Saturday, 21 May 2016

Your rights

By now most of you will know at least some of your consumer rights. You’ll know that goods and services must be “of merchantable quality”, meaning that they are “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased”. You’ll know that suppliers must deliver services “with reasonable care and skill”. You’ll know that second-hand, deteriorated or reconditioned goods can’t be sold as new. You’ll know about all of these things and more.

But what about other rights, ones that aren’t quite as clear-cut?

Someone asked in our Facebook group recently “Is it allowed for consumers to be searched by shops? Can someone explain that to me coz the security said its written at the door that they will search bags, parcels when one leaves the shop”.

The answer is simple. Yes, of course stores can search you. They can search your bags. They can take your money and keep it for themselves. They can drive your car. They can move into your house and eat your food. They can even have sex with your partner.

If you permit them to. And if your partner likes the look of them.

But if you don’t want them to, they have absolutely no right to search you or do any of those other things. Only a police officer can search you or your belongings against your will. That’s what the law says.

In May 2011 a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store a security guard from Scorpion Security blocked her way and grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. Instead she took Scorpion Security to court.

And she won.

When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence in defence of his guard’s actions. He explained that he saw their job as looking after their client’s goods but then went on to embarrass himself in front of the judge by having no idea what powers his guards had. In his ruling, the judge said that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made.” Apparently he’d told the judge “that security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.”


In his judgment the judge said that: “I find that indeed the Defendants searched the Plantiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] The Plaintiff has proved her case on a balance of probabilities and I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.”

It gets better. Considering that she had suffered “humiliation, embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society” the judge awarded her P60,000 in compensation.

That security guard’s actions cost Scorpion a lot of money.

So what about a sign on the wall that says the store can search you? Does that mean they can?

Well consider this. If there was a sign that said the store was entitled to shoot you in the head if they don’t like the look of you, would that be legal? Of course not. A sign doesn’t make laws, Parliament does and judges enforce them.

However, stores do have some rights. Like the right to throw you out. I’ve heard from a number of organizations recently who have asked what they can do with customers they no longer want. One contacted us asking whether she could cancel the booking made by customers who had failed to pay the full fee for the services she offered and had then abused her publicly on Facebook. I said that of course she could. They were behaving so badly that the relationship between both parties had collapsed irretrievably. Fire that customer!

We’ve heard many times from restaurant managers who’ve had customers who arrive, order and complain, demanding not to be charged for the food and drinks they ordered. The following week they do exactly the same thing. And again the next week. The first and second time the manager gave them the benefit of the doubt but eventually lost patience and asked us for advice. Ban them, we said. You’re better off without them and your other customers, the ones who aren’t abusing you, will thank you for it.

I also have huge respect for managers who stick up for their staff. The MD of a company told me recently that she was going to cancel all contracts with one particular customer who repeatedly verbally abused her staff. She valued the contentment of her staff more than she valued one abusive customer. I respect that greatly.

Another restaurant manager contacted us just a few weeks ago saying that a loud and drunken customer had abused his staff and demanded special treatment (and no doubt free drinks), claiming that he worked for a part of Government that could investigate his business. This restaurant manager was made of strong stuff. He called the local Police who advised him that he should ban the customer and he should call them if he made a fuss. They promised to take him away in handcuffs if he didn’t cooperate.

Customer service is a two-way street. Yes, the supplier owes perhaps a little extra to the customer but they are within their moral rights to demand that customers behave themselves properly.

The default position is clearly that customers should be treated with respect by the people serving them but that respect is finite and it can be withdrawn the moment the customer proves to be an ass.

No comments: