Sunday, 21 December 2014

Good service is good business

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 6 August 2014)

Last week I was invited to address the Consumer Complaints Management Symposium held in Windhoek. The theme of the symposium was “Bridging the Gap between Industry Relations and Consumer Care” and the participants came from various industries including financial services, tourism, health care and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
What amazed me the most that was that all the participants were the designated “consumer champion” and were there to find better ways to engage with their clients as well as getting their organisations to embrace client feedback as an integral part of doing business. This was shocking to say the least. How many times do we not hear that Namibia does not have a culture of service? I myself have in fact gone on record a few times in this regard through my various writings.
Yet here were representatives from these various industries requesting me to assist them in dealing with consumer complaints in a better manner. I hope this is not the first or last of such corporate interventions and hope to see a positive result within the next few months.
So this week, I share with our corporate readers some tips on how they can deal with consumer complaints.
1.       Make sure you listen to the concerns expressed by the consumer. Most times concerns over an issue (such as shelf pricing, cleanliness of the premises, etc.) can be handled without it becoming a complaint.
2.       Make sure that you record the consumer’s name, address and contact number.
3.       Acknowledge that the consumer has a valid concern by getting further details on the issue.
4.       Do not take the complaint personally – this could result in you feeling attacked – which is not the case. A consumer has to take time out from their schedule to inform you about the issue, the least you should do is see it from their viewpoint.
5.       Allow the consumer to explain the problems without interruptions. This will show you are not trying to make excuses before they have stated their case.
6.       Ask questions to get a better understanding of the issue and its cause. In some cases the consumer will even give you a possible solution to the issue they have raised.
7.       Have an understanding of how the consumer wants the issue resolved. The resolution can be in the form of a replacement, refund, exchange or discount on the price.
8.       If the form of resolution is possible, explain the time it will take to process the complaint and what will be needed to make it happen.
9.       Explain to the consumer that your company values all feedback from its clients.
10.   Follow up with the consumer on to find it if the resolution was to their satisfaction.

The most important part about resolving a consumer complaint is that you will have turned a “bad mouthing advertiser” into a champion of your business and the satisfaction level you have instilled in the consumer.

Remember: “Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.”

Certain Dog brands can make your pet sick

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 30 July 2014)

Foodcorp (Pty) Ltd is the South African holding company for a group of businesses engaged primarily in the production, marketing and distribution of food. There are seven production units which fall within the Foodcorp (Pty) Ltd group, these are: Grocery, Milling, Baking, Pie, Fishing, Beverage and Speciality division. Foodcorp also supplies retailers in Namibia with brand name products such as Nola condiments, Ouma Rusks and Yum Yum peanut butter.

One of its subsidiaries, Foodcorp Pet Foods has recalled several batches of its dog food, following reports of it making people's pets ill. According to the company's Facebook page, ( the brands affects are Bobtail, Dogmor and Bonzo dry dog foods with a manufacturing date from 4 June 2014 to 23 June 2014.
It must be noted that Pick ‘n Pay’s No Name Brand dry dog food, as well as Shopright's Housebrand and Ritebrand are affected in the recall.
The most common reaction is that your dog will refuse to eat the pellets, but if they do, they may show signs of nausea and even throw up the food. According to Megan Power, a Twitter reporter, the chemical responsible for making the dogs throw up is deoxynivalenol, also known as vomitoxin.

While the company has told pet owners that "Your pets are of utmost importance to us as well, that is why we are dealing with this issue in the most aggressive manner possible," according to Megan Power the company initially wouldn't  disclose the no-name brands affected in the dog food recall, citing contractual agreements.

