Friday, 15 January 2016

New rules for 2016

I posted a question in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group a few days ago asking for suggestions for new customer service rules for 2016. They all were to begin with "In 2016 consumers must expect..." and be no more than 20 words in length.

Within six hours we had over fifty suggestions.

I started the discussion with one of my favourites, not actually a new idea but one that I think is becoming more and more important for certain businesses.

“In 2016 customers must expect free, reasonably fast, uncapped WiFi in coffee shops and hotels.”

Whether they like it or not, the nature of coffee shops and hotels has changed over the last few years. Yes, they remain places for people to drink coffee and stay overnight but they are increasingly becoming the preferred location for business meetings. I know coffee shops are for me. I can invite customers and colleagues to my remarkably comfortable and welcoming office (yes, it really is) but sometimes it’s nice to have the discussion somewhere different and convenient. It’s also nice just to go out with the laptop occasionally to write emails and reports somewhere the phone isn’t always ringing and colleagues aren’t bothering you with trivia.

In 2016, WiFi for these people is an essential tool. Yes, some of them will be on Facebook playing silly games but a lot of them will be picking up and sending emails, collaborating online and running their businesses. It’s remarkable that there are still some coffee shops who either have no WiFi or have ridiculous limits on capacity and speed. It’s 2016.

Another technological demand was “In 2016 the phrase ‘system is down’ should be banned especially in most government departments.”

I agree. It’s 2016 and it’s about time that everyone knew that there is no such thing as a computer error, there are only human errors. The fact that a business system is not available means, without exception, that somewhere along the line a human being has screwed up. In 2016 we have a right to expect that companies invest in uninterruptible power supplies for their expensive servers but also for the computers in remote offices and even for the networks that connect them. We have a right not to be bothered with feeble excuses about systems or networks being down. Even in Botswana, with our climatic and geographical challenges, it doesn’t matter whether it a bank, an insurance company or the public services, we have a right to expect the systems to be up rather than down.

Another member of the group suggested that “In 2016 consumers must expect clean functioning wcs with tissue paper and sanitary bins” and I agree with that as well. Of course we all understand that our nation is facing a terrible water shortage but that’s what storage tanks are for. That’s why shopping malls and stores should be investing in large tanks and suitable plumbing to keep the bathrooms operating. If it means they need to invest in grey water systems for the toilets and keep reserves of potable water for drinking and washing then so be it. We know they’ll just increase rents to cover it but you know what? We’re prepared to pay an extra thebe on everything we buy if it means we can use your toilet when we’re visiting your shopping center.

Others raised an issue that really should be a national embarrassment: the way we treat the disabled. One demanded that there must be “clear provision of special service to the elderly and individuals with disabilities” and another commented that “parking designated to people with disabilities should be used as intended and if not so the authorities must take action”. How come we allow the shameful abuse of disabled parking bays by the obviously able-bodied? Why is it that we all often see perfectly capable people getting out of their flashy vehicles that they just parked in the disabled bays? Why do we permit that? Yes, we all know that they’ve just bribed the security guard but how do we as a fair-minded society accept that? It’s a constant surprise to me that more of these vehicles are vandalized by outraged (and obviously criminal) passers by.

One of the most important suggestions was another old one. “In 2016 consumers must expect supermarkets to adopt a code that says that, the price at the shelf is what the consumer pays.”

It’s not just supermarkets, it’s all stores. The price displayed on the shelf must be the price you pay at the checkout. No excuses. It even goes for Rand prices. But we don’t need a “code” when we have one already. Section 13 (1) (e) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids "the advertisement or representation of a commodity or service [...] with the intent not to dispose of the commodity or service as advertised or represented". If it’s advertised for sale for a price expressed in Rand, then we’re entitled to pay that. What’s more, remember that the Ministry of Trade and Industry said just before Christmas that they’d noticed that “some businesses, especially chain-stores, are displaying their merchandise in other currencies especially the Rand, instead of Pula”. They went on to say that:
“This is (an) unfair trade practice whereby the Pula/ Rand exchange rate differential is not passed onto the consumer. Therefore businesses that are practicing this are advised to stop forthwith and failure to do so may result in their trade licenses being reviewed, which may lead to their suspension or cancellation” and advised the public “not to accept paying for merchandise that is priced in the Rand or any foreign currency other than the Pula.”
So already things in 2016 are a little different. Let’s hope we can change some of the others as well.

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