Brian Edwards Media

Unfair Fair Go

Photo: TVNZ

Photo: TVNZ

 

On a reasonably regular basis, companies who are the subject of a complaint to Fair Go come to us for advice or training. If we think they’re ratbags, hoping to enlist our help in ripping people off, we send them packing. Otherwise our advice is the same advice we give to all our clients: be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes. And: Sort it out. Fix it. 

Recently I gave a brickbat to Fair Go for an item it did on a company called My Refund. The company undertakes for a fee to apply on your behalf to the IRD for a refund, if it discovers you are entitled to one. Two of My Refund’s clients were kept waiting an unreasonable amount of time for their refund to be sent to them. A third not only didn’t get a refund, but discovered that she now had to pay the IRD almost $1,000. She would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

My Refund did not deny that these three people had a justified complaint. It gave a statement to Fair Go, explaining what had gone wrong, offered an apology, immediately sent their refund cheques to the first two complainants and generously paid the third complainant’s $1,000 tax bill for her. A model way of handling a complaint.

But despite this, company CEO Steve Brook’s name and photograph were put up on the Fair Go ‘wall of shame’. The reason? Brook had declined to be interviewed on film or in the studio. His name and photograph are presumably still on the wall, with other ‘villains’.

This situation was repeated on this week’s programme. More than a month ago Fair Go broadcast a series of complaints by Slingshot customers who felt they had been badgered by salespeople into using Slingshot’s service or, in one case, had received extremely poor service. Slingshot provided the programme with a detailed response to the complaints, apologised, fixed the problems and compensated the complainants for their trouble. Another model response. However, Slingshot General Manager, Mark Callander did not appear on the programme and his name and photograph went up on the wall.

But he did appear this week. He was there, we were told, to get his name and photograph off the wall. But not before Fair Go replayed the complaints against the company, which Slingshot had sorted out more than a month earlier. Callander was then given a minute to say why he should come off the wall. It emerged in that minute that Callander had in fact agreed to be interviewed by Fair Go, but the appointment had been cancelled – by the programme. He was not available the following week to do the interview.

The only word to describe all of this is ‘outrageous’. This is a programme out of control, arrogantly assuming the judicial powers of a court to subpoena ‘the  accused’ to appear before it in person, and to put up ‘wanted posters’ if they refuse. Its producers seem to have lost sight of the fact that Fair Go is not a court, it’s a television show.  

When a company answers a Fair Go complaint in writing, apologises, fixes the problem/s and compensates the complainants, it has done everything that can reasonably be expected of it. It is under no obligation to provide entertainment fodder for television. 

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14 Comments:

  1. I would agree except that the case usually gets to Fair Go only after the company concerend has persistently ignored the consumer complaints. I have little or no sympathy for most those companies end up on Fair Go’s Wall of Shame. They deserve to be there because of their lack of responsiveness in the first place. Sometimes issuing an apology and a cheque is not enough. Someone needs to explain why the consumer was ignored in the first place and how the company is going to ensure that it behaves itself in future.

    As regards Slingshot, I agree that was a bit unfair.

  2. Ben, I don’t think that’s entirely fair. I’ve had a couple of clients on Fair Go and sometimes it’s the first they’ve heard of the problem. Customers certainly complain to a company with the threat that unless they are compensated in some generous way, they’ll “take this to Fair Go”. Such is the power of this programme (and Target) that the threat is generally enough to get the customer what he or she wants and then some, just to make the problem go away, regardless of the merits of the customer’s original complaint.

    And yes, we’ve advised those clients to go on the programme to avoid the infamy of not doing so.

  3. Sally, you are quite correct as to the power of Fair Go. I had a protracted dispute with a well known computer company lasting several months. It was resolved within 48 hours when I wrote to Fair Go and copied in the company. I consider my self to be reaonably literate and I am familiar with the Consumer Guarantees Act and Fair Trading Act but I could make no headway whatsoever against this company.

    I think you are wrong in suggesting that people threaten Fair Go because they want to be ‘compensated in some generous way’. Most are ‘small’ people who have been ‘jerked of by government/business and by the time they contact Fair Go are desperate.

    The reality is that most large organisations have an appalling attitude to dealing with complaints. They believe customer relations is handing the problem to some airhead who asks you how your day has been up to now.

    The other point regarding contrition is that one should ‘go and sin no more’. The lessons learned from Fair Go do not seem to get absorbed; if they did the programme would go out of existence.

    • Sally, you are quite correct as to the power of Fair Go.

      Having been variously host and producer of Fair Go over a period of 8 years, I can assure you, Ben, that thousands of retail customers use the threat of going to Fair Go to blackmail traders into settling complaints which may well have very little substance. That in no way reflects on the programme itself which (mostly) does a marvellous job in getting justice for people who have been ripped off. My complaint is specifically about the ‘wall of shame’. The producers should abandon this totally unacceptable concept.

  4. Do you have permission to use that photo of Kevin Milne?

    Your copyright statement on this page asserts you are the rights holder.

    • Do you have permission to use that photo of Kevin Milne?

      You are correct to draw my attention to this. Our normal practice is to caption photographs with the name of the copyright holder. Our experience has been that this is generally accepted, particularly in the case of media whose websites are promoting their personnel, programmes or publications. We have had no complaint from TVNZ or any other organisation about this in the past.

  5. Feel free to stick my photo up on your site any time, Brian. Fair Go doesn’t ask permission to stick other people’s photos up on the wall and nor should you.

    I think companies that deal with the public have a responsibility to front up to the public when things go wrong. That includes fronting up on television. It’s not good enough to just say, “we’ll fix it…but we refuse to talk on the telly about what happened, who was responsible, or if it’s likely to happen again.”

    The Fair Go Wall is about companies not fronting up on camera when we think there are still questions to be answered. It’s not about whether they’ve decided to fix the problem or not.

    Now there’s the Wall, these people know they’ll be “appearing” if they front up or not.

    As for Mr Callander. He had every opportunity to front up to the camera originally but didn’t. Good on him for fronting up in the end, though.

    • Feel free to stick my photo up on your site any time, Brian. Fair Go doesn’t ask permission to stick other people’s photos up on the wall and nor should you.

      Good morning, old friend. And thanks for replying to my post. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough. As a public figure, I don’t think just providing a written response to my complaint will do. I require you to come to my premises, so that I can cross-examine you further on this infringement. If you fail to do so, I will put a large photograph of you in the window of my offices with the inscription: Kev Milne – Wanted for Questioning! I will refuse to take it down until you yield. Further, when you get here, I will take measures to loosen your tongue, by forcing you to drink large quantities of fine wine. So there!

      Now Kev, we are going to agree to differ. Other media investigate consumer complaints, most notably the Consumer’s Institute. They seem to find no difficulty at all in dealing with those complaints and in getting results for the complainants. The entire exercise is conducted in writing. The complainant submits his/her complaint in writing, Consumer forwards it to the complainee for a response, conducts its own investigation of the arguments on both sides and, if it decides to publish the complaint, supplies the complainee with a draft of the article to comment on, before it is published. Not a camera in sight. Before Fair Go came along, Truth was an enormously successful consumer advocate. No cameras again.

      Fair Go just happens to be a television programme. And I see no reason at all why a complainee should have to play by television’s rules, just to keep you happy. Indeed, you have neither mandate nor authority to require anyone to do anything. Your power comes from your ability to put people you have deemed to be villains in the stocks of public opinion. And though your intentions are good and the results often beneficial to the complainant and sometimes to the general public, the modus operandi of the programme is often quite unfair.

      I have discussed this with you and the Fair Go team before. Fair Go operates like a court but does not follow the rules of a court. The complainant is offered every possible assistance to present his/her evidence. Invariably the complainant’s side of the story is filmed. The filming takes place in the familiar setting of the complainant’s office, home or premises – an unfrightening enviroment. This may take half a day or more to do. Not only is the complainant helped to get their story across as well and persuasively as possilbe, they may be given lines to say to camera. This does not happen in a normal interview situation. Essentially the complainant’s side of the story is packaged and choreographed to make them look as good as possible.

      In a nutshell the complainant is assisted by counsel. The complainee has no counsel, unless they come to people like us for advice. The vast majority of course do not. They get extremely short notice to respond to the complaint and appear “in court”. Several clients of ours have received notice of the complaint on Thursday and been asked to make themselves available to be filmed on the following Monday or Tuesday or to be recorded in the studio on Wednesday, the day of the programme. They have been expected to put all their other personal and business commitments aside to prepare for their appearance. The arrogance of this is mind-blowing.

      Then we have the disparity in the time given to the complainant and to the complainee. I haven’t put a stopwatch on it, but my reasonable assessment is that the complainee will get around two and a half to three minutes to respond to the complaint in the studio. Clients of ours have ended up with around a minute and a half.

      This may include Fair Go’s ‘free minute’ to say what they want without interruption. Sounds fair, but of course it isn’t. In more than 40 years in the business I have met very few people, including professionals, who could gather their thoughts together in a frightening environment and speak coherently to camera for a minute.

      What Fair Go seems determined to ignore is the fact that public speaking is one of the top five activities that people world wide fear most. And that fear includes everything from speaking at an office party to appearing on a television programme, in an alien environment, in front of hundreds of thousands of people to defend yourself in a couple of minutes against charges that are often of a highly complex nature.

      And there’s no counsel there to object if the treatment you’re getting isn’t fair. You’re on your own.

      As to the wall, I ‘m sticking by every word I said. The concept is outrageous and the idea that people should have to come into your studio to plead their case so that their name and photograph should be taken off the way, displays a level of hubris bordering on megalomania.

      Kev, Fair Go is a great show and it does a lot of good. But its processes have never been fair. They aren’t now and they weren’t in my time as host or producer. In fact they were probably worse. The problem for those working on the programme is that it’s hard to resist seeing yourself as a knight on a white horse. I certainly found it hard and was entirely unsuccessful in resisting that delusion. It’s easy to forget that, as I said in my post, “It’s a television show”.

      As to the two cases I highlighted, both complainees responded to your questions in detail, both put things right and both compensated the complainees. They should never have been on the wall in the first place.

      Now I’d like to issue you with a little challenge. I’ll happily debate this with you, your producer, or any member of your team in any forum that’s interested. I’ll even offer you a free minute at the start.

      Whoever wins, you and I will still be friends.

      Cheers

      Brian

  6. Brian – Fair Go exists simply because many suppliers of goods and services are just HOPELESS at understanding the need to supply what customers want and(- and in the case of fair go -) have paid for.

    Although most people dont think of it this way, they have entered into a contract with the supplier, they have fulfilled their part of the contract(by paying) but the other party hasnt. Invariably they are hard to contact, never reply and raise inumerable obstacles.
    The consumer often has a loss of the full value of the contract – but for the supplier one customer is nothing – but wide scale bad publicity is about on an equal scale with the relative loss of the consumer. Thats why fairgo is so effective

    Further, a supplier doesnt get on Fair Go for one small misdemeaner – its usually after they have become well practiced at it and they have probably pissed of a substantial number before there are enough complaints (remember the retailers rule – for every complaint you get there are three who havent complained – NO MATTER HOW SERIOUS THE MATTER. So when Fair go have 10 complaints – there are really 40 actual cases.)

    You might be upset due to one case of over zealousness by fair go – but you should keep in mind that fair go cant possibly cover all the cases – so there are plenty of consumers getting raw deals that will never be heard.

    As for people wanting “payments” to shut up – well thats what happens when suppliers upset people. If the suppliers kept to their side of the contract they wouldnt be in these situations.

    In my eyes we really need about three fair go programmes as companies get more arrogant and proficient at ripping people off. I have had a case with Genesis where they tried to rip me off. Went to the electricity ombudsman (I think thats what shes called) and Genesis apologised and said that it would never happen again, theyve put in system to stop it, etc.
    12 months later the same thing again. They hadnt put in any process to stop it. They blatantly lied to me. They again agreed that some how their system had been unable to prevent it. I asked for the electricy person to fine them $10k to be given to the charity of the leader of the Opposition – but she has no power to do anything like that. Shes a jawboner only.
    Genesis just kept on truckin. The electricity lady has no real power to do anything – so when outfits like this get on fair go (I dont think Gensis have been there yet) then they have a long trail is dishonesty behind them..

    • Brian – Fair Go exists simply because many suppliers of goods and services are just HOPELESS at understanding the need to supply what customers want and(- and in the case of fair go -) have paid for.

      Barry, you’ve had a bad experience with one company and you’ve generalised from it to make unsupportable comments about an entire sector.

      Also, you actually don’t know what criteria are used by Fair Go in selecting what stories will appear on the programme. Only a small fraction of complaints ever make it to air. So you never get to hear about all the unsustainable or unreasonable complaints. That’s likely to give you a slightly jaundiced view of companies and traders in general.

  7. Brian – Im starting to think that BE doesnt mean Brian Edwards, but instead stands for the “Big Excuser”

    • Brian – Im starting to think that BE doesnt mean Brian Edwards, but instead stands for the “Big Excuser”

      Well at least you’re starting to think, Barry.

  8. Dear Mr. B E,

    I have no doubt you are man of character, good humour and fairness.

    However as an elderly Kiwi, Fair Go reperesents one of the only avenues open to the recent intimidating tactics in commerce.

    When I was young it was only the Rawleighs man and the odd Jehova’s Witness. We were simply not trained to deal with the manipulative and intimidating strategies of the modern world.

    Only today I have been badgered into a contract by Callplus. The basis was totally false and I contributed somewhat by being hard of hearing. Twice I explained I was elderly and partly deaf.

    It was after the call which probably constututed a contract that I went online and discovered the true identity of Callplus. I had been led to believe by the salesman that they were an arm of Telecom who are my long term internet and phone supplier. I have rung Telecom, in the Philippines and they have undertaken not to disconnect me which is critical as I live alone.

    Except for the Wall of Shame, what exactly has the little guy got. A big guy can go to Fair Go and take his name down but the little guy may have to live with consquences of being taken advantage of. If it wasn’t for the wall of shame I would never have known who Slingshot was and I would never have been alerted to a potentially disastrous situation.

    Trial by TV is far from perfect but we live in an age where our other systems favour the wrongdoer over the victim. Kevin and his team are addresssing that imbalance.

    • I have no doubt you are man of character, good humour and fairness. However as an elderly Kiwi, Fair Go reperesents one of the only avenues open to the recent intimidating tactics in commerce.

      Generally, as I have indicated in several posts, Fair Go does a very good job. This should not make the programme immune from criticism when it is itself unfair. There is an old saying about those who protect us. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Who will guard the guardians? or Who watches the watchers? It’s important to keep Fair Go fair.