Friday, 21 October 2011

Confidence isn’t enough

If confident people can be abused what chance do the less confident have?

Last week I was in a store that can remain nameless but I’ll just say that it focuses on technology. Just as I was leaving a guy came in who I knew. He’s a successful self-made businessman and he’s tall, confident and sociable and is the sort of person you suspect is used to be treated properly.

I know we’re all equal, both morally and before the law but people like him are probably less likely to be abused. Or so I thought.

His situation was simple. He’d bought a printer two months ago but something had gone wrong so he took it back to the store for them to fix. So far so good. How can anything go wrong with this situation?

His problem began when he confessed that he’d lost the receipt. That wasn’t actually a big issue for the store because they confessed, when he asked, that they could trace the purchase in their computer system. They didn’t deny that he’d made the purchase from them.

The technician in charge of repair jobs told him that a problem WOULD arise when the company who actually did the repair received the printer. Apparently they wouldn’t even begin to repair it until they had the customer’s receipt, even though this was nothing to do with them. I can understand that the repair company wanted to know that this particular printer had, in fact, been sold and it wasn’t just the store trying to get something done for free, but surely the store could just provide a printout from their computer system or prove in some other way that it had been legitimately purchased? Surely the store manager could call the repair company and confirm that Mr X had indeed bought the printer on a certain date?

Unfortunately the customer was told that until he could provide the receipt they simply would not help him.

That’s when I found him, standing there, simply not understanding why they were being so difficult. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get his printer repaired when the store accepted he had bought it from them, that it had subsequently gone wrong and that it was covered by a warranty. It wasn’t surprising that he was begin to lose his cool.

Being a bit of a busybody I tried to get involved but came up against exactly the same story. The repair guy wouldn’t budge until the missing receipt was found.

Luckily a quick word with the manager led to a promise that he would intervene and see what pressure he could bring to bear. I’m sure that a little authority will make everyone see reason and get the printer fixed but why did it take that level of effort to get things moving?

Also last week we had a complaint about a store’s refund policy. Despite their till slips clear saying that they will “gladly refund or exchange any item in a saleable condition within 60 days” when our reader actually took something back and asked for a refund she was told that only an exchange or a voucher was available. They didn’t do refunds, she was told.

Of course this wasn’t true, whatever the people in the store might claim. The printed till slip made it perfectly clear what she was entitled to. It was in writing. No debate was necessary.

As it happens this particular customer was perfectly happy with a voucher she could use some other time but the principle is what matters. A store can’t commit to something and then just change it’s mind.

Luckily (and properly) when we contacted the head guy at this chain of stores he was quite straightforward. Of course the customer was entitled to a refund. The store would offer an exchange or a voucher but a refund would be available as well if that’s what the customer really wanted. There were exceptions but these had clearly been mentioned on the till slip. You can’t exchange underwear if it’s been worn (yuck) and cellphones were different but everything else was covered. The head guy said this was clearly a misunderstanding by that particular store. He assured us he would make sure they understood in future.

But both these cases come back to one single question. Why do staff in stores like these think they can make stuff up? Why do they think they can make up rules as they go along? Why would the staff at the printer repair company think they could demand unreasonable things of customers and the store. That’s actually simple to answer. It’s the management’s fault for not making it clear to staff what can and can’t be done. They had no guidelines so they had to make them up.

Another question. If the customers in both these cases, a man and a woman who were both confident, educated, intelligent, assertive and logical are treated this way, does that mean that anyone a little more meek just puts up with it and we don’t hear about their experiences? I suspect it does. I suspect that many people just accept whatever a store says, either because they don’t know their rights or because they’ve forgotten that the store is NOT the one in charge. The store is NOT the one who can decide by themselves what’s going to happen.

Luckily in both these cases the management were reasonable and could see that things were going wrong and it was their job to fix the problem. It’s not always that good.

This week’s stars
  • Moagi Siele from Gaborone City Council who or reader says offered “the best service I’ve ever got from the public service”.
  • Violet Mophuting from FNB Main Branch for going out of her way to help a customer.

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