For more information you can follow Megan Power on Twitter, check out Food Corp's Pet Foods Facebook page, phone the company on 011 411 5555 or email them on

(Information from Times Live, Facebook and Twitter)

Caveat emptor - "Let the buyer beware"

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 23 July 2014)

Last week, Consumer Court received a complaint from a customer regarding a fridge she had purchased from a furniture store but it had started giving problems within a month of purchase. She found herself in a situation where the retailer disclaimed any responsibility on a product sold as “the manufacturer is responsible for defects in materials or workmanship”. The consumer (rightly) complained that she paid the retailer and not the manufacturer, but did not receive the help she hoped.
A follow-up was made with the furniture retailer as well as the manufacturer’s representative, but no reply was received by the time of this column. This week, I would like to explain what a warranty is, and when is a consumer able to find redress.
According to the dictionary, “a warranty is a guarantee given to the purchaser by a company stating that a product is reliable and free from known defects and that the seller will, without charge, repair or replace defective parts within a given time limit and under certain conditions.” In layman’s terms, a consumer expects to have a replacement of a product that is not working as expected.
However, we first have to look at the legal aspect of a warranty. Generally speaking, a warranty forms part of a contract between the buyer and the seller. In this specific case though, it is a product guarantee, meaning that the manufacturer makes the warranty to the consumer EVEN THOUGH the manufacturer and consumer have no direct contractual relationship.
And this is when the problems starts.
The furniture store (and most appliance retailers) state on their contract with the consumer that they only sell the goods and do not accept responsibility for any Defects in Materials and Workmanship. This simply promises that the manufacturer properly constructed the product, out of proper materials and further implies that the product will work as products of that type are expected to work.
Manufacturers have become very clever in their language and often provide a time limit warranty rather than a performance warranty. In other words, this manufacturer has a 2 year warranty from the date of purchase during which the consumer must prove that the fridge was defective when manufactured. If however, the fridge stops working in the 25 month after purchase (I have owned a fridge for over ten years), the consumer cannot claim on the warranty.
The problem for our complaining consumer though is that this is not helping her to get a fridge that works. The only way she could enforce the contract is if she hires a lawyer (at a very high cost) and makes a civil case against the manufacturer. Even then, the customer might still lose, or not be able to afford the lawyer after winning.
This is why there is need for a Consumer Protection Act, or at the very least, a Consumer Ombudsman that can assist consumers in having these type of problems addressed.

On the funny side, I visited the website of the manufacturer and tried to find out about their promised “for service on appliances still under the 2 year warranty” but could find no mention of it on the written pages of the website. Having a bit of IT background I was able to access the website code (which is what search engines do) and was able to find a hidden block of text claiming that customers can “Contact our After Sales Centres for service on appliances still under the 2 year warranty” and giving the times, centres and telephone numbers to contact. Just a pity that an ordinary consumer clicking on the site will never see this information.

Knowledge shared is power gained

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 15 July 2014)

The following complaint was brought to the attention of Consumer Court last week: “Woermann & Brock does it again! Shelf price N$ 22,49; at the till they charge N$ 23,99. It happens all the time and over and over again. No apologies, nothing, just sheer ignorance! I am convinced that this a deliberate rip off, as this happens regularly. When will the consumers stand up to this?”
The customer also included a photograph of the till slip next to the unit price displayed on the shelf to show that the two differed. Consumer Court contacted the General Manager, Mr Rudolph Fourie, and requested feedback from him regarding the consumer’s complaint. He returned our mail and indicated they would attend to the complaint and thanked us for bringing this to his attention.
On Saturday, I was at my local grocery store (which happens to be Woermann Brock Hyper in Khomasdal), and noticed there was a hive of activity on the floor. Upon closer inspection I noticed that in each row there was a supervisor in charge of checking the price on the shelf against the barcode reading they received when scanning the product. It was very heartening to see the company reacting to the complaint in such a short period of time. A little later, while strolling near the mayonnaise shelf, I noticed an elderly couple doing their shopping. The old lady reached for a particular brand of mayonnaise when I noticed her male companion (husband?), call her attention to the pricing on the shelf. They got into some discussion, and then she returned the brand she had taken and took another brand which obviously had a better pricing option.
This is what the Consumer Court hopes to achieve on behalf of the consumer – having their complaints heard AND acted upon by the business community. Well done to Woermann Brock and we will keep watching to see they adhere to the legal requirement of displaying the correct price on the shelf, and ensuring the consumer is being charged the displayed price at the counter.
Scanner Price Accuracy Code
The consumers in Namibia are regularly being cheated out of their hard earned cash as most modern retailers use shelf pricing that differs from the price the consumer has to pay at the checkout. To combat this we need to put pressure on getting a “Scanner Price Accuracy Code” to be adhered to by all retailers in the country.
The purpose of the code should be to:
  • Visibly demonstrate the commitment by retailers to scanner price accuracy;
  • Provide retailers with a consistent national framework for dealing with scanner price accuracy issues; and
  •  Provide the consumers and the retail industry with a mechanism for consumer redress in scanner price accuracy cases, to be managed by a joint committee of retailers and consumer bodies.

