Friday, 2 September 2011

It works both ways

Or does it?

I was told recently that service “works both ways”, meaning that both the supplier and the customer have obligations to each other. Yes, that’s true but it’s also a cliché. We all know that. Or do we?

Many of the cases we’ve heard about over the last few weeks have started out sounding rather one-sided. The supplier has clearly seemed to be the guilty party. Until we started digging that is. That’s when it turned out to be the other way round.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a case in which a consumer had been very upset to find out that the brand new car she had recently bought didn’t come with a motor plan. Unfortunately she said she only found this out when she took her car for it’s first routine service and was presented with a bill. She and the dealer disagreed on whether she had ever been told this but it is true that the particular model she chose was particularly cheap exactly because it didn’t come with the motor plan. That was an optional extra.

We contacted the dealership and their MD was his usual helpful self. He called the customer in and offered her quite a good deal. Recognising that there had perhaps been a misunderstanding he offered her the motor plan for half price. So far so good. Frankly I think that’s a pretty good solution, don’t you? Unfortunately that’s when the customer decided to be ungrateful and ignore the offer. Some customers can’t be pleased.

We also heard from a reader who wasn’t too happy with the service he received from a furniture store. Some time after purchasing a music system and a bed in 2009 the music system was stolen. Despite reporting this to the police and informing the store about the theft he was disappointed when the store refused to replace his stolen items. He’d been told when he originally bought the items that they would be insured. You can understand why I was initially rather concerned. This seemed very unreasonable so I got in touch with the MD of the chain of stores. That’s when I heard the other side of the story. It turns out that what I’d been told wasn’t the entire truth. In fact the customer had bought the items 5 years before he claimed, in fact in 2004. He had then fallen into appalling arrears with his repayments. So badly that after 4 years they listed him with ITC and he still owes them a small fortune. Of course by being in arrears the insurance scheme didn’t apply any more and I can’t really blame them for that.

It’s interesting that in the past we’ve been accused by a small number of organisations of “always taking the customers’ side” in disputes but this simply isn’t true. While there are a few companies that treat their customers with contempt there are plenty who do genuinely understand that they have a responsibility to show their customers some respect and courtesy. However there’s a greater number of customers who think they can treat stores with contempt and that they can just ignore their side of the deal.

But it’s not always customer who’s wrong. There’s still no shortage of pyramid schemes out there at the moment, an epidemic of them. Despite having been declared illegal in Namibia and being under active investigation by both the Hawks and The Reserve Bank in South Africa, TVI Express continues to rip people off here in Botswana.

TVI Express is a scheme that suggests people can make money solely by recruiting other people beneath them. There’s a silly cover story about holiday discount vouchers but that’s sheer nonsense. The worthless vouchers they offer for a total cost of P3,000 can be bought online for a fraction of that price. The real essence of TVI Express is the recruitment of other people lower down the hierarchy than you. That’s the very definition of a pyramid scheme. In many countries around the world that’s illegal in itself. It’s illegal here as well if you can argue that the scheme makes fraudulent promises. That’s certainly true with the most recent victim of TVI Express we spoke to. She was encouraged to join the scheme locally and to “invest” P30,000 of her own money. She was invited to sign a contract in late January this year that contained a clause that offered:
“the promise to reap an amount of P84,000 on or before the 10th March 2011 and another P84,000 on the 31st April 2011.”
You just know, don’t you, that this failed? How can it have done anything else? How can P30,000 turn into P164,000 in the space of 3 months? If it was possible we’d all be rich by now. That’s the nature of pyramid schemes like TVI Express, they make extraordinary promises and always, always fail. They always leave everyone apart from the founder and his cronies poor.

So perhaps it does sometimes work just one way. Sometimes it’s perfectly clear who the guilty party is, whether it’s a customer who won’t play ball or a pyramid scheme that deliberately abuses it’s victims and steals their money.

This week’s stars
  • Tankiso at Woolworths at the new Sebele Centre for putting a customer’s needs first.
  • Kaisie at BPC for being helpful and for following up with a customer.

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