Friday 4 July 2008

An outbreak of naiveté

Don’t panic. I don’t mean stupid or uneducated or ignorant. I mean naïve. Naïve is used by psychologists to mean a creature that is new to a situation or an experience. It is used by doctors to mean a patient who has not taken a particular drug before. Websters Dictionary defines it as “showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile or worldly experience”.

Well, there’s a lot of it about.

At Consumer Watchdog we’ve had a series of people contact us over the last few weeks asking for help. They were all in situations that really did seem to illustrate the general level of naivete that abounds in the marketplace.

One person got in touch because she had bought a door from a supplier. Rather than embarrass anyone unnecessarily I’ll just call them Company A. She spent a huge amount of money on the door, took it home, had it installed and was happy. Well she was until she discovered that exactly the same door was for sale at Company B for P1,500 less.

Most of us would have been frustrated by that, would have moaned a bit but would have learned a lesson from the experience. Not in this case. She went back to Company A and demanded that they either take back the door and give her a full refund or alternatively they should pay her the difference between the two prices. Not surprisingly Company A said No. That’s when she contacted us, outraged that they hadn’t done as she had asked.

We were forced to explain to her that there was really nothing we could do to help. She had willingly bought from Company A, they hadn’t lied about anything, they hadn’t deceived her, they hadn’t done anything wrong and there was no reason to complain to anyone or expect the company to fix anything.

The only person who had done anything wrong was the shopper herself. She hadn’t done what we all should do and that’s to shop around before buying anything expensive.

We had another consumer who contacted us, distressed because he’d been “blacklisted” because his TV had been repossessed. He’d bought the TV on credit but very quickly fell behind with the repayments. The store eventually came to take the TV away but told him that of course he would still owe them the outstanding amount. By the time he contacted us, the store had sold the TV, were still pursuing him for the balance and he’d been registered with a credit agency as a bad payer. His question was “Do they have the right to do this?” Our answer was “Yes”.

He failed to adhere to his credit agreement, they repossessed the TV, they sold it as second hand, got back a little of the money but he still owed them the balance. He had defaulted on his agreement, he had failed to make the payments he agreed to. The store had every right to register him as such.

The only person at fault was the shopper himself. He signed an agreement that he probably knew he couldn’t keep up with.

Another consumer called in with a problem with a property. He had found an office to rent, but didn’t want to move in for a month so paid the landlord a month’s rent as well as a fee for writing a tenancy agreement. The next month his plans changed and he told the landlord he wasn’t moving in and could he please have the previous month’s rent back? The landlord said No and the tenant was bewildered and angry. We had to explain in simple terms that the landlord had done nothing wrong. He had reserved the property for the tenant, he hadn’t let it out to anyone else, he’d had it ready for the tenant to move in. It wasn’t the landlord’s fault that the tenant changed his mind.

In fact the landlord was cross that the tenant had just walked away from his obligations but luckily for the tenant they had never gotten around to signing the agreement so there was little that could be done.

The person at fault was the tenant for not realising that he had obligations as well as the landlord.

Of course not all the stories we hear involve customers being naïve like these cases. In most cases the customer really has been wronged, has been abused and sometimes has been lied to. There are occasional cases reported to us that are so scandalous we believe someone should be in prison, not just in receipt of angry letters form Consumer Watchdog.

But consumers don’t help themselves and their fellow consumers when they get themselves into situations where THEY are in the wrong. It IS sometimes the customer’s fault that they have been listed with TransUnion, their TV has been repossessed or they’ve just spent too much money on things. It’s time that some consumers abandoned naivete and embraced maturity, common sense and logic.

To help we’ve posted a series of Shopper’s Guides on our web site. So far these cover things like store credit, buying used cars, personal computers and cellphones. Take a look and let us know what you think. Also tell us what other products or services you think we should cover?

This week’s stars!
  • Kutlwano at Air Botswana for being patient and helpful and going out of her way to meet a customers needs.
  • Kabelo "KB" Johannes of Security Systems for showing how it can be done.
  • Lorato Mogorosi at KFC in G-West for treating customers with respect and understanding that they pay her salary!
  • Wonder Kepaletswe at Botswana Life for always making a follow up.

No comments: