Saturday, 22 June 2013

Unreasonable customers

You’ll have heard someone say that “the customer is King” but don’t believe them. It’s not true.

The customer is just another guy like you and me. He or she weren’t born into royalty, they didn’t do a Napoleon and crown themselves, they didn’t stage a revolution and put themselves in charge. It’s not just kings and queens that deserve decent service. Customers are just ordinary people, no more special than anyone else and ordinary people deserve decent service as well.

Just like everyone else the customer isn’t perfect. Sometimes he’s foolish. Other times he’s naïve, gullible or even ignorant. There are customers who are just unreasonable. Worst of all there are customer who are thieves.

Let’s start with one that can politely be described as a fool.

The BBC reported on a call that was made to a Police emergency number in the UK by a man who wanted to make a complaint that a service provider had failed to honour her obligations under the UK’s Sale of Goods Act. More specifically, the prostitute he had hired was not as attractive as she had claimed over the phone.

I suppose you could argue that this was a breach of promise but I can’t imagine any court being able to judge this, presumably because they’d be laughing too hard.

The Police have written the man a formal letter urging him to stop wasting their time. Nevertheless one of the Police officers involved said:
“It was unbelievable - he genuinely believed he had done nothing wrong and that the woman should have been investigated by police for misrepresentation. I told him that she'd not committed any offences and that it was his actions, in soliciting for sex, that were in fact illegal.”
Not all consumers are that foolish but a few are.

Others are maybe just uninformed, often because they’re buying something for the first time. Buying things is not always the same. Buying a loaf of bread is a different experience to buying a cellphone. Some purchases are incredibly complex. Have you ever bought a house for instance?

We heard from a reader recently who asked if it’s “lawful to include a clause in a rental agreement that the house you are renting has to be repainted at your expenses at the end of your lease”?

Errr, yes! That’s how all leases I’ve ever seen work. It’s just normal. However this person can be forgiven for this because presumably it’s the first time she’s ever signed a lease agreement.

We had another complaint about cars. A reader bought a car, a 4x4, and is now disappointed that the vehicle requires some attention, having been taken a bit too far off-road. The problem is that not all 4x4s are the same. Some are “serious” off-roaders that can traverse the Makgakgadi Pans, go up hills and drive through rivers, others are more focussed on traversing the car park at Pick N Pay and taking the kids to school. Both are equally valid, but having a 4x4 drivetrain doesn’t make a car a serious off-roader.

He’s now in a major dispute with the dealer who sold him the car claiming that his Not Really An Offroad 4x4 isn’t what he thought it would be. He has a point, but so do the dealership. His car IS a 4x4 but it’s not really designed to be in challenging off-road conditions.

He should have asked some extra questions before buying the car. The dealership should probably have checked what exactly he wanted to do with the car as well.

Both of these cases can be explained just by naivete or a lack of experience. Others are not so forgivable.

I know of two cases where owners of restaurants have been forced to ban customers from ever setting foot inside their establishments again. One was a simple case of violence. Customers that start fighting in the restaurant deserve to be banned, I don’t think any of us would object to that. The other case was more complicated, a patron who would visit, place an order, eat almost all of it and then complain that it wasn’t to her liking and suggest she shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. The restaurant owner gave in the first time, assuming something really had gone wrong. He also gave in the second time, giving her the benefit of the doubt. After the third time he asked us for our advice. “Ban her” we said, reminding him that a restaurant is private property, just like your living room is private property. The next time she visited he very politely suggested that as his food clearly wasn’t to her liking, she should consider visiting other restaurants and no orders would be taken from her at his. She went away and wasn’t seen again.

Some consumers are just unreasonable.

I heard from a builder who was hired to finish a pool that another builder had started to construct. He finished the pool after being paid a 50% deposit but when the owner filled it with water it leaked badly so he refused to pay the balance. This led the second builder to become a detective and he soon discovered that the first builder have done a third-rate job, presumably leading to him being fired. He quickly discovered that “when they built the concrete structure they initially dug a hole which was too deep for the pool and to rectify that they had back filled the hole with rubble and paper before building the concrete structure.”

Penalizing the second builder for the mistakes of the first is clearly unreasonable and the owner’s going to end up in court if he’s not careful. Frankly it’s where he deserves to be.

Perhaps we consumers should remember that it doesn’t all work one way. Just as we expect suppliers to be reasonable, so should we.

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