Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is Yellow Book the answer to our yellow pack customer service culture here?

I had the pleasure of spending the New Year holidays with my good friend Didi and his girlfriend Ana in Moscow and in the course of our discussions they were asking me about my new role. I was telling them that apart from high prices here, poor customer service or what we could call "yellow pack" customer service was a big problem. We know from a Eurobarometer survey in 2006 that 35% of Irish consumers were unhappy with the manner in which their complaint was dealt with, and of those almost half didn't take any further again. I imagine in most cases, people were just fobbed off and worn down until they just gave up.

Ana was telling me about the system in Portugal, its called the "Yellow Book". If you have a customer complaint and are not getting anywhere about a public service, retailer, restaurant, bank, basically any goods or service provider you can request the "yellow book". Here is some information on line about the "Livro Amarelo". (I know it is in Portuguese, but if you use an online translation service, it gives you the gist of what it is about). But basically all public authorities/providers are required to have this book by law on the premises, you fill out a form which is in triplicate, one copy for you, one for the provider and one which goes to the public authority responsible for addressing the complaint.

Ana told me that the request for the yellow book doesn't normally go down too well, its almost like an insult and I can imagine why. She has experience of being told that the yellow book has been abolished or that they can't find it. Anyhow in a lot of cases the threat of the consumer looking for the yellow book generally moves the provider to take the complaint more seriously.

It struck me as a potential solution to some of our customer service problems. The reality is that we give consumers rights, but not the means to enforce or at least we make it very difficult for them to seek redress. We go to a bank, shop to restaurant or call a customer care line and we are unhappy about some issue, but cannot seem to get them to take our complaint seriously or sort it out. We are angry and determined to do something about it. But then by the time we find out what to do, where to go and how to do it, we have lost the will to live or do not just have time to sit down and draft that email or letter which may just end up in another black hole. However with the yellow book, you make the complaint there and then on the premises or online, no need to write a letter, spend hours on a so-called customer care line when all the details are fresh in your memory.

Its certainly a system I plan to follow up and look into further. Of course not saying this is a panacea, but the basis of a solution. Lisbon is a very agreeable city and this is an excellent excuse to travel there. It would also address an issue in that the consumer protection landscape is complex, there are a plethora of different systems, agencies, bodies with responsibility for adjudicating on consumer complaints. The yellow book could be the solution in that consumers don't need to know where to go, they just need to fill in the details in the yellow book and the complaint goes to the relevant authority automatically, so if it is about food safety it goes to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, about financial services, the Financial Ombudsman and so on. That's the theory anyhow, might be worth trying to see if it works in practice here.

Of course you could also take a more extreme route. This guy after months of trying to get a complaint with BT solved uploaded it to You Tube and got the required results. See