Friday 22 May 2009

Two sides?

We’re often told that there are two sides to every story and that’s frequently the case with the consumer issues that come to us. So often we do a little investigation and we discover that the story is not quite as simple as one side would have us believe. That’s perfectly understandable I suppose, we’re rarely very good judges of circumstances when they affect us personally. So it’s no surprise that we often find that consumers have exaggerated slightly, ignored the negative things they’ve done, or neglected to do, and have selectively forgotten their mistakes.

Of course the same goes for suppliers, they can just as easily be selective when they tell their side of the story.

Yes, I’m being fairly even minded and fair, but sometimes the story can be perfectly one-sided. Sometimes there is simply an abusing party and an abused party.

Of course we all know by now who the abusers are. They are the stores that offer things on credit without disclosing the total credit price as the law demands they do. I believe that anyone who has entered into such a credit agreement has been deceived by a company that abuses it’s customers, or maybe I should call them it’s victims.

The so-called holiday clubs that ensnare people into signing contracts that they can never leave until they are dead and buried are also abusing their victims.

But it’s not always the suppliers that are in the wrong. We had a complaint recently from a customer who bought a second-hand Nissan from Barloworld. Fairly soon a number of problems emerged, some fairly minor but one related to serious problem with the clutch that caused the car eventually to break down. He reported the problems to Barloworld and they took the car in and attended to several of the problems. So far so good. However things got a little argumentative about the clutch. The customer claimed that the clutch had failed for no good reason but Barloworld weren’t so sure. They eventually arranged for it to be assessed by Nissan and their report was perfectly clear. There damage to the clutch “was beyond abuse”. The customer had, according to the experts at Nissan, subjected the vehicle to “abnormally severe driving conditions”.

In simple terms, Nissan found evidence that the customer had trashed the clutch and must have known about it. It wasn’t Barloworld’s fault.

In fact Barloworld seems to have lived up to their obligations. They fixed everything else that was wrong with the vehicle and spent a lot of time and money investigating the clutch problems. It’s not their fault that the customer had caused such damage.

At the same time as this issue we were also contacted by another Barloworld customer who had bought a car from them and hadn’t been given, despite assurances that he would, a spare set of keys. After several calls he contacted us. We went straight through to the MD who got on the case and within a day or two we got a call from a now very happy consumer saying he’d got his keys and a really nice apology from the MD. I bet he’s now a huge fan of Barloworld.

Dealing with car dealers isn’t always good news. We had a complaint recently about Barloworld’s neighbours, Lion Motors, the local Peugeot dealers.

This customer had ordered some parts for his car but following some delays had cancelled one of the items. Now the key thing is that the customer, when he cancelled that one item, knew for sure that Lion Motors hadn’t actually order it yet. They confirmed this to him. He, very smartly, put the cancellation in writing so then became angry when they later tried to charge him for the cancelled item. Despite extensive discussions on the issue Lion Motors have refused to give him his deposit back.

When the customer called us we made several calls to Lion Motors, left a series of messages and got precisely no response. Not even a courteous acknowledgement. Not even a “Thanks, we’ll get back to you”.

This isn’t my way of saying that you should buy from Barloworld and not from Peugeot. However I do think it’s fair to say that you should only buy from dealers who show their customers some respect.

My advice is that before you buy a car you should ask your friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbours and even total strangers what experiences they’ve had with the car you want and the dealer selling it.

The quality of the after-care from a car dealer matters just as much as the quality of the car. No matter how much you spend on a car, whether it’s new or second-hand, sooner or later you’ll take it back, either for a routine service or for a repair. That’s when you tell the difference between a good dealer and a bad one. That’s what you should be asking everyone about and that’s what these complaints help us understand. They give us a clue which dealer who will show it’s customers some respect or which one won’t.

So indeed some stories are fairly one-sided. Sometimes one party is in the wrong and it’s not always the supplier. In fact some suppliers do behave well and will give you respectful service. Some won’t. It’s up you to decide which.

This week’s stars
  • Peter, Mark and the team from Apache Spur at Riverwalk in Gaborone for “excellent service”. Yet again!
  • Mr Merafe, Mrs Lentswe and Lillian from the Department of Immigration Citizenship for being amazingly swift and efficient and for their “exceptionally courteous and professional service”.

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