The Running Commentary


Consumer Entitlement….why?

call centreConsumer entitlement… In one of my previous posts regarding our culture of entitlement see (our entitlement culture) I alluded to the fact that I believe that we need to move aware from feeling entitled and take on the mantle of making things happen. I, on my flight back to Cape Town this afternoon, read a column by Wendy Knowler (I have not read any of her work before – but I understand that she is a consumer watch dog journo) entitled “Old contracts don’t die, they just roll over”.  Forgive me Wendy if I got this wrong, but this is what the guys sitting next to me on the plane said.The column leads with a story about a consumer, who, had a contract cancellation issue with his mobile phone provider. Effectively he had a contract which had a 24 month term, fairly standard for SA, with a clause requiring notice be given about of his intention to cancel the contract. Without such notice the