Sunday 1 March 2015

Why are staff ignorant?

Why do some companies leave their staff so untrained and ill-equipped to do their jobs?

Of course there are organizations that do their best to ensure that their customer-facing staff have all the knowledge and skills necessary to serve customers well, there really are but there are still so many that throw their staff, in particular their junior managers, in at the deep end and just expect them to be able to swim.

For instance why don’t companies teach their staff about consumer rights? Why do they waste time and money on hugely expensive seminars and workshops where their staff are told the usual stuff about showing empathy, smile and making the customer feel important but they totally ignore the law.

It’s very simple really, store staff, in particular managers urgently need to know what rights their customers have so they don’t breach them.

Very recently we heard from a consumer who had bought a TV last August on hire purchase from a furniture store. A few months later it developed a fault and he returned it for a repair. No problems so far, the store were happy to receive it. However the repair took longer and longer and eventually he asked for our intervention. A few phone calls and a couple of days later the TV was back with him. Or was it?

He immediately noticed that the remote control didn’t work with the TV. A little investigation later he discovered that it wasn’t his TV that had been returned, it was another customer’s TV that had also been for repair. He then mentioned something curious to us. When the original TV had been delivered to his house last August it hadn’t been in a box. So we asked the store whether the TV had actually been new?, Yes, of course they said, it had been “new used”.

“New used”? What does that mean, we asked? It was new, they said, but had been on display in the store.

So not new at all then?

Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations is very clear. It says that a supplier “fails to meet minimum standards and specifications” if “representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

New means new. It means still in the box, sealed, unopened. It means new, dammit. A display model has been used, it’s not new and there’s simply no such thing as “new used”, that’s just a pair of words being used to deceive customers.

I should stress that there’s nothing wrong with buying former display models. Sitting next to me as I write this is an iMac we bought recently that was a former display model. Understanding the rules the store manager offered it to us for a 15% discount. It wasn’t scratched or marked in any way and we were perfectly happy to have it and even happier to get a discount. A friend bought a car from a major dealer a few years ago and was given an enormous discount because the vehicle had been their demo model, the one they used for customer test drives and that the bosses sometimes borrowed at the weekend. It had only done a couple of thousand kilometers, it was as good as new and he was a very happy guy to get a bargain.

Once we explained to the guy with the TV problem what his rights were, and then explained them in very simple terms to the store (and even to their Regional Manager who was so pleased to learn this that he hung up on us) the problem was quickly resolved. A brand new TV (in a sealed box) was shipped to him and he’s happy again. Eventually.

Surely if the store manager had known that you can’t sell something as new if it isn’t in fact new, this wouldn’t have happened? Surely if the manager knew a bit about consumer rights problems like this wouldn’t happen?

It would also probably be helpful if employers taught their store managers that they’re not allowed to be bad at their jobs. Section 15 (1) (a) of the Regulations says that a store “shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance” if “the service is not rendered with reasonable care and skill”. That doesn’t sound controversial, does it? Put more simply it means that the store and its employees must be at reasonably good at their jobs. A computer store that says it can do repairs must be able to do repairs. The builder who said he could build your house must be capable of building your house.

Perhaps the most common mistake that employees make when they haven’t been sufficiently well-educated by their employers is that they then do their best to defend them by just making stuff up.

Over the years we’ve heard so many times of situations where staff just make things up because they really don’t know any better. One of the Consumer Watchdog team was told many years ago that as an non-working expatriate woman bringing up children it would be illegal to give her a bank account. Another bank once told a customer that post-dated cheques were illegal. Furniture store staff will insist that it is mandatory to take their store insurance when you buy a product from them, even if you already have your own insurance policy that will cover the item you want to buy.

All of this is nonsense that a member of staff made up on the spot when confronted with their own ignorance.

Can’t stores do better by giving their staff the knowledge they deserve? Or do they want their staff as ignorant as their customers?

No comments: