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Consumers as losers

/ 12:14 AM October 14, 2016

I have twin sons nicknamed MR and MC (as in marginal revenue and marginal cost)—names that perhaps only an economist would inflict on his offspring. By some coincidence, both have been having issues with large firms lately, each demonstrating how consumers tend to get the proverbial short end of the stick in the hands of big companies, especially in our country.

The camera on MR’s iPhone started malfunctioning a few weeks ago. It wasn’t the first time it did. It showed a similar problem not long after the telco provider issued it to him less than two years ago. He brought it to that telco’s service center to invoke the warranty, but was instructed to bring it directly to the authorized Apple service center. He didn’t pursue it then as the issue appeared to have self-corrected after a while—until recently when the phone started acting up again. Having always treated the phone with tender loving care, he knew it couldn’t have been his fault, as it had never been dropped or subjected to extreme conditions. He brought it straight to the Apple service center this time. After a few days, he was told he would have to pay P4,000 for the phone camera replacement—notwithstanding the supposed three-year Apple warranty.

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Unconvinced, MR called up Apple Singapore directly. They said the problem was indeed covered by warranty. When he reverted to the local service center, they still insisted that he had to pay P4,000 for the repair. He called Apple again to ask what happened. Then, the other day, he received a call from Apple USA in California, informing him that, yes, indeed, his phone was covered by a warranty and will be fixed for free. When he contacted the local service center, they finally told him they had clearance to replace his phone’s camera, but he still had to pay P1,000 for “diagnostics and labor.” He and I remain adamant that he shouldn’t have to pay anything to fix a fault not of his doing, but a flaw apparently inherent in the unit—especially after spending time, effort and costly overseas calls to pursue his case.

MC’s problem is with a prominent bank. Three months ago, he applied to enroll his small business in the electronic payment system now required to pay remittances to various government entities. His application dragged on for months for reasons he couldn’t understand. Earlier, with no apologies, he was told that the bank had wrongly assigned his account to someone in charge of corporate accounts, until they realized that his business is a single proprietorship. But after the account was referred to the right person, still nothing appeared to be happening for weeks. He began wondering: Is it because he’s just a young person with a kindly demeanor that he didn’t seem to receive due attention and respect from the bank personnel? Did he have to raise his voice to get it? He recently received notice from Pag-Ibig that he was to incur penalties for late remittances, which he couldn’t help because his electronic payment facility remained pending at the bank.

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Knowing some top executives of that bank, I decided to bring the matter to their attention—and lo and behold, MC promptly got a call from the branch telling him that his electronic payment facility was ready. I told my friend, who turned out to be head of the bank’s customer experience management: “MC deserved prompt feedback, which he was not getting unless he kept following it up. We Filipinos need to get out of that ‘follow-up culture,’ and part of positive customer experience is proactive feedback to customers… I don’t understand why anyone would have to resort to ‘pulling strings’ upstairs like this, to get due attention at all.”

I have more stories of my own to tell on the shabby treatment we consumers often get from corporate giants focused on the billions of pesos in profit they keep making at our expense. What’s clear to me is that we need a strong and active consumer rights movement, along with a vigilant consumer watchdog agency in government, if our burgeoning economic growth is to redound to the greater good of the greatest number of us Filipinos.

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TAGS: consumer rights, economics, marginal cost, marginal revenue
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