“Sometimes the people with the legitimate complaints are the people who lose interest and fall by the way side, and sometimes the complaints that we end up with are those that are really not grounded in the law,” Neville Melville, ombudsman at the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, told CNBC Africa on Thursday.
“We are quite advanced as far as a legislative platform is concerned, but we are struggling as far as keeping people aware of their rights.”
Earlier this year, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman was launched to address complaints made by unhappy customers.
“Our area of specialisation is actually in terms of the retail industry and anything that feeds into that. We deal with the manufacturers, anyone who’s involved in logistics, packaging. As a result of that, about 50 per cent of the complaints we get relate to furniture, computers, cell phones,” Melville explained.
“Our office is not receiving very high numbers as yet because we’re newly formed – the office was launched officially six months ago. In that time we’ve received just under a thousand complaints of which we’ve managed to finalise about 90 per cent so far.”
Melville indicated that they seem to have the biggest issues with smaller suppliers, as opposed to the larger ones, because they feel they have less of a reputation to protect.
The size of the purchase and an individual’s income also affects how aggressively the complaint process could be followed.
“What we encourage is someone to go to the supplier and preferably the centralised complaint handling section. What normally happens is someone arrives at us, we’ll then refer them through to the appropriate person through our call centre – most of the complaints are actually resolved at that level,” Melville said.
“Some will then escalate back to us, what we’ll do is we will actually, if necessary, investigate and in some instances we’ll send them to an independent third party to mediate. We are not consumer advocates as such, nor are we there to defend the suppliers. We look at everything from a neutral standpoint and we see where the facts take us.”