CHOICE membership

Shouldn’t consumers be “made whole?”

Typically, consumers as individuals have much less power than large institutions, and particularly government anointed ones like Telco’s and energy providers. As I look back over my archived records from years of dealing with problems along the road of life, I find that I have spent (wasted) massive amounts of time dealing with problems which were clearly the fault of a large organisation (and particularly, its incompetent systems). Does this sound familiar?: Eventually, after jumping through many hoops (necessary?), spending too much time holding a phone listening to advertising or platitudes, writing careful letters with CC’s to solicitors, or navigating tedious and complicated websites … and not giving up … you “win” and have a defective product replaced, an account rectified, a service actually provided, etc. Lucky me/you, we got (in the end) what we paid for.

In legal terms, a party can claim and expect to receive Compensatory Damages sufficient to “make one whole” meaning … to pay or award damages sufficient to put the party who was damaged back into the position he/she would have been without the fault of another.

So, after subtracting mandatory parts of life like work, sleeping, cleaning and cooking, we all have limited discretionary time. Being forced to then spend more of that scarce time dealing with (IMHO) excessively bureaucratic or incompetent systems just in order to obtain “wholeness” relative to some product or service subtracts from our lives and well-being. Shouldn’t this be compensated? When Telstra wastes over 7.5hours of my life having to continually chase issues over months just to get back to where my contract was, after I exercise cooling off rights, who is giving me back those hours? When (a decade back) Norton’s fobs me off to overseas “service centres” who instruct me how to deal with “problems with my computer” only to finally advise (call #4) that “of course, these two products are incompatible” … then why were they sold bundled together? Have they compensated me for not getting to play with my kids while instead performing pointless busywork?

Choice has done a great job of advocating for consumer rights regarding products and services. Most complaints “processes” involving larger organisations have zero incentive for them NOT to waste consumer’s time, but with a large incentive to cause as many as possible to drop by the wayside. Isn’t it time for advocacy for transparent, efficient, just processes for consumers to deal with? Maybe then we would really be “made whole.”

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I agree totally with your conclusions! My suggestion would be to start a change.org petition or similar to the appropriate organ of government demanding that any organisation that accumulates more than x number of complaints per annum be obliged to contribute to the formation of a complaints resolution board. This board would take over the complaint if it was not resolved in a stipulated amount of time by the company and then hand over our complaint to their staff who would pursue resolution on our behalf! Of course, time constraints etc would need to be negotiated but we, the complainants would not be wasting OUR valuable time! We need to get tough with these large companies and set strict mandatory time frames for complaint resolution and compensation for each day the complaint extends beyond a preset resolution time!

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I sympathise with you in relation to compensation for effort made to make a complaint or to rectify faulty goods…but, this is very hard to do.

Everyone would value their own time differently and some take far more time (both physically and emotionally) in the efforts to resolve.

If businesses had to compensate for such, they would then push the additional business cost to the consumer, as a form of self insurance against such claims. This would result in price increases across the board and would only advantage those who make such claims…potentially to ‘make money’ out of the business. This would also be used by the legal profession to also make money at consumer’s expense.

The other thing to consider is it coukd take more time to resolve a dispute for a low value item than a more expensive one. I couldn’t image much support for someone being paid say $100 or more in compensation for their time for goods which may have a value say of $20. This would send many business broke if they did by chance produce one lemon product.

What would be better is that the warranty period (either manufacturer or that under the ACC Law) for a replaced item starts from day zero when the replacement item is received…currently most retailers/manufacturers the new item comes under the warranty period for the original purcahsed item. This would add value to the replacement and would offset any time considerations.

@phb, An issue is that penalties on the dodgy range from non-existent (a weak jawboning) to insulting (a minuscule amount against ill-gotten profit) as often than not. Extending a warranty as you suggest as a value add for compensation is business friendly because voluntary warranties are the only ones with specified warranty periods, and the statutory rights are not defined beyond terms such as “reasonable”. It could be the case where voluntary warranties become ever more stingy, on purpose.

It is correct that individuals will value their time differently, but so does every (eg) tradie and trade value time differently; consumers will spend more or less time, effort, and emotion, and could generate individually different incomes if they were not having to spend their time enforcing their rights; and a QC will earn more in an hour than a fast food worker but who would miss their hours income more?

