Friday 21 October 2005

How to complain

Let’s be frank. Most of us aren’t very good at complaining. Either we find it too difficult, too embarrassing or we just don’t know how to phrase it. Finding the right words to express the complaint is often very tricky.

So this week we’re giving some free tips on how to complain.

But first, some essentials of complaining.

The golden rules of complaining

Calm down. So often when we feel we have good reason to complain we’re already angry, upset or feeling abused. It’s very easy when we feel like this to lash out and forget that we need to be reasonable as we do it. A shop owner who is presented with a complaining customer who is shouting and swearing will rightly throw him out. So before you complain, calm down. Go for a walk, have a cup of tea, watch TV for a while. Do anything that reduces your blood pressure and that will enable you to deal with the situation calmly. It’s not going to help your complaint if you have a coronary or a stroke before you get back to the store!

Be reasonable. Don’t forget that mistakes happen, even in the best stores. Give them the chance to sort out your problem in a friendly fashion first of all. Have a quiet word with the manager and see if they don’t sort it out immediately. All decent stores (and they DO exist) will remedy things instantly and without a big fuss.

Seek advice. Talk to someone you trust about what to do. Talk to your parents, your cousin the accountant, someone trusted in your community or even to us, your friendly neighbourhood Consumer Watchdog! Get their opinion on your complaint. Ask them to tell you frankly if you are being reasonable and listen to what they say. Occasionally we all get a little over-excited and lose grip on reality so we need someone to help us to see reason.

Put it in writing. If the store doesn’t fix it after you’ve approached them in a friendly way then start to get tough. Put your complaint in writing and post it, fax it or hand it in. Most importantly though, keep copies of everything you write. Mark everything with the date you sent it or the name of the person you handed it to. If you have problems phrasing the letters then see below.

Keep records. As well as keeping copies of your letters, keep records of the phone calls you make, the visits to the store, the people you deal with and what they say. Also make sure you keep everything you can such as receipts, invoices and their letters back to you. Be at least as organised as they are!

Escalate. If your complaint doesn’t get the result you wanted then go to the next stage up the ladder. Decent, large organisations have a complaints procedure so get a copy of it if you can. BTC, to their great credit, have their complaints procedure displayed openly in their centres and have even published it in the press. This will tell you the sequence of people to hassle to get things sorted. Go to the very top if necessary.

Don’t give up. Stick to your guns. If you’re convinced that your complaint is valid then don’t give up. Take it higher and higher until you get to someone who has the authority to order their juniors to fix it. As Warona Setshwaelo on GabzFM likes to say: “Don’t take a No from someone who isn’t empowered to give you a Yes”. Do NOT be put off by some arrogant junior who think he or she is in charge when there’s someone more important who can overrule them.

Chase them. One of the standard tricks used by unscrupulous stores is silence. They’ll receive your letter and then do absolutely nothing. They won’t acknowledge your complaint and they’ll hope you’ll get bored, go away and forget the whole thing. So don’t stop. Phone them every couple of days and ask them who’s dealing with it. Ask them when you can expect a response. Bother them into submission. Fight silence with noise!

Take control. In your letters give them deadlines. Say things like “I expect a response from you regarding this complaint within 14 days”. Obviously make it reasonable so they have the chance to investigate but don’t make it too easy for them. You are the customer, you deserve a quick response.

Manipulate their emotions. Say things in your letters like “I realise that the conduct of your staff did not meet the normally very high standards at XXX so I am sure your are as disappointed and surprised as I am”. Appeal to their pride.

Get nasty. If all else fails then quote Shakespeare to yourself. “Cry Havoc and let loose the dogs of war!”. Threaten them with legal action, endless bad publicity and a mass boycott of their store. Write to your MP. Remember that politicians love an opportunity to look good by standing up for the little guy against the cruel oppressor.

And if you feel like getting really nasty? Seriously nasty? Unbelievably nasty?

Call us and we’ll set Kate and her team of watchdogs on them!

This week’s stars!
Lawrence at Securicor for being friendly, professional and efficient.
Patrick and the team at Mr Moves for being speedy and really efficient.
Boy from Facilities Management Group for being great fun and going the extra mile.
Lebopo, Ahmed and Cedric and the rest of the new management team at BotswanaPost for showing that organisations here in Botswana can turn around and lead the way!

Friday 14 October 2005

How can we protect ourselves?

Last week’s crazy business plan

Last week we went a little crazy and considered setting up our own loan shark business. We thought we’d begin by operating from our current employer’s office so we would get free tea and biscuits and the occasional promotion for looking busy. We thought we adopt the traditional loan shark approach of charging vicious interest rates, pretending to operate according to the rules set by the Micro Lending Association, taking victim’s ATM cards and PINs, taking as much money from their accounts as we like (because there’s nothing they can do to stop us) and then getting nasty when they can’t or won’t pay us back.

However, after serious reflection we decided that it probably wasn’t such a good idea. Firstly, we feared that sooner or later Government is going to get really nasty towards unscrupulous loan sharks and start passing laws that would make our activities illegal. Much as we’d like to make loads of money we’d prefer not to do so from a prison cell.

Secondly, we had a crisis of morality. Isn’t it, well, morally wrong to rip off the financially unfortunate? Isn’t it also likely that the people we want exploit will one day turn against us and throw us money-lenders out of the temple? Perhaps if we have a conscience we shouldn’t really go into the lending business?

All of this was prompted by the various investigations we’ve undertaken in the past which showed loan sharks operating from beneath trees in car parks and others from their government offices. We found loan sharks who claim to have letters from banks authorising them to take ATM cards from their customers. When we told the banks about this they were furious as it’s a complete lie. No such letters have ever existed and never will.

We’re back on the straight and narrow

Instead we’re going to go back to our original aim. To see how we can protect consumers from the people we almost became.

So what’s the solution? What can consumers do to protect themselves? What protection can we seek from others? Who’s there to look after us?

We think that much of the answer is staring us in the face. Well, the message is in our pocket or purse. Look at a P5 coin. What does it say?


We need to rely on ourselves. Read Dichaba Molobe’s column in this paper. He writes a great deal of good sense about self-reliance and the “entitlement mentality” we sometimes show. As we have said before our parents were right. There comes a time when we have to take responsibility for our own actions, particularly when it comes to money.

Don’t we all know by now that loans from loan sharks are hugely expensive? Even if we aren’t so good at the maths surely we can tell that they’re ripping us off? Surely we know that giving our ATM card and PIN to a total stranger who has a financial hold over us is, well, silly?

The bad news is that we really can’t expect Government, the banks and society in general to take the blame when we get ourselves into desperate financial problems because we’ve taken a wrong turn financially and sold our soul to the financial devil.

Some tips on taking personal responsibility

This is perhaps insultingly obvious but before you do anything you know to be unwise ask for advice!

We all have people around us that we can turn to for advice. There’s usually a family member or friend we can trust who is not only wise but can do maths as well and can look at what we plan to do. If you don’t have someone like that then go to your kid’s school. Take the Maths teacher an apple and ask his or her advice.

Go to your Church. Someone there will help you think through your options. Mention something about moneylenders and temples!

Please, please, please, before you borrow money to pay off other debts, first talk to the people to whom you already owe money. Whether it’s your landlord, your bank or a utility company the chances are that they would much rather do a deal with you than waste loads of money taking legal action against you. Isn’t it better to restructure your existing debts before getting into even more debt?

Talk to your employer. Many employers will advance you some salary that you can then pay off gradually, often without any interest at all. Yes, it might be embarrassing but surely it’s better than going to a loan shark? At least your employer is obliged by law to treat you reasonably and not to rip you off.

What can Government do?

Despite us urging ipelegeng we do think that there is an obligation on Government to set the scene and to set certain limits on what’s acceptable.

We think Government should pass laws that control the micro-lending industry. We think there should be some limits on how micro-lenders can operate. Despite the good work of the Micro Lending Association we think there should be controls that have real force. Real force that’s backed up by the fear of closure, financial penalties and prosecution.

They simply shouldn’t be permitted to lend too much, at outrageous interest rates and without proper registration and inspection. Food inspectors can just walk into a restaurant and inspect the premises for cleanliness, hygiene and good practice. It should be the same with micro-lenders.

The lesson

Ipelegeng. You know it makes sense!

This week’s stars!

  • Titus at Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing for going the extra mile and being helpful
  • The Police for responding to a letter of praise by publishing the letter in the Police magazine as an inspiration to other officers. The officers were Senior Superintendent Gondo from Police HQ and Assistant Superintendent Fane and Sergeant Kerekang both from Borakanelo Police Station in Gaborone.

Friday 7 October 2005

Consumer Watchdog starts up a new business

We’ve been inspired by our recent investigations and the on-going activities of the informal lending sector to consider a new business venture. Rather than compete we’re going to join the competition. We’re going to become loan sharks.

