Why is ‘after-sales-service’ in India so shoddy? In the last fortnight, I have received innumerable letters from consumers describing the abysmally low quality of after-sales service provided by white goods manufacturers.
Varun Sharma, for example, talks about how from Day One, the remote control of the air conditioner that he purchased did not function and despite repeated complaints, neither the dealer nor the manufacturer bothered to replace the set or rectify the defect. “After spending so much money, I feel cheated,” he says.
Whether the complaint is about an expensive television set or a washing machine or an air-conditioner, each letter is a testimony to the way manufacturers (and dealers) in India behave with consumers who buy their products.
What should be done to bring about an attitudinal change in the manufacturers? The first step is for the government to draw stringent performance standards for after-sales service.
The standards should not only specify when or on what grounds a product should be labelled defective, requiring a replacement, but also specify timelines for attending to complaints.
It should also focus on the need for manufacturers to provide a back-up or a service machine whenever an appliance is taken for repairs. The standards should also prescribe penalties for delays in attending to complaints.
Such standards would not only help in benchmarking the quality of after sales service provided by different manufacturers, but most important, would help consumer courts look at poor after sales service with more clarity.
Today, in the absence of any such standards, the verdicts of consumer courts are highly subjective and so also the compensation that they award.
When consumer courts start taking a more serious view of such shoddy service by manufacturers and start slapping huge punitive damages, we are sure to see an attitudinal change in manufacturers.
It is equally important to force the trade and industry associations to provide alternate dispute resolution mechanisms.
In North America, for example, the private business sector finances a non-profit public service organisation called the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB not only helps consumers resolve their complaints with businesses through mediation and arbitration, but also facilitates informed consumer choice through rating of companies.
The trade and industry bodies in India are, however, unwilling to provide a similar set-up. The government can surely force them to provide at least independent industry-specific ombudsmen to resolve consumer complaints quickly.
Navneet Chhabra: I had purchased an air-conditioner, which started emitting foul smell within a few days of the purchase. After several calls and written complaints for a month, the company replaced the AC at 11 o'clock in the night but with a repaired/ damaged/ second-hand piece. Again after lots of calls, the showroom owner called me to take the new AC from his shop. But the one he offered did not look very new and he refused to give any other piece. Please tell me how to get a new AC from him.
Answer: Please seek the help of a consumer organisation in your city to resolve this issue. You can call the toll-free national consumer helpline 1800-11-4000 for information on consumer groups. If you live in Delhi, you can take advantage of the Mediation Centre set up by the Delhi government at the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum on KG Marg (Telephone: 23381759) to get a new air-conditioner or your money back. Or else lodge a complaint with the consumer court against both the dealer and the manufacturer. The choice of the consumer forum depends on the location of the dealer/manufacturer.
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