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Why do we need laws to protect consumers? Or to put it another way, who do consumers need protection from? And before you come out with glib answers such as conmen or rogues, think again. Ask yourself honestly if your business is geared up solely to provide outstanding customer outcomes or if profit, bonuses or employee convenience take priority?
The sad truth is that when even respected institutions such as banks are hauled over the coals for mis-selling the wonder is that we don’t have more consumer protection laws. And even with the regulators moving towards an ethics based regime in which they look to organisations to put consumers first there is still a need to set down expected behaviours.
In an ideal world in which consumer experiences ruled every process and every decision there would be no need for legislation such as the “The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.” The regulations which came into force across Europe on 13th June 2014 strengthen and extend the rights of consumers in areas such as online ordering, digital downloads and returning unwanted goods. As a result of the regulations hidden fees and charges are out, credit card surcharges cannot exceed the cost of processing a card payment and pre-ticked boxes are out.
But why were surcharges and pre-ticked boxes there in the first place? What do processes which are solely geared towards extracting every extra cent from customers say about the standard of customer care within the organisation? Isn’t ‘selling the extras’ the standard sales technique? Well yes it might have been, and it still may have its place, but only when ‘selling the extras’ represents adding genuine value to the customer purchase. And that’s the difference. The world has moved on and what differentiates one company from another is no longer pure price or convenience but the product, the package and the way in which the customer relationship is developed.
Organisations which have embraced the new order not only put exceptional customer experiences at the forefront of every product and process, they are even bringing customers into the development mix. The idea of aligning with customer outcomes may seem strange to businesses which have traditionally worked on a silo-based, employee convenience, customer is only there to provide income basis; but the alternative is to see the customer base dwindling as customers find out how much more pleasant life can be with businesses which genuinely care.
The idea of building up long term relationships with customers may seem a little old fashioned but in truth it has only gone out of fashion because organisations have not played fair with customers. Of course customers will look elsewhere if the product is not as described, if they feel that extra costs are being added at every turn and if the in store or follow-up service leaves much to be desired. People are naturally creatures of habit so when they seek pastures new it must have taken something out of the ordinary to drive them away.
For all those grumbling about having to redesign website layout or change processes or charging structures in response to this latest legislation the message is clear. Shake up the company culture; start to put long term plans in place to genuinely put customers first. The reward is loyal customers who not only act as positive advocates for the company but also return time and time again. The alternative is a constant fight against yet more legislation and a dwindling customer base as consumers speak with their feet