As I write there are 260 consumer organisations in over 100 countries around the world striving to promote a fairer society by protecting the rights of all consumers. Here in Africa nascent movements are beginning to make an impact, but many nations do not yet have legislation that enshrines the eight rights defined by the UN in 1985. For reference, these are: -
· The right to access to basic needs
· To safety
· To information
· To choice
· To representation
· To consumer education
· To redress
· Healthy environment
Kenya was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to address this when Kenyans voted in a new Constitution. Subsequently a new Consumer Protection Act hit the statute books in March 2013. It is difficult to discern if it has had any effect to date but at least it is there, and it has some interesting implications.
Product warranties have often been suspect in Africa. Even quite straightforward products like tyres, where the causes of failure are relatively easy to discern, have warranty conditions you could drive an eighteen-wheeler through. It seems that in the warranty claim process, the consumer is deemed to be guilty unless proven innocent.
Recently in Morocco a woman set out to buy furniture from a company called Marrakech Furniture Casablanca. No, it was not a piano, and she did not get the chance to say ‘ Play it again, Sam.’
But she did sign up for a warranty on delivery without damage. The furniture was to be delivered after two weeks from the day of purchase. When it arrived she noticed that one of the pieces was damaged. She called the company but the manager dismissed it, saying that maybe she had damaged the furniture and she just wanted a new piece. Sounds familiar?
She scanned the policy she had signed and e-mailed the manager once again. He responded by saying that by the time the furniture left the company it was in perfect condition and that they were not to bear the cost of fixing or replacing it. She took the company to court and won her case and costs. Let us applaud her, and follow her example.
Nigeria has a Consumer Sales Practices Act, which is frequently ignored. Not long ago, a customer attempted to obtain a refund for a service plan he purchased with his wife’s engagement and wedding rings. He heard that the company was going out of business just months after the rings were purchased. Quite how you service rings, I do not know, but - he had a policy.
Melvin’s Jewellers refused to honor the policy and ignored continuous requests. So our consumer hero filed a law suit against the company in a Municipal Court and, after some negotiations, settled the case outside court for around 400 per cent more than the cost of the legal fees and original refund amount.
The problem is, very few African consumer have faith in their courts. Or, if they do, they expect the case to come up in time for their grandchildren to argue the plea.
Now under the new Kenyan Law (which others may follow) there are implied warranties – basically meaning that if you are confident enough to sell a product you are, by implication, warrantying its quality. My goodness, how many products and services could fall foul of that notion?
The only way to find out is to try. It can be a battle of attrition. I know a particularly pernickety gentleman who has repeatedly waged war on an African airline for poor service. Anything, from lost luggage to… getting beef when he wanted chicken. He is even more vociferous since he was able to become a shareholder, as the airline fueled its headlong rush to continental domination by selling equity to individuals as well as institutions. Oh how they must love him. But in a way, we all should. It is not good enough to be left at an airport without a seat, and denied even basic information or assistance.
In South Africa, there are eight basic consumer rights. One of which is the Right to be Heard. I think it should be renamed.
Dogs hear, but people are supposed to listen, which implies some processing of the information. But how many service brands (any business that delivers part of its promise through its staff) even bother to orientate their staff on service standards. Or monitor, or incentivise them to do so?
Marketers, it is not enough to air a TV ad with a promise. You need to be able to have enough influence within your company to be able to ensure delivery. Sadly, few of you are yet in this position.
Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside; an international company that helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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