Make sure you know all the details about a deal before you sign - there may be no evidence if something goes wrong in the future.
 Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

If you’ve ever dealt with a call centre agent, you would have heard the mantra: “This call may be recorded for quality and security purposes.”

Whether it’s truly for quality and security purposes, or to give customers a vague comfort that they might be able to have some recourse in the event that something goes wrong - say, a timeshare deal in dispute or an order that needs cancellation - is moot. The reality is that only a fraction of those call centre calls are actually being recorded, so customers are given a false sense of security.

And, in the case of Vivienne Spooner’s issue with Telkom, left up the proverbial creek.

Where’s your evidence?

Spooner was contacted on April 24 by a telesales consultant from Telkom and informed about a mobile deal. She did some research, but then a friend warned her that she needed to check if the one-year offer on the Office package meant that she would need to pay more for her contract after 12 months. She says when “Sizwe” called her again two days later, she told him she was interested in the deal, but questioned the one-year offer on Office.

“After much discussion in which I wasn’t able to ascertain how much more I might need to pay for Office, Sizwe informed me that the three-year contract included Office for the whole period,” Spooner says.

“I was also frequently assured that the call was being recorded, and that the recording would serve as my contract. I was also told that I had a 10-day cooling-off period.”

Happy with that, Spooner took delivery of a PC and supporting devices on May 13.

The goods were received in good order, but at issue was the assurance that the Office package would run for three years, even though the published deal had it running for only a year.

Spooner says it was on the agent’s assurance that she would receive the recording that would serve as the contract, as well as not incurring further unspecified costs (for ongoing Office use), that she agreed to take the deal.

The issue was niggling, so within four days of receiving the PC and equipment, she began calling 10213 and 081180 to request that recording.

And anyone who has ever had to call those dreaded numbers knows how frustratingly soul-destroying that exercise in futility can be.

“I have just been called back by Sarita from 10213 who tells me I can return the goods but that I will incur penalties for breaking the contract. This despite trying to resolve and then return the goods within the 10-day cooling-off period. Yesterday I was told by Tshepiso at 10210 that I can only get the recording via a court order.”

Faceless, unhelpful support

Outraged, Spooner says the faceless and unhelpful support from Telkom has prevented her from being able to resolve this issue: “I will never again agree to a telesales contract because nowhere has Telkom provided details about how the goods can be returned. Do I need to find someone who knows the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) who can take up this matter?”

Section 50 (2) of the (CPA) says suppliers and consumers are able to hold one another to an agreement, even if it hasn’t been signed by the consumer. When it comes to telephonic agreements, where it’s typically declared to be recorded, consumers have limited access to such recordings, if they’re even recorded.

The CPA (Section 16) also gives consumers five business days after the date on which the transaction was concluded or the goods were delivered to cancel the deal - without any reason or penalty - if the transaction resulted from direct marketing.

All Spooner needs to do is to give Telkom notice in writing (or another recorded manner and form) that she wants to cancel - and the supplier, Telkom, has no more than 15 business days after receiving such notice to return any payment received from the consumer.

Consumer specialist Trudie Broekmann says Spooner definitely doesn’t need to get a court order to prove what the call centre agent told her because she has evidence that he contacted her on a particular day, that she received the goods days later and that she then tried to cancel - numerous times.

“Section 16 of the CPA allows her to cancel. She has a statutory right in terms of the CPA. All she needs to do is return it via a courier company to Telkom. The courier company’s slip serves as her proof that she’s returned it. But she must pay the cost of returning the devices,” Broekmann says.

Call ‘serves as a contract’

Telkom eventually responded, after numerous reminders, which reflects poorly on it - a communications company that struggles to communicate with its own customers. A Telkom spokesperson said: “In the case of a sale (as is the case), a customer doesn’t need a court order as the call serves as a contract and can be shared with the customer. Court orders are only required if it is fraud-related or it is a service call. We apologise for the inconvenience suffered by this customer and are in contact with the customer to resolve the issue.”

One can only hope that its call centre agents are not routinely misinforming customers and refusing to allow them their rights under the CPA to cancellation.

Spooner has made numerous calls to that dreaded call centre, been given the run-around and still she’s no closer to cancelling this “deal” that she was misled into taking.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

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