Business’ profit is not the only thing important to balance rights and responsibilities. Therein lies an issue with business-sided arguments that admittedly have merits in a practical sense but put an aggrieved consumer into a no-win position where at best they come out behind (less than whole) after the process.

If a business did the right thing they would have no/few added costs and would be rorting their customers if they raised their prices to cover their own policy-driven misdeeds. Businesses that are repeat offenders are not innocents. Today their usual downside is having to do the right thing one time, not do the right thing every time into the future, and the most egregious offenders are aware of how hard they can push the system with relative impunity.

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Thanks PMG, I’m not sure what the best solution(s) would look like, but your idea is well worth considering. Currently, for Telcos, we have the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, but few realise that it is paid “per complaint”. This seems wise in that it is penalising (? how much) poorer performers (relative to individual consumer issues), but it also means that they have a rather large negative incentive to actually force such companies to lift their game … in the extreme, if there were no complaints there would be no Ombudsman … yet no complaints/excellent performance is exactly what society should expect in the bigger perspective. Of the thousands of complaints the TIO gets per year, it would seem that patterns would be evident and targeted action in everyone’s interest, but I have no evidence of this happening. As to solutions, I think that many will have been tried around the world, and studying the results from these “experiments” would point to the most effective possibilities. Choice certainly seems in a box seat to undertake something like this, as government would have to be the worst offender when it comes to wasting individual’s time (write to Centrelink complaining and trying to get a rational outcome if you wish to test the truth of this statement!).

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Thanks CD!

Your last suggestion certainly sounds reasonable; as with most any process, it could be rorted, but would certainly be worth investigating.

As to an added cost to business, my understanding (which I am concurrently investigating) is that we currently have full legal rights to pursue “waste of time” compensation claims now. Most of us do not, as the cost of action would far exceed potential benefit … which major organisations know very well. Put simply, the cost (and risk) do not justify the likely benefit. However, it is also true in my experience that “when good women/men do nothing, evil triumphs” so poor behaviour that we “let slip” we are actually encouraging.

I think it is also important to note that “additional cost of business” would apply only to those businesses which trigger claims (assuming a monetary dis-incentive of some sort). It would only be an additional cost to businesses which under-performed, and would presumably favour businesses performing better in this area, which would seem in our interests.

Finally, and I should have made this clearer earlier … my experience has been that warranty claims for a product, particularly with small to medium businesses (Oz based), are usually dealt with positively and fairly. In looking at my historic archives, most of the (massive) time wasting has been in areas of “services” such as Telcos and Energy Providers. When I look at the Product Review website, their ratings go from 1 (lowest) to 5, so 3 would be “average” … of 43 energy providers, only 10 score average or better; of 40 mobile phone providers, 5 score average or above. These are commonly “mega-businesses” and seem rather immune to the concept of customer service (in my experience). In terms of time wasted, these are where my priorities would focus, even excluding smaller businesses from any specified service standard if appropriate.

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If one does make a claim and it was supported, I would imagine it would establish a legal precedent where anyone who has to wait for or spend time in relation to a service (either result of their or another parties action) would reasonably expect to similar claims for ones time to also be supported. For example,

  • paid for waiting for a late tradie/service technician,
  • waiting for unreasonably delayed trasport such as bus, taxi, train, emergency services and such like,
  • waiting in a queue for something (in person or on phone)…tickets for concerts, contacting government agencies, doctor’s appointment, at a checkout, etc

And the list goes on for others where ones own time is ‘lost’ as a result of something outside their own control, and potentially as the result of another’s actions.

I have dealings with compulsory land acquisition by a government agency, and even for ones time resolving such acquisitions, one own time is not compensated.

Supporting payment for ones own time for contact with a organisation for a warranty claim would open a can of worms which would be hard to close.

Any decision in relation to such support must also consider such consequences.

Maybe society as a whole thinks ones time is so valuable that it should be compensated under all circumstances. Such would change the dynamics of the economy and I believe would lead to inflationary pressures on everything we do…as cost would be horrendous.

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Perchance to dream!

