Saturday, 23 April 2016

Be reasonable

Consumers need to be reasonable.

My dictionary defines “reasonable” as meaning “having sound judgment” and being “fair and sensible”. Unfortunately, not all consumers always behave that way.

Yes, before I complain about unreasonable consumers, of course I know that some stores, some suppliers, some service providers are unreasonable too but today I’m interested in bad customers.

A few years ago we were approached by a friend who ran a restaurant. He asked for advice about an awkward situation he’d had.

A customer arrived at his restaurant with a friend one weekend morning and they ordered coffee and cake. Shortly afterwards she called the owner over and told him that she didn’t like the taste of the cake. Ignoring the fact that she had eaten almost all of it before deciding it wasn’t to her taste he apologized profusely and told her she didn’t have to pay for it. In fact, she didn’t have to pay for her coffee either. She seemed happy and went away.

The following weekend she was back and guess what, exactly the same thing happened again. Having consumed almost all of a different cake she made exactly the same complaint. Although he was beginning to get a little angry he did the same thing again, apologized and reduced her bill to say sorry. She went away happy again.

The next weekend the same thing happened yet again but this time he was more assertive. His patience had worn thin and he politely told her that as his cakes clearly weren’t to her taste maybe she should think of eating elsewhere in future. For the third and final time he cancelled her bill and wished her farewell.

She came back the following weekend. This time he refused to serve her. He reminded her of the previous occasions when she had complained and he’d suggested she should select a different restaurant in future. She was stunned. Only when he made it clear to her that she wasn’t going to be served at his restaurant again did she understand. She’d been banned. Eventually she left, muttering and promising to wreak vengeance upon the restaurant and its owner for the rudeness she’d experienced.

She was a very good example of an utterly unreasonable customer. The restaurant owner was the reasonable one in this situation. She was costing him money and taking up a table that could have been used by a customer who was more reasonable.

We heard more recently from a consumer who was threatening to take legal action against his bank. Some months before he had taken out funeral and life policies with an insurance company and had completed forms with the bank to pay the premiums every month.

But something went wrong. For some unknown reason the bank failed to set up the monthly payment and the insurance company didn’t get their money so after a few months they cancelled the policy. That’s when the customer got angry.

Clearly the bank screwed up when they failed to make the payments they were meant to make. Also the insurance company were at fault. They seem not to have contacted the customer to remind him to make the necessary payments. However, both organisations have since apologized to the customer.

But that’s not enough for this customer. He wants to take action against them in the courts for P150,000 in damages.

But what loss has he suffered? Yes, the bank and the insurance company irritated him and I think I would be irritated in his position but I still don’t understand why he wants money from them. During the period he thought that he and his family were covered by the policies nobody died and no claims were made. What’s more, he didn’t even spend the money. The premiums he would have spent, he didn’t spend.

So you have to ask, what loss has he suffered? You could even argue that, admittedly through good fortune because he never made a claim, he saved money. And why hadn’t he noticed that the money wasn’t being deducted from his account every month?

I don’t think this guy is being reasonable. All he’s doing is spending quite a lot of money on attorney’s fees. Fees he won’t see again after the court rejects his case as having no value. Which they will.

We’re also frequently asked by readers why they can’t get their money back when something they bought doesn’t work. Whether it’s a computer, a cellphone or a fridge, when it stops working they take it back to the store for a refund and then get cross when the store says it’ll try to repair it first. Aren’t they entitled to a refund, they ask us?

No, they’re not. Not yet. The general rule is that when something you buy doesn’t work you are entitled to one of the three Rs: a refund, repair or replacement but critically it’s up to the store to decide which of these they offer you. They’re entitled to try and repair the device first. It’s only after the repair doesn’t work they you’re entitled before they offer you one of the other two Rs. That’s the reasonable thing to expect.

Here’s another reason why being reasonable is useful.

If you behave reasonably, the people you deal with are more likely to be reasonable too. If you go into a store and greet the serving staff with a smile, they’re more likely to smile at you. If you treat them with respect, they’re likely to do likewise. Yes, we all know that they’re paid to do it and you’re the customer but isn’t life better when everyone is nice to each other? This had even more effect when the situation is difficult or tense. I guarantee that you stand a better chance of getting that refund, another portion of cake or compensation for your losses if you’re the pleasant one in the conversation.

So be reasonable. Maybe even be nice. Your world will be a better place if you do so.

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