Sunday, 25 November 2012


Is it worth taking action when you think something’s wrong or should you just put up with it?

I spend a lot of my time working with customers’ complaints and examples of abuse and I confess there are bad times when I wonder whether it’s worth it. There seems such an enormous community of abusers all of whom think it’s OK to lie, cheat and steal from people. They think it’s OK to make people sign contracts that they’ve written specifically to confuse people into parting with their money. They think that it’s OK to tell lies to exploit people.

Holiday clubs, let’s start with them. Let’s talk about the holiday clubs that offer you fantastic opportunities to have exotic breaks in exotic places but turn out to offer you precious little other than a lifetime contract that they won’t let you terminate. Often the breaks you want are at the wrong time, the place and with the wrong conditions. More importantly they don’t let you change your mind after the first few days. If you want to cancel the whole deal after a couple of years of having no holidays they’ll just say no. Even if you just change bank accounts and prevent them stealing your money they’ll still insist you’re committed and will send lawyers after you and make sure your credit history is ruined. They’ll also instruct second-rate lawyers to threaten any consumer rights bodies who dare to warn the public not to sign lifetime contracts like theirs.

Multi-level marketing schemes, network marketing schemes or perhaps more simply pyramid-structured schemes that actually have products, they frustrate me as well. I find it hard to see how people can deny one particular fact. The figures produced by the major MLM schemes, the figures they’re forced to publish by law in certain countries, show that virtually nobody who becomes a distributor makes any money from it.

For instance, Herbalife’s figures, once you’ve done the maths they’ve neglected to do, are perfectly simple to understand. According to their income disclosure statement for 2011, Herbalife "Supervisors" (33% of all distributors) in the USA had average annual "earnings compensation" of $475 (about P3,500) That’s less than P300 per month. Note that this is earnings, not profit, it’s before they paid their phone bill, internet fees and transport and accommodation costs. Note as well that these are the figures for the USA, a country with considerably higher average than ours.

When you drill down a little further into their figures you discover some more fascinating facts. For instance, the top 6% of their US “leaders” earned 89% of all the compensation paid out. Herbalife's "supervisors", who constitute 33% of the pyramid, shared the remaining 11% of the compensation. No compensation data was provided for the 60% of distributors who don't get to "supervisor" level so it’s probably safe to assume they earned nothing. Or less.

In short, unless you can work your way to the top of the pile in a MLM business, you’re screwed. The worse news is that there aren’t any vacancies at the top of the pile, they’re already occupied by people who got there a LONG time before you and they certainly don’t want to give up that 89% of the money they’re getting. You’re not going to get your hands on it.

Sometimes I even find some consumers irritating. I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago that urged “users please be aware of da growing trend of Satanism in Social networks”.

The anonymous author told the story of a young girl who saw “a satanic picture” online. He went on:
“Da evil spiritual picture caused da damage in da gelz eyes. Her eyes bleeded as soon as watched it. When she explained da incident her eyes bleeded like floods and burnt like blazes of fire.”
He said that when she reached hospital her eyeballs had disappeared. This, of course, is a work of fiction. It’s a deception, a deceit, a shameless and horrible lie made up by someone selling something, presumably his rabble-rousing, miracle religious crusade. For money of course. Once I took some deep breaths and calmed down I asked whether there was any evidence that any of this was true. This is what I was told:

“hey ths thins du happn! u dnt hav to find whthr its tru or nt”
Roughly translated he was saying that we don’t need to establish whether things are true or not in order to believe them. Yet again I was tempted to give up. That level of idiocy is astonishing and that style of typing is also criminal. Are there really people out there as catastrophically stupid as this?

But those are the bad moments. I soon get over them when I hear of a consumer who stood up for his or her rights and ending up getting fair treatment and some respect. Or when I hear the latest story of NBFIRA and their secret underground cavern where they imprison and torture unrepentant (and unregistered) loan sharks. Or when I hear of a store fixing a customer’s problem without any great hassle, leaving their customer happier and more loyal than if the problem had never occurred.

Most of all I feel optimistic when I hear of consumers who say that they simply refused to passively accept unfairness or abuse and decide that they need to take action to fight back. Like we all should.

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