My original thesis, put simply, was that individual consumer’s time is valuable. There is already legal precedent that it is a legitimate claim within compensatory damages; unfortunately, however, it is unenforceable in practice (in many complaint settings) by being uneconomic. Within economics, such wasted time is an “externality” being a subsidy to profitability of some businesses, for which the true costs are not included in the market (ie, a market failure). The traditional solution to such failures is to change processes to include true costs in the market, which is what I dared suggest. Hence, finding mechanism(s) to extend the legal precedent (in practice) down to a smaller scale should indeed provide incentive for tradies to show up (at least on the day the say!), etc, etc. Somehow, I don’t see how this is a bad thing, and for businesses that (as many already do) show respect for consumers, this should not increase costs while providing another competitive advantage in the market. However, some of your suggestions aren’t relevant, as “emergency services” imply an inherent inability to schedule and a need to prioritise/triage. Likewise, business transactions employ utilitarian power where both sides need to agree with the rules of the contract; government employs coercive force, which is a whole different game and not one necessarily amenable to the same sort of solutions. However, the concept of actual “service” from the so-called “public service” is indeed something worth dreaming of.

As to such small scale claims shaking the economy to the core; I don’t see it … encouraging the best businesses, and approaches to client service, yes. For those businesses that act to reasonably respect consumer’s time, there is no additional cost. From a personal perspective, I’m happy enough to accept when tradies indicate that they will arrive on a particular morning, but I will vote with my feet and dollars if they can’t even arrive on the day, or jerk me around with lame excuses at the last minute.

Humbly, my thoughts on where Choice fits into all of this have begun to crystalize. For decades, Choice has fought for consumer “rights” which has generally focused on warranties, safe goods, etc. At this time, while there are obvious fraudulent products and services (and always will be, given human incentives), I believe the legislative and regulatory basis is well established to deal with these problems. The big remaining issue is where “rights” are not obtainable by a reasonable person, due to process which complainants are forced to go through. Within Consumer Advocacy, I see this as the last great frontier, which will complete the cycle such that justice is possible on both sides of the equation within the marketplace. Put simply, Choice has “shadow shoppers” but I don’t remember even one “shadow complaint advocate”. People can identify with the “run around” or “40 minutes on the phone, waiting to be fobbed off” as episodes in the never ending drama …or else in the too-hard basket. We will see.

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When we talk of compensation for time used, we already have a valid and used example of compensation for time spent and that is Jury Duty payments. They do not necessarily represent a fair repayment of an individual’s costs time wise but they legally and legislatively set a rate of remuneration that could be used.

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Add “deliberately obstructive” to “excessively bureaucratic or incompetent systems”.
How many companies hide behind “noreply@” email addresses or inadequate “contact us” advice?
Or the endless wait because “our lines are unexpectedly busy”?
And, this seems to be where Telstra wins the gold, silver and bronze medals, one finally gets through only to be given the wrong advice…
These companies simply lack courage and confidence in their products and services and have a culture that treats customers with contempt.

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I was going to offer a “considered reply” to this and the other commentators, but realized that we are all p*****g in the wind!
Venting your anger with like-minded people at frustrations and mistreatment has some therapeutic effect. But in the end you are unlikely to change anything. Just get over it and move on.

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Johnn31 is right.
The only way to win is with more independents in all our Parliaments. The parties DO NOT CARE. We are just stupid consumers and we must be used to achieve any required end. : - (

The rise of Independents is, and will change this. They are there by the skin of their teeth and must do all they can to stay there. Stop voting for parties and real change will happen. Sites like change.org will change .au
Then we need lots of things -
The right to sue a politician if they vote contrary to public opinion - Sometimes tough choices have to be made but what about being able to sue if 5 years down the track they were badly wrong and knew it - but did it anyway.
Create a Federal ICAC
Only appoint Ministers (State and Feral) to positions that they’re qualified to do - this will get rid of the lawyers.
Fair Work rights in the work place - fix the award system get rid of Fair Work Australia.
Create fair National Workers Compensation / Work cover system with independent auditing and transparency.
Proper National licensing for all licenses…
Get rid of state Planning Authorities - Councils deal with Federal Govt
Make it compulsory to “take on board” public submissions for development. Make them explain why they should or shouldn’t do something. Enough people say no it all stops.
Stop Councillors, State or Federal politicians being allowed to stand for public office if they are removed by the Dept Local Govt or the Courts.
If a politician resigns from a Party mid-term - they go back to the polls.
Bring back tax relief for training. Stop 457 visas - train locals.
Better education with free Universities - but only free on successful outcomes otherwise pay.
Should I keep going…? I better not!
Lets just start by putting independents into our Parliamentary offices…

