Saturday 1 August 2015

Two sides

It’s said that there are often two sides to a story, your side and the other side. In fact there are often three: yours, theirs and the truth.

It’s impossible to be completely impartial and all of us are subject to biases. Most importantly we all think most of the time that we are right and other people are wrong. I’m a good driver, it’s everyone else who’s useless on the road. I’m a much better parent that the other parents I know. I work harder than my colleagues. I bet most of us have felt these things at least occasionally.

The truth is more complicated. None of us is free from error, we’re all wrong sometimes and we all make mistakes. Yes, even me.

This is very often the case with the complaints we receive and investigate. What initially seems like a very simple story of a consumer being abused or mistreated very often turns out to be more complicated.

We heard recently from a guy who complained about his employer in the hospitality business. He said:
“I started working with them on the 18th February 2014 and resigned on the 12th June 2015. For all this time I was being paid a monthly salary of P8500 and when I left work I had accumulated 15 paid leave days. I’m surprised now they have not yet paid me. I send a mail to the HR and the general manager but he is not saying anything which sound helpful.”
Sounds very mean of the employer, doesn’t it? How could they be so heartless?

But it turns out not to be as simple as that. The employer has indeed held on to his leave pay. The reason? He allegedly stole alcohol from the bar and is on the run from the police as a result. He’s now even left the country to get a job overseas. They’ve withheld his leave pay until the investigation is complete and they can calculate the value of the booze he stole.

So it’s not quite as simple as it first seemed.

Another consumer contacted us making a perhaps a much more serious allegation. A store security guard slapped her, so she says.

She’d entered a store carrying a small item that she’d bought in another store a few moments beforehand. When she got to the checkout in the second store she said she alerted the cashier to the item, telling her that she had bought it elsewhere and that she shouldn’t be charged for it. That’s when the trouble started. A security guard was called and she said “he start pulling it from me and I told he will not take my belongings. While we were still arguing he slapped me in a shop full of customers”.

You can imagine how shocked we were. However, our approach in these situations is always to allow the other side to respond. We contacted the store and, to their credit, they took the situation very seriously and promised us an immediate investigation. Within 24 hours they responded with a full report that presented their side of the story. They didn’t deny that the incident had happened but they were able to provide the context within which it had occurred. This is what their report said happened after the argument about the item she had purchased elsewhere.
“The discussion became heated and the customer slapped the security guard in the face, he then got hold of her by her upper arms to try and prevent a further assault . The customer told the guard to let go of her, which he did, she then hit him with the shopping bag which contained her purchases. At this time the security guard retaliated.”
Let’s make one thing clear. Nobody in this situation is defending the actions of the security guard. Security guards should not be slapping customers and the fact that it was a male guard striking a female customer just makes it much worse. His actions constituted an assault. However, if the report is true it does at least explain how the situation happened.

Above all this is a remarkably silly reason to start using force. The item this customer was concerned about was of trivial value and she was happy to pay for everything else in her shopping basket. Does that seem like the actions of a criminal to you?

Either way, I suspect that the truth is somewhere in between the two sides of the story.

What about some good news? What about an example of how you deal with a complaint maturely?

A few days ago a customer complained to us about her experience with The Braai Place. It’s a long story but it involved her delivery meal arriving very late and then apparently some rudeness from the driver.

We contacted the management of The Braai Place and this was their response:
“We are only getting wind of this incident through your correspondence and we investigated immediately. Suffice to say the version of events we are receiving is somewhat different, but in cases such as these, where the sequence of events is in dispute, we rely entirely on the customer’s account of events. As such we have instituted immediate disciplinary proceedings against our driver, whose actions we believe were entirely unacceptable. All our drivers have been instructed to refer such matters to the operations manager and not take matters into their own hands. So with that in mind we are ready and willing to offer an unreserved apology to our valued customer, either directly or through Consumer Watchdog.”
THAT is how you deal with a complaint. See the complaint through the eyes of the customer and, unless they’re a psychopath, respect them enough to believe them.

I’m not here to advertise the Braai Place but I think they deserve our respect for dealing with a complaint with such maturity and self-confidence. Good for them.

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