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Know Your Consumer Rights

Know your consumer rights and be an aware, assertive customer. Here is how.

Guest blogger Hima Bindu in her own words: An IT-professional in my previous life, I am a stay-at-home mom now. Am rediscovering my long-forgotten love of reading, writing and music.

Last week, my friend had to go to her son’s prospective school. The school is around 20 kms from her residence. She hired an auto to-and-fro, waiting included (Rs. 100 per hour). With the current auto rate of Rs.10/km in the city, the total trip should have cost her no more than Rs.500. She was charged Rs.800 for the trip! Though she realized mid-way that the meter was faulty (‘jumping’), she could do nothing about it but cough up the extra fare ‘as per meter’!

Last month, I travelled to a cousin’s place by taxi one afternoon. Since there was no digital meter, I had to rely on the driver’s meter reading at source and destination. I was charged for a distance of 18kms. In the evening, my husband and I drove back together in our car via the same route. On a hunch, I noted the car meter reading; it turned out to be 10kms only! I was charged for an additional 8 kms.

The above are just two instances of the myriad number of ways that we are “taken for a ride” in our daily life. Often, we are very complacent customers. We do not protest against faulty meters, extra fare, a billing error, a deficient product, etc. Either we feel that it is not worth the trouble to act against a swindle or we simply do not know how to go about it.

In most of the cases, the amount involved is small (may be less than Rs 100) but the feeling of being cheated lingers. Remember, it is not only about the money; it is also about principle. Are you going to let yourself be cheated? Are you going to sit back and do nothing about it? It is your hard-earned money and no one has the right to fleece you. You will be doing everyone a favour by raising your voice.

Here are a few tips, drawn from my personal experiences, on how to be an aware customer.

1. Give benefit of doubt to the other party

In quite a number of cases, there would have been a genuine mistake instead of an intention to cheat. Whatever be the case, start with the assumption that there has been a mistake; point out the error as a mistake rather than as an accusation. Remeber, the accused is innocent until proven otherwise!

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2. Be assertive, not aggressive

It does not help to get emotional and aggressive when making or during follow-up of a complaint. Be assertive and let the other party know that there has been a mistake. Don’t create a scene; make your complaint firmly but politely. This is especially true in a restaurant when the food is bad or the place not hygienic.

3. Check and re-check expiry dates, bills, hidden costs, terms and conditions, etc.

I cannot emphasize more on the importance of this. Make this a part of your ‘must-do’ checklist.

4. Follow process when registering complaints

Most often, there will be a customer services help desk or a phone number/e-mail id to register complaints. Get this information and file your complaint. In some instances, it is not easy to even get this information; keep asking politely until you are given this information. Ask about the escalation mechanism.

In the case of my friend, since there was no question of a bill for the auto fare, the best that she could have done was to note the auto number and register a complaint with the nearest traffic police about a faulty meter.

5. Follow up complaints with perseverance

Customer complaints are not resolved in a day or two. It took me 6 months and 20 e-mails to get back the security deposit of my son’s day-care! Show that you are indeed serious about the issue. Keep sending reminder e-mails.

6. Keep record of complaints and follow-up

There will be no record of phone complaints. Keep track via e-mail or snail mail. Maintain a single e-mail thread; it makes it easier to see the history.

7. Learn about filing consumer complaints

There are many web sites with details on how to file a consumer complaint. Check out the web sites and follow the process. This web site has detailed step-by-step instructions on how to go about filing complaints and there is an online consumer complaint forum here. In most of the cases, all it takes is a written notice that you are going to file a consumer complaint that resolves the issue.

8. Accept and withdraw if you are at fault

In case you have not read the fine print and made a hasty complaint, apologize gracefully and withdraw.

Consumer is a queen, and queen never bargains….but a queen doesn’t take non-sense either!

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