It is further proposed that all retailers implement an Item Free Scanner Policy whereby a customer presents proof that the scanned price at the checkout counter is higher than the price on the shelf (or even higher than advertised) the lower price will be deemed to be the one that will be charged. It is also proposed that should the correct cost of the product be less than N$ 100, then the store will give the product to the consumer free of charge. If the correct cost of the product is more than N$ 100, the store should give the consumer a discount to the value of N$ 100 on the product price.
If the retail industry is willing to work together with consumer bodies, the Namibia Competition Commission can be approached to assist and even endorse such a code.

After the weekly column was written, I received an email from Woermann and Brock stating the following: “On behalf of Woermann & Brock, we apologise for the inconvenience of the customer. We do have a Company Policy in place that when this kind of situation arise, the customer will receive the first item for free, and the second item can be purchased at the lower price indicated on the shelf”. Well done – now we must share it amongst our fellow consumers.

Where medicine is loved, there is a love of humanity

(First Published in New Era Newspaper -9 July 2014)

Recently I visited one of the stores that sells a range of beauty and personal hygiene products in the western part of Windhoek. My fiancĂ©, who is presently pregnant, wanted to purchase something for her flu and had me tag along. Once inside the shop (which I have never actually visited before), I noticed they stocked a large variety of products including pots, pans, and other white goods. In our case, we moved to the section dealing with vitamins and cough mixtures to see what was available. I requested one of the shop assistants to help us but it was painfully clear the person had no real training on the products that were offered. After some discussion, my fiancĂ© and I felt it would be better to visit a nearby pharmacy. The same products were available at the pharmacy and we requested the pharmacy assistant to give us some guidance. After ascertaining that we were “expecting”, she quickly pointed out that it is not healthy to take some of the products and suggested we should rather look at effervescent (soluble in water) flu medications.
I took the time to speak to the pharmacist after this recommendation and asked about the level of training needed to be an assistant at their pharmacy. The owner informed me that they tried to take students in the field of biology or at least a three month course in first aid. In addition, only the pharmacist may actually suggest a product for a client that is pregnant or breast-feeding.
When I asked about the nearby hygiene products chain store, the pharmacist did admit that they were facing fierce competition and it was unfair as the staff who were working at the chain store were mostly school drop-outs with little or no education in basic medical care.
After this discussion, I took to the Internet to gauge the reality of people purchasing over the counter medicines. I came across the following definition by an international pharmaceutical company:
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be purchased at a pharmacy without a prescription. These include Schedule 0, 1 and 2 drugs, such as medication for headaches, coughs and colds, minor skin conditions, etc. It is always a good idea to consult the pharmacist (or assistant) when choosing an OTC product. They are trained to ask you some important questions in order to give you the individualised care you need.”
Now it begs the question, what training does the person need in a supermarket or chain store to suggest (prescribe) such a product when they have received no training in this matter at all? I went to the law books and looked up the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act 2003 as well as the Pharmacy Act of 2004. But in my rather layman understanding could not see any regulation prohibiting a retail store from selling schedule 0,1 or 2 drugs. Thus, there is no legal recourse it seems to make sure that such stores do not sell these over-the-counter drugs, at at the very least have a staff member that is at least semi-qualified to assist clients.
To cut a long story short, I believe that we need a consumer protection act and a consumer protection council that is empowered to look after the interests of the Namibian consumer. This will prevent stores from selling products to customers that will actually do more harm than good.
Milton Louw is the IT Project Coordinator at the Electoral Commission of Namibia. This column is written in his personal capacity as a consumer activist and the views expressed in this column are his own.

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