Thursday is World Consumer Rights Day, and it’s a particularly significant one for South Africa this year, being the first year we’re marking it with our Consumer Protection Act in force.
So, on paper, we’ve got a lot more protection, and a lot more rights as consumers than we did this time last year.
Ensuring that those rights are respected, and that companies treat us the way they should, though, remains a challenge.
So what do we do if we get a raw deal?
We can contact the company directly to state our case, and if they give us the brush-off, we can approach an ombudsman’s office, in the case of the motoring and financial services industries, or our local consumer affairs office, or the National Consumer Commission, HelloPeter, or the media.
Or you can just put it out there on social media.
But don’t make the mistake of using Twitter or SMS language when you’re writing what is essentially a formal complaint or plea for help.
You may be using the same device to communicate – your smartphone – but what’s appropriate in a tweet or an SMS to your mate, is highly inappropriate (and a complete turn-off) if you’re wanting help from a particular source.
Proper spelling, punctuation and spacing aren’t outdated formalities which serve no real purpose in today’s world.
They make it easy for the recipient to read and make sense of what you’re trying to say. And if you take time to present your case well, you radically improve your chances of being taken seriously, and getting what you want.
Simple as that.
When it comes to my own inbox – and I’m pretty sure those of other consumer journalists, too – here’s how you increase your chances of having your case taken up:
Summarise your issue in the subject line, using the company name, rather than writing “help”, “consumer complaint” or “urgent”.
Don’t copy your plea for help to a host of other journalists and media organisations.
Take pride in presentation. You may be e-mailing from your BlackBerry, but please use the space bar and punctuation, otherwise what I see when I open your e-mail is something like the following – this is an extract from a genuine e-mail I received, one of many every day:
“Hi,i av a major pr0blem..i dnt even n0 hw 2 explain u my pr0blem,bt lets jus say, everytime i put airtime on my phne, it g0es away nd i receivd a sms afta dat sayen.. We receivd payment in ful..da p0int is, i neva did subscribe 2 any website...”
In order to take up such a case with the relevant company via e-mail, I first have to spend time re-writing that in proper sentences, before adding my comments and questions.
I may well choose to put that time and effort into taking up another case instead.
Avoid writing your entire e-mail in capital letters – this is perceived as shouting, and naturally it doesn’t endear you to the recipient.
Supply all the relevant detail, enabling me to take up your case.
A timeline, contract or reference numbers, contact details of the company in question, and your full name and contact details.
Summarise the case for me in a few paragraphs.
Please don’t simply copy me in on your e-mail to the company you have a gripe with and don’t send me a host of massive attachments.
When it comes to seizing your consumer rights, knowing how to go about presenting your case is key.
Happy Consumer Rights Day!