Saturday, 22 December 2012

Justice delayed

There’s a saying in the legal world: “Justice delayed is justice denied”. The idea behind it is that the execution of justice should be done as swiftly as decently possible. But how swiftly is that?

Unlike a depressingly significant proportion of our community, I think justice shouldn’t be done too swiftly. Instead it should be done at a measured, perhaps even sedate pace. It certainly shouldn’t be done by a rampaging mob, thirsty for blood. Even when the guilt of someone seems beyond doubt, when pictures of an alleged murdering rapist, standing in a pool of blood, are published on Facebook, the legal process must be followed. Mob justice is no form of justice at all. One thing that separates us from other animals is that we restrain ourselves and allow the authorities to act on our behalf.

But how fast should justice proceed? There obviously isn’t a standard answer. Unlike science, which relies on rules, theories and scientific “laws”, our judicial system welcomes anecdotal evidence. Every case before the courts must be treated differently, because every case is different. Even the most serious crimes vary. Not every murder is the same, nor every rape, assault, theft or even speeding. The details vary and therefore the penalties vary. Of course some crimes, like murder and rape, rightly attract the most severe punishments and minor crimes are treated more leniently but every case is slightly different from the others.

It’s not just in the legal world where justice should be swiftly executed. Even in customer service, speed can be critical.

A few weeks ago we heard from a reader who had suffered, and who continues to suffer, from delayed justice.

This reader is a customer of Bank A, a major bank in Botswana. For whatever reason he wasn’t near an ATM belonging to Bank A so was forced to use an ATM belonging to Bank B. So far, so good. Until he tried to withdraw some money. That’s when Bank B’s ATM decided to go wrong and not actually give him his money despite sending a signal to Bank A that the money had been withdrawn. His money had disappeared.

Any reader who works in a bank will confirm that this happens occasionally. Not often, but it does still happen and the banks have a procedure to follow in these cases. They need to check their records that show whether he did really stick his card into the slot and how much money he asked for and then, most importantly, whether the amount he requested appears still to be in the machine. Once they total up all the withdrawals for the day, they should be able to tell whether his disputed amount is still there or not. They can even check the CCTV recording to confirm whether any cash was dispensed.

So it SHOULD have been fixed fairly quickly, don’t you think, particularly when he complained to his bank that the money he tried to withdraw, P2,000, was his month’s salary and he needed to pay his rent that day? You’d think they would have acted swiftly? Even though it wasn’t actually Bank A’s fault, you’d think they would show some care for their customer?

No, not even a hint. Since this disaster, which occurred over three weeks ago, he’s had virtually no help from his bank. When we got involved they started to make the right noises but that hasn’t changed his situation. He still doesn’t have last month’s wages. And the rent he owed his landlord? He couldn’t pay it and his landlord evicted him. He’s now poor and homeless, all because his bank couldn’t get their act together. The solution would have been simple. Once they’d checked with Bank B that he wasn’t lying, and that shouldn’t have taken too long, they could have given him an emergency overdraft. Bank B could have paid the costs. Maybe even the reader would have been prepared to pay the cost himself given how desperate he was?

But none of that is the key issue. Bank A’s customer has been financially ruined and if they really cared about him the bank would have done something to help him. But they didn’t.

Let’s be brutally frank, it’s probably because he wasn’t a “high value” customer. The bank didn’t see him as a prestige customer, someone worth fussing over. The sad thing is that the customers who get the worst service in these situations are the ones who can least afford to get treated so badly. The sort of customer who can survive for a few weeks without P2,000 is likely to be treated like royalty when problems occur. The irony for the bank is that almost all of their high-value customers were once not high-value customers. The politicians, CEOs and business leaders of today were once the sort of customers who needed their wages to pay their rent that month. The reader they’ve just abused might one day be the sort of customer they need to suck up to. And how is he likely to react when Bank A tries sucking up to him?

Organisations like banks, but also insurance companies, supermarkets, furniture stores, power and water suppliers often forget that for most of us, the ordinary customers whose money is important, can’t afford to hang around and wait for a solution. We need it now or at least very soon and if the supplier delays us we suffer. Some of us might even end up homeless as a result.

I’m a big believer in companies having strict procedures but an organisation that cared for it’s customers would have the right procedures for fixing problems but would also recognise that sometimes those procedures have to be fast-tracked. Maybe the rules even have to be bent, not broken, just bent a little to help a customer avoid ending up homeless.

Like justice, service delayed is service denied.

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