough stories that are related to consumer issues, it’s just that some times there are just too many.

So here goes. Two unrelated issues that have little in common, but both intrigued me.

In South Africa’s Sunday Times last weekend I saw an advertisement from Business Against Crime and all the cell network providers entitled “Is your cellphone an accessory to crime?” Rather than describe it, I’ll quote it. Beneath a picture of a gun, a crowbar, a brick, a knife and a cellphone it said:

“Criminals rely on various tools to successfully commit a crime, but their biggest accessory is a stolen, damaged or lost cellphone that has not been blacklisted. Do your bit to make your country a safer and better place. Blacklist your stolen, lost or damaged cellphone.”

The reason this hit me is that just a few months ago one of our team was mugged outside the office. After she had called the bank to tell them about the lost cards she called her cellphone provider to tell them to cut off her phone number. While on the line she remembered that as well as deactivating her SIM card they could also completely bar the phone itself. All you need to give them is the IMEI number and they can make sure nobody ever uses your phone again. However it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The cellphone provider said they can only do this if she showed them the box in which it had originally come. Now like most of us she hadn’t kept the box. So there was nothing that could be done. Despite wanting to do the right thing and also perhaps get a little revenge on the miserable scumbags who attacked her, the colourful cellphone provider wouldn’t let her do it. So what did she do? Something imaginative. She called another, distantly related cellphone provider in the UK. She told them the story and what did they do? They disabled her stolen phone from halfway around the globe.

Of course there’s a risk that someone malicious could get someone else’s phone disabled if they found out it’s IMEI number but surely all the cellphone provider need is a police report, just to confirm the story?

So why are we lagging behind our South African neighbours? The phone companies there are paying for hugely expensive advertisements encouraging us to combat crime. Why can’t we do this here?

Why isn’t the now liberalised cellphone industry getting together to do something that will help them, help you and help me to combat crime. It’s not just the job of the police to combat crime. In fact if you look at the international crime reduction success stories you find that crime only ever reduces when the entire community, police included, get together to fight against it.

Next issue. Please help me decide whether this story is humorous or just plain stupid. A reader contacted us and told us about some water pipes he bought for use at his house. After months of endless pipe failures and a series of visits from the manufacturers he was told that the pipes he’d been sold simply weren’t appropriate for domestic use. So he wrote to the manufacturers to complain. He copied the letter of complaint to various important people and mentioned in the letter that the pipes were useless and that he’d heard other people had complained as well.

Their reaction?

They threatened to sue him for defamation. Their attorney claimed he’d injured their reputation. Poor sensitive little things. So sensitive that they said that if he didn’t apologise in public for his hurtful statements they would stamp their feet, cry like a little girl and sue him for, wait for it, P500,000 compensation.

Are they insane? Should people this sensitive be allowed out in public? By the way this isn’t a company any of us have heard of. It’s not Game or Nandos or Pick N Pay. It’s a company that can’t really have any reputation at all, let alone one worth half a million.

But it’s actually not as funny as I suggest. It’s not really about sensitivity at all. It’s about aggression. It’s a fairly standard technique from a certain section of the business community. The moment someone has the temerity to criticise them they get all heavy. Presumably this technique works with some victims but surely companies that immediately engage attorneys and threaten defamation actions are those with something to hide. They are just bullies. They are like the drunken fool in a bar who starts shouting the moment someone looks at his girlfriend.

Again and again I come back to the main distinction we see between suppliers. Maturity, or the lack of it. To be fair the vast majority of stores and suppliers are quite mature. They might not like criticism, who does? But they recognise that things go wrong from time to time and that as responsible, mature people they should take it on the chin.

Then there are the immature ones. The ones who react like naughty little children who have been caught out by their parents. First they deny it all (“It wasn’t me!”), then they try and distract attention (“It wasn’t me, it was him!”) and then they do one of two things. They either hit back or they sulk (“You’re not my friend any more”).

Luckily most of us grow out of it.

This week’s stars!

  • FNB at Kgale Branch for sending a customer a text message on her birthday! See, technology CAN help with customer care!

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