I’ve had my two bob…

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if the cost was extended to the consumer wouldnt the consumer vote with their wallet and buy their goods elsewhere? As well, if complaints were founded it would make sense these would be published in a forum and if the government was sincere (please dont laugh hahaha sorry Im laughing) they would enforce a rule these complaints were available on the business website in an easily accessible manner as well as on a government website. ??Then maybe businesses and or maybe their shareholders would make them accountable and products/services would improve? I can only hope

Precious few independents have ever been elected. Many of them were resignations and others were expelled from a party for one reason or another. Then there were the true independents who despite appearing to have more honesty, integrity, and good as members, they have rarely been re-elected and unless they held the balance of power were largely impotent.

Our system of political parties above government coupled with the voting system is designed poorly to serve us, but is designed well to serve the parties themselves, who serve the vested interests quite well, and us rarely at all.

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This is why it is unlikely to ever change until the general populus stop believing the dogma espoused by the parties and start thinking for themselves.

Oh, was that a pig flying by??? :pig2:

How much money have you donated to the major political parties lately, TheBBG? More broadly, how much money has anyone donated, who does not have an axe to grind or an appointment to ‘win on merit’ or a business to foster.

I think we should call political donations out for what they are - legalised bribery and corruption. We are lucky that Australia is not as far down this path as our role model US, where I understand that 70% of an elected representative’s time - at the national level - is spent seeking funding for re-election! Seventy per cent!!! These people are out chasing mining magnates, and tech billionaires, and bankers, and anyone else who can help them stay in power! If you’re playing that game, you end up with a whole bunch of debts to donors .I mean, you end up doing The Right Thing For This Country, which just happens to align with what your investors want done. (Did I say ‘investors’? Donors, of course - donors who are just being patriotic.).

Of course, then we have Labor and Liberal wanting to change the voting system for the Senate, and not a single voice in the popular media pointed out that it was simply another power grab from the duopoly!


Okay, rant done. Time to discuss the idea of being ‘made whole’ (sounds religious).

I think it’s great, and have in fact sent out invoices (based upon my wasted time) to a few places that have ignored my ‘no junk mail’ signs. No payment has been forthcoming, but the amount of junk mail that turns up has greatly diminished.

It will never happen. Just imagine the claims against Centrelink, whether from its ‘guilty until innocent’ debt letters or its insistence that anyone can do any job. To quote Eliza Doolittle, though… “Wouldn’ it be loverly”.


Actually, I just thought of a way it could (but won’t) occur. The government collects all sorts of data through a range of agencies from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). It collects data about industry efficiency, about levels of customer happiness, about the number of cases referred to industry ombudspeople etc.

So - at the end of each year the Commonwealth identifies which industries have been operating inefficiently/doing a bad job. It places an overall value on this, taxes each industry accordingly, and the proceeds are divvied among all consumers. You won’t get an exact “What I get out is what I put in”, but if industries are well managed they will spread the tax to their poorest performers, ensuring that an incentive exists to improve.

(For some reason, I feel as though there will be someone who reads this and thinks ‘tar and feather are too good for this guy!’)

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And now, for a short riposte.

Agree. I have been waiting one year to get my phone back from Samsung - they took it to repair and will not give it back.

The government should legislate (and it would be easy to find bi-partisan support) that every business that has a call centre should tell you the moment you go on hold a) to what country the call is being re-directed (so if we choose, we can support companies that keep jobs here), b) what our anticipated wait time is and c) whether we’d like to listen to on-hold music or have a silent hold.

AirBNB is a classic example. I’ve had them ‘promise’ that they’d answer within 5 minutes and then wait 45, all the while forcing me to listen to their hideous, not-in-tune on-hold music. Grrrrrr.

Now that’s something that I’d like to be made whole for!

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