Friday 29 July 2016

Anarchy in the marketplace

I want anarchy in stores.

In fact, I want anarchy every time and in every place that consumers spend their money. I want to overthrow the existing powers and let consumers seize power.

On numerous occasions we’ve either been told ourselves or we’ve heard from consumers that they’ve been told how to behave by a service provider. I don’t mean about illegal, indecent or immoral conduct and I certainly don’t mean anything criminal. I’m not endorsing threats or rudeness. In fact, I’m entirely behind any manager who defends and protects their staff. While we can complain as much as we like we must remain polite. That’s part of our nature as a country. We’re a courteous people.

However badly you feel, I promise you that if you express your complaint in a calm, measured, reasonable manner your chance of getting a solution will be much, much better than if you go in furious. The reasonable complainant will probably even be thanked for his or her complaint. The shouting, rude ones will get the same treatment a friend who is a Managing Director gave to the customer who stormed into her office shouting and swearing, having already abused her receptionist and another customer. “Your contract with us is terminated. That gap in the wall over there is the door. Use it now.”

My problem is when companies tell their customers, the one who keep them in business, how they can voice their opinions. The ones who dictate how consumers are permitted to complain.

My message is simple. While dictating how your customers were permitted to complain might have worked in 1916, 1966, or even in 2006, it doesn’t work in 2016. Complaints procedures have gone. Like carbon paper, floppy disks and smallpox, complaints procedures have been relegated to the past.

I think it’s surprising that in 2016 you still see multiple-stage complaints policies being published. Just a few days ago a member of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group posted the complaints procedure from a hospital in the public service. It has nine steps. The first person to receive your complaint should apparently be the Supervisor in Charge. If that doesn’t resolve your problem you then escalate your complaint to the PR Officer, the Hospital Manager, the Hospital Superintendent, the Ministry HQ toll-free number, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, the Minister and finally to the Office of the President.

My view is that any complaints procedure with nine steps has six steps too many. Worse still, the procedure started with this: “In case customers are not happy with service provided at any of the hospital department/Unit, they have to follow the procedure below”.

“Have to”? We are obliged to follow this procedure? Says who? Show me the law that says that and maybe I’ll agree to it. Or maybe not.

Until there is a law that says that any other provider of products or services, including a hospital, is entitled to tell you and me how we can express our opinions about them, we are free to complain exactly as we see fit. If you do feel the need for some structure then you can adopt the Official Consumer Watchdog Three Step Consumer Complaints Procedure.

Step 1. Complain to the individual who offended you. Whether it was the nurse who ignored your suffering, the rude waiter or the vanishing bank teller, that person is the person to whom you should first complain. If they refuse to accept your complaint or don’t show suitable humility and contrition, go to Step 2.

Step 2. Complain to the most senior person in the building. Their title will be something like “Branch Manager”, “Hospital Manager” or “Restaurant Manager”. Don’t bother with supervisors, administrators or team leaders, only the most senior person will do. If they don’t fix the problem, go to Step 3.

Step 3. Complain to the most senior person in the entire organization. Their job title will be something like “Managing Director”, “Chief Executive Officer” or “Minister”. In special cases you might accept people with titles like “Country Manager” or “Regional Manager” but it must be someone who has the capacity to frighten the person who originally offended you.

I’m not blaming the hospital for having complaints procedure that is much, much longer than necessary but I do think they need to get with it. Firstly, they shouldn’t be telling their patients, the taxpayers that fund the public service, how, when and where they should express their complaints. They certainly shouldn’t be telling them that they “have to” follow their procedure. Secondly, that procedure is absurd. It could take years to exhaust the nine steps and do we really even need to involve the President’s office? Isn’t something simpler required?

Service providers, whether they’re hospitals, banks or network providers also need to remember that it’s 2016. Whether they like it or not, and in most cases it’s the latter, social media has taken over. The age of writing and faxing letters of complaint has long gone. We are firmly in the electronic age, in fact the social media age. If your complaints procedures don’t include email, Facebook and Twitter then your competitors’ certainly will and they’ll be seen as the company that listens and is prepared to give customers some control over their own lives.

They also need to understand that despite what they think, they’re not in charge. The party with the power in the relationship is the consumer, not the supplier. The party who can choose to go elsewhere is the consumer. The party who can make or break a company is the consumer, not the supplier.

So let’s have some anarchy when we deal with the companies that sell us things. Let’s just ignore any attempts that are made to control us. Let’s be anarchists.

No comments: