Pretoria - I don’t condone abusive behaviour by consumers and I’ve said as much in my columns more than once. No call centre operator or any employee should have to tolerate written or verbal abuse, and should politely disengage, saying they would be happy to help when the customer is willing to engage appropriately.
But in many cases, consumers with valid complaints are branded “abusive” by companies as a means of shifting blame, and diverting attention from the company’s failure to deliver. So what constitutes “abuse” in such cases?
Usually the use of a swear word; one of the milder ones, such as “bloody” or “bulls**t”.
Philippa Davis, who owns a business on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast and pays a Telkom bill of R30 000 a month, used the word “hell” during a phone call with a Telkom employee.
Having gone to great lengths to make arrangements months in advance for Telkom to move her office lines on the day of her office move, to minimise disruption to her 45 staff members and 40 000 clients, she got a surprise call from a “Mpho” a week before the planned move.
Mpho casually informed her that the transfer of the Telkom lines was not booked for the end of the month, but that very day. She offered no apology.
In a recording of the short call, an incredulous Davis can be heard responding: “That is ridiculous! If you guys can’t get your game together, what the hell are we meant to do as a business? Pack up the entire office today?”
At that, Mpho told her not to “scream” at her, and to rather speak to her boss.
“You don’t scream at me, really, you are not going to scream at me, I will never stand for that. I was just confirming with you. Don’t ever scream to me again,” and with that, she put down the phone.
Davis was speaking loudly, clearly angry, but she did not swear, threaten or make personal remarks.
Mpho knew before she made that call that Davis had booked the move for a week later. She was phoning to tell her that that wasn’t possible, and that actually, the move was going to happen that very day.
As I told Telkom spokesperson Pynee Chetty, if she didn’t realise this would come as a huge shock to the business owner and that she was unlikely to respond by saying: “Oh, what lovely news, thanks so much for phoning,” she should have.
It seems to me that she anticipated an angry response, and when she got it, she made Davis’s “screaming” the issue, and put the phone down on her, without addressing the fact that the client had been on the receiving end of shoddy, insensitive service from Telkom.
Mpho never called her back, but Davis later resolved the matter with local Telkom technicians and the transfer of the lines went ahead on the planned date.
Responding, Chetty said he was unable to open the call recording file which I sent him, but he apologised on behalf of Telkom anyway.
“The incident as described by our customer indicates a possible contravention of company policy and, as such, an internal investigation is under way. Pending the outcome of the investigation, the appropriate action will be taken to correct and prevent further misconduct in accordance with Telkom’s HR policies.”
In a case I am about to take up, the complainant supplied a magazine photograph of a dress to a dressmaking company, which took her measurements and asked for payment upfront, but delivered a dress which was apparently badly sewn and looked nothing like the photograph.
Having first been promised a refund, the company reneged. Frustrated, the complainant said this in an e-mail: “When the garment was being made, and if the fabric was so hard to get, and all of the other bulls**t you’re coming up with, why didn’t you guys give me a call to let me know? The sewing is pathetic.”
The company’s “admin clerk” responded: “Usage of slang/jargon and your improper uncouth words is not going to resolve any issues.”
She was also called “impertinent”.
Last week another complainant sent me a copy of an e-mail he had sent to his cellphone network, which was failing to honour his Consumer Protection Act right to a replacement phone.
In it he wrote: “I am DAMN BLOODY shocked with the lies you all speak…”
I gave him this advice, which applies to anyone who is getting justifiably irate and frustrated by a company’s failure to do the right thing.
Watch your language and tone. Swearing, no matter how mild, name calling, threats and e-mails written in capitals with an abundance of exclamation marks will see you branded an aggressive customer, which dilutes or sabotages your case.
Stay on the moral high ground, no matter how provoked. - Pretoria News