A Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman has been created to deal with complaints against suppliers.
Former Ombudsman for Banking Services, Advocate Neville Melville, was appointed as the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman in June this year.
Melville founded the Independent Complaints Directorate, which dealt with complaints regarding police misconduct nationally under the Nelson Mandela administration before becoming Banking Ombudsman, in which capacity he served for seven years, commencing in 2000.
He also compiled the book ,The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy, and co-authored Know your Consumer Rights.
What is it about?
The office of the Consumer Goods Services Ombud (CGSO) was established to provide guidelines for the consumer goods and services industry on the minimum conduct standards expected when engaging with consumers.
“It is the aim of the CGSO to relieve the pressure experienced by the National Consumer Commission(NCC), thereby freeing it up to focus on its regulatory mandate,” said Melville.But consumers can still contact the NCC for complaints related to goods and services.
How to complain
Under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), you may be entitled to compensation if you experienced bad customer service.
Melville shared some of the most common areas of consumer complaints and how to go about complaining effectively:
1. Poor quality
Melville said consumers are entitled to ask for goods to be repaired, replaced or refunded if they are defective.
“The choice is the consumer's - the retailer cannot force the consumer to have the goods repaired if they want a refund or replacement,” said Melville.
You can also insist on a cash refund instead of store credit, provided you return the goods within six months of purchasing.
“Whatever the supplier’s return policy, if the goods are defective, the consumer is entitled to have them replaced, returned or refunded. And the supplier must cover the expenses of this,” said Melville.
2. Can you return an item you don’t like anymore?
When you change your mind about the goods you bought, it may not be enough to lodge a complaint against a retailer.
“It's wrong to think that a company must take back goods you purchased if there's nothing wrong with them. The Act only requires a supplier to accept a return if there was something wrong with the goods,” said Melville.
However, a ‘cooling off period' of five days applies to direct marketing sales or to credit transactions, such as purchasing a car, where there is a written agreement in place. Purchasing goods using your credit card counts as a cash sale.
3. Late delivery
Melville said consumers are entitled to receive their goods within a reasonable timeframe. If you're buying groceries online, this may mean within a day – while purchasing furniture may require a longer lead time of up to six weeks.
“If your bank account is being debited for goods you have not yet received, don't simply stop paying as this could have a negative impact on your credit rating, but rather lodge a complaint first,” says Melville.
The most typical complaints
According to Melville, the majority of complaints that come through to the CGSO are the result of companies not having adequate complaint resolution channels available.
Some consumers find that they are not able to contact the company; or are kept waiting for an unreasonable period of time for an answer.
Some companies have rude or unhelpful customer service staff. Consumers also complain that staff give them conflicting advice on the status of the complaint.
“If handled correctly at store-level, there would be fewer formal complaints. Companies should really focus on the complaints as much as the sales,” said Melville.
If you need help resolving a consumer complaint, visit www.cgso.org.za; call 0860 000 272; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call the NCC on 086 000 3600.