Career & Money

How Well Do You Know Your Consumer Rights?

If you've been misled about a product or service, here's what you can do

By The Weekly | March 15, 2016

Is cooking with your “non-stick” pan a sticky nightmare? The luxury hotel suite you paid for turned out to be tiny and pokey? You have the right to complain, and we take a look at five effective steps that ensure you, as a consumer, get what you want.

Step 1: Count To Ten

When something isn’t up to standard, sometimes it’s not so much the failure that will annoy you, it’s the time you’re having to waste setting things straight. The temptation is to rush back and to snap at the first person you see – even if it isn’t that person’s fault. Most likely, doing so will also work against you. If you feel that surge of annoyance, step back from tackling the problem. Taking a few seconds to calm down can make all the difference in how you react – and how people respond to you. Count to ten, practise deep breathing or some other soothing strategy.

Step 2: Say It Right

Research shows that communication depends on three factors: seven percent comes from the words we use, 38 percent signalled by tone of voice, and 55 percent is our body language. Although just a small percentage of communicating comes down to language, it’s still tough to get your point across without words. When making a complaint, using positive language may be more helpful in inciting a good response. Try: “This iron doesn’t work as it should, may I have a replacement?” rather than “You sold me a defective iron, give me another one now!”

Solving problems is also much easier if both parties speak the same language. If you’ve bought from a small shop and the owner speaks a language you’re not familiar with, take along a friend who can translate. Also remember it’s easier to gain respect if you dress smartly.  Go when you’ve had a coffee with a friend or after you’ve left the office, rather than after a trip to the gym!

Step 3: Put It In Writing

Unless you’re lucky enough to deal with a smaller company or a family-owned shop, you will most likely be making a complaint to someone who wasn’t there when you made the purchase. Also, not every employee dealing with complaints has the power to make decisions. Take along a letter that states the problem and your request for a replacement, refund or repair.  If the people you talk to can’t solve your problem instantly, then you can ask them to deliver it to the proper person. It shows you’re serious about the matter and will save you and them from having to repeat yourselves.

An added bonus of a written letter is that if solving the problem involves several departments, the people in charge of solving it don’t have to write a report – they’ll only need to photocopy your letter and get everyone up to speed quickly. Also, ask who will be in charge of solving your dilemma and get their direct contact.

Step 4: Kick It Upstairs

If your initial chat doesn’t go well, it’s time to talk to the big bosses. Usually, you can just contact the customer service department head. If there is none, write to the CEO. Corporate websites usually give a name and contact. If the information is not there, address your letter to the CEO’s Office and send it to the head office address – most times, these sorts of letters will reach its intended recipient!

Send a copy of your original letter plus a cover letter explaining why you are not satisfied with the response you’ve received. Restate your ideal solution, then ask to be given a reply within a suitable time – a week is usually adequate. It is prudent to start a proper paper trail just in case this problem (undesirably) ends up in court later. Send it by registered mail, so they can’t claim it was lost in the post. Alternatively, hand it in to the shop and ask the staff to stamp a copy you’ve made as “delivered”.

As most companies prioritise customer satisfaction, most problems are dealt with at this point.  However, if you don’t receive a reply after a week, you may choose to send another letter, reminding them you are waiting a response and pointing out you can take the matter to court. If they refuse to accept your letters of complaint, contact the National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) to ask for their help or any advice on the situation. Alternatively, you can escalate the matter by taking legal action.

Step 5: Going To Court

If you cannot resolve your dispute amicably, there are various departmental tribunals that deal with these disputes and you can ask an official to judge the case. The Small Claims Court hears claims involving amounts of RM5,000 and below and the Consumer Tribunal hears cases valued at RM25,000 or less.

Fees are minimal, involving a few Ringgit for official complaint forms, and cases are typically heard and settled within 60 days. The procedure and paperwork varies, depending on the authority you talk to. You can contact the courts to ask for information or ask the NCCC for advice on how to put your case together.

The good news is these courts don’t allow anyone to bring a lawyer, so you don’t have to spend on legal fees, but some companies may send employees as representatives (and they just might happen to be lawyers). What’s more important is that you present your facts in an orderly way and are reasonable about what you expect from the product and the company.

“If the judge finds for you, then the company must comply with the court’s decision within 14 days,” advises Matheevani Marathandan, Senior Officer of the NCCC. “If they don’t, you have to take action and call the tribunal immediately.”

USEFUL WEBSITES

Consumer Tribunals: http://ttpm.kpdnkk.gov.my
Tel: 03-8882 5822 / Toll Free: 1-800-88-9811

National Consumer Complaints Centre:  http://www.nccc.org.my
Tel: 03-7877 9000

Federation Of Malaysia Consumer Association: http://www.fomca.org.my
Tel: 03-7876 2009

Education & Research Association For Consumers Malaysia: http://www.eraconsumer.org
Tel: 03-7876 4648

CREDITS: Text: Ellen Whyte

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