Consumers harness power of social media

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Johannesburg - You teach people how to treat you, so the saying goes. The same goes for companies and their customers.

You get the service you’re prepared to put up with, in most cases.

And many companies are teaching their customers how to complain by varying their responses according to the “channel” the customer chooses as a means to complain.

Generally, the more public the complaint, the quicker and more “customer friendly” the response.

Email a company’s “customer care” division and you could wait days for a response. Call their care line – often an outsourced operation – and you’ll be asked for your details and may get a written response, via snail mail, about two weeks later.

But tweet about your gripe, using the company’s Twitter user name, and you’ll probably get a response within the hour, if not minutes.

It seems the corporates are putting their ace respondents on social media.

Take Capetonian Lyle Plaatjes’s experience.

“I purchased a Sony PS3 from Makro in Ottery last August, so it is still within the six-month warranty period.

“I took it in to them because it stopped turning on. They insisted that it is their policy to assess and repair it.

“I told them that I have the choice to have it repaired, replaced or refunded.”

When he got home, he researched the Consumer Protection Act, confirming that the act overruled all internal returns policies for the first six months after purchase.

Makro SA’s “service recovery and training supervisor” Mmule Moropa responded, with an email that was a little confusing.

“We will refund or replace an item that fails in the first 14 days of purchase. If it fails after the first 14 days – but still in the warranty period – the supplier will assess the item and action a repair or replace the item.

“The main change with the CPA is that if there is a failure in the first six months, our suppliers have the right to inspect the item for the cause of the failure, and assuming that it is a manufacture fault, you as the consumer have the right to then choose a refund, replace or repair.”

Interestingly, in the first paragraph, Moropa left out the fact that the CPA also entitles the consumer to be refunded for a defective item within six months of purchase.

The crux of Makro’s policy is that if an item fails within two weeks, Makro will refund or replace it without sending it off for assessment first.

If it fails after two weeks but within six months, it will be sent off for assessment first.

But suppliers may not unilaterally repair a faulty item during that so-called assessment period, if the consumer has indicated that they want a replacement or refund instead.

Plaatjes says store staff had given him the impression that his PS3 had to be sent off for “assessment and repair”.

I was still compiling my email to Makro’s head office about the case when Plaatjes got back to me with an update: “I got a phone call from Makro a few minutes ago, assuring me that they will have a new PS3 ready for me to pick up early next week.”

In addition to tweeting me, Plaatjes had posted his gripe on Makro SA’s Facebook page.

“The power of social media and the pressure it puts on companies is quite amazing,” Plaatjes said.

I put it to Makro that consumer responses across the various interaction channels should be consistent.

Responding, Sivanasen Pillay said nothing of the company’s various response channels. He did say that the apparent contradiction in Moropa’s response was “definitely a typing error”.

He said the Ottery store staff had explained the store’s CPA compliant policy, but that Plaatjes didn’t want his PS3 to be sent for assessment; he had insisted on immediate replacement.

The part was being assessed, he said, “and Mr Plaatjes was contacted and told that should it be found to be defective, it would be replaced with a new product”.

“The customer still has the choice of a replacement, refund or repair.”

Good to know.

And customers are also spoilt for choice these days when it comes to where and how to complain.

I’d say if a company has established itself on social media, go that route first.

The person who responds will no doubt want to take you and your gripe “off line” and on to e-mail, but at least you’d have their attention.

Complaints documented with all the relevant detail and devoid of any form of abuse or exaggeration are most assured of a swift resolution. - The Star

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