Let the disgruntled buyer beware

Let the disgruntled buyer beware

By MIHIKA JINDAL | | 3 October, 2015
A screen grab of the Consumer Connect app.
You took a cab and the driver misbehaved; you altered your flight schedule and getting a refund is proving to be a task; an online portal delivered the wrong product; the chemist gave you expired medicines. If we were to compile a laundry list of consumer grievancs, it would never end.    
There are way too many things at the marketplace that can cause an average consumer serious frustration, not to mention material damage. Still, most of us lack the determination required to register and follow up on a complaint. Some make it only as far as the customer helpline numbers (where the staff is trained to sweet-talk you into submission). And if a chosen few reach the point of actually filing a complaint, getting the relevant authorities to bat an eyelid becomes a task that is next to impossible.  
“People lose the motivation to complain,” says Krishna Kumar, co-founder of the Consumer Association of India (CAI), a forum meant for the hapless consumer who feels that he’s been short-changed. “We conducted a small research and found that most complaints simply die out because people don’t get to file these at the spur of the moment and later lose interest and the motivation to follow up. And because of this, consumer complaints often get lost.” 
“People lose the motivation to complain. We conducted a small research and found that most complaints simply die out because people don’t get to file these at the spur of the moment and later lose interest and the motivation to follow up. And because of this, consumer complaints often get lost.”
With the CAI, Kumar and his partner, R Desikan, are hoping to change such a state of affairs in which the swindlers have the upper hand and can cheat people with impunity . Founded in 2001, the CAI is an independent body that assists consumers in their hour of need. The forum offers a single-window solution to consumer grievance with its automated grievance redress system. 
A team of six people are actively involved in addressing consumer complaints even going the extra mile in trying to get the complaints resolved, pro bono. “It is not like companies don’t respond. Since we have the correct contact points, we have had issues resolved in a span of 15 days, although there have been times when it took us as long as three months to get the complaints sorted. But most of the cases, say about 95%, get addressed, to the consumers’ satisfaction,” Kumar says. 
The CAI acts as a support system for the disgruntled consumer. There’s a 24/7 helpline, for instance. And to further simplify matters, the CAI app — called Consumer Connect, which was launched in 2013 — is available for android users. The app contains a simple form that can be filled up by users, and from that point on, the CAI team takes over the responsibility to get your complaints resolved. “This is putting the  power back in the hands of the consumers. And we have to make sure that no fake complaints are filed on our app, for which we have a procedure in place,” Kumar says. “We call the complainant and ensure that his or her complaint is valid. There is a place in the app itself where you can attach the evidence to show the lapse you want highlighted.”
Kumar believes that people shouldn’t be squeamish about filing consumer complaints. This, he adds, is the only way of ensuring good service in the age of consumerism. CAI, through its smartphone app and its mission to empower the consumer, is now aiming to even cross the national boundaries. “If we can effectively put this mechanism in place and involve Consumer International in our project, then we are confident that more people will become aware of our rights as consumers. Suppose you are in France and you have a complaint. All you should be required to do is pull this app out and file a complaint, which will be routed to the right consumer forum in France. There is no other mechanism of this kind anywhere in the world,” says Kumar.  

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