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Consumer Affairs
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Customer care less

I don’t think people really know what the term ‘Customer Care’ actually means. They probably think it is some sort of clever deflecting mechanism to sterilise and freeze any complaint being voiced. It is supposed to refer to taking care of customers. This includes answering questions, dealing with complaints and finding solutions.

While completing the work on this month’s cover, I just happened to come across yet another abuse of this term. The company this time was Coricraft Group (Pty) Ltd, lounge suite manufacturers.
The simple question was, “Why did you increase your prices 23% in March 2007?”
The first call was to the company’s customer care department. René essentially said the price had gone up 23% because head office had sent through a new retail price structure. Now this is a very important example of the first technique in customer care: you state the obvious. But if pressed further enough you have to bump the problem up a notch. So hard-pressed René said she would ask the ‘manager’, Jody Cupido to call me.
Of course she didn’t. This is the second technique in customer care: you simply ignore the customer. When Cupido was phoned up her failure to return the call was deflected: rule three, never admit responsibility. She then got rid of problem by giving me another phone number. This was of Regional Manger John Clark. In turn this call was deflected to a branch office where he was very busy, but would call back. Rule four, delay response to a persistent customer, hoping time will either dissolve the problem, or reduce its importance. Clark did not phone.
I’d have left it there or even earlier, but for the purposes of the article I thought I would try one more time: the managing director in Johannesburg, David Jacobson. The first call was disconnected. Five more minutes saw me through to Customer Care in Johannesburg. Lizelle van Niekerk seemed far more efficient and helpful. This eventually led to a call from the MD. Here essentially is the explanation:
Oil is a major component of the manufacture of denim and other materials used in upholstery, evidently, so a major reason behind the 23% increase. He added that prices for some items had been increased by as much as 35%, especially where leather furniture was concerned. The motor industry was responsible for about 90% of the demand for leather world-wide, and this had created a terrible shortage, explained Mr Jacobson. But I did not understand a further point about the cost of wood supplied from China for the use of furniture framing. I thought the Yuan Renminbi was fairly ‘cheap’.  Another enquiry revealed that the price of denim had in fact gone up, about R1 a metre to R16, or almost 7%, not 23%.
The MD also said something more curious, “If I go down I’d rather go down with good margins, than with my margins in tatters.”
While Mr Jacobson was certainly informative and open it was a pity that so much effort had to be involved in posing a simple question (two days and about seven phone calls, it took). Evidently it is policy for run-of-the-mill customer care departments only to deal with run-of-the-mill questions. So any really useful information is not to be provided.

The rules of Customer Care:
• Answer any question by stating the obvious, coupled with repetition
• Ignore the customer
• Never admit responsibility, or blame someone else
• Use delaying tactics
• Deflect complaint to someone who can’t deal with it

The rule of Consumerism (only one):
• Don’t deal with any product or service provider who goes by the above five rules.

Sorry, I won’t be buying from Coricraft, nor indeed from any other furniture company if these price increases are really to be believed. By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.4 1st May, 2007
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