We’ll get cheap office space

Firstly we’re going to operate from our existing employer’s office. After all they very generously give us an office so why shouldn’t we use it? That way we won’t have to pay any heating, water or phone bills, we’ll get occasional cups of tea and plates of biscuits at the meetings we can’t avoid and we’ll have people to chat to when business is quiet.

We’ll also look like we’re really busy with all the visitors we’ll get. The boss may even think we’re performing really well. We might even get promoted!

We’ll charge vicious interest rates

First rule of the business - we’ll charge exorbitant interest rates. Of course we know that our victims, sorry clients, will be able to get a loan from their bank at a much lower interest rate and without having to make enormous sacrifices, but well, we don’t care. We’ll charge a huge amount more than them but we’ll hide it by giving you ridiculous rewards like P50 if you bring along another victim! If you pay on time we’ll very generously splash out P20 and give you a couple of cans of a sugar-laden, tooth-rotting, diabetes-inducing, fizzy drink we got cheap somewhere.

We’ll also trick you by relying on the fact that you weren’t so good at maths at school. We’ll quote monthly interest rates instead of the annual rates banks quote. We’ll somehow forget to mention the penalties we’ll impose on you if you default on a repayment. We’ll not even mention the issue of compounded interest! Why would we want to bother you will all those boring facts? You might change your mind and not borrow anything from us!

We’ll pretend to be legitimate

We’ll suggest (but never actually prove) that we’re members of the Micro Lenders Association and that consequently we’re governed by their rules and that as a result we have to behave reasonably. Obviously we’ll probably never join them. Why would we want to?

Of course if for some reason we DO have to join them we’ll just break the rules flagrantly. We’ll charge more than the 30% per month limit they impose, we’ll just not tell them. Yes, we’ll pretend to abide by the rules, such as registering every customer with Compuscan, their computerised register of customers that helps to prevent people borrowing too much. But why would we really want to? That would only stop us from lending money to people who can struggle to pay us back all that money and that lovely interest! Why don’t we just not register them and continue to lend? What’s the worst that might happen?

“Give us your ATM card”

Of course we’ll demand that you give us your ATM card and give us your PIN before we actually give you any money. You won’t need it as much as we will. After all, how can we guarantee we’ll get our money from you? Also, if we feel like taking a little more from you because we’re either having a bad month or, well, we just feel like it, we’ll be able to!

If by any chance you happen to find out that we’ve taken a little too much what will you be able to do about it? Complain to your bank? They’ll just tell you that you shouldn’t have given away your ATM card and PIN. They’ll say it’s all your fault and they’re not in any way responsible. Guess what? They’ll be right!

And if you hear that giving your ATM card to a loan shark like us is a bad idea of course we’ll tell about the letter of authorisation we have from various banks that allows us to do so with their blessing. We won’t actually show you the letter though. That’s because it doesn’t exist. It never did. It never will do. But it sounds good doesn’t it?

Give us your bank statements and Omang as well

We’ll also demand to see copies of your bank statements before we give you’re the money. Why? Well, obviously so we can see how much you earn and therefore can get an idea how much we can persuade you to borrow. Also so we have a good idea how much money is normally in your account and how much we can take if we have one of those bad months!

Oh yes we’ll also demand to see your Omang number and get details of your address and personal details. That way we can pretend to be you and call the credit agencies to check up on your status every now and then. We know how easy that is!

We’ll make you ours for life!

So you find it difficult to make the repayments because we charge all that interest? By mid-month you can’t afford what you owe us? Borrow some more! We’ll happily lend you another few hundred to tide you over until pay day. So that will only make you more dependent upon us?

Why on earth should we care?????

And if you refuse to pay?

So you get to the point that you simply can’t or won’t pay us back what you owe us? Excellent! We’ll just come round and borrow your sofa, your car, your father’s car. Permanently.

Oh and we’ll then punish the next guy who borrows from us with an even higher interest rate to get our money back. We don’t really care who pays us so long as we get the money.

Oh and if you threaten to report us to the Police, the City Council, Consumer Affairs or your lawyers?

We’ll break your fingers!

OK. We’re sorry. We don’t mean it. We’re joking. Honestly. Promise!

But can’t you just hear this going through the heads of some of the loan sharks around the country? Can’t you see why there are so many of them? Can’t you see why we need protection from this sort of abuse? Loan sharks like wild dogs prey on the weakest, the most desperate and those in distress.

What’s the solution?

Read next week’s article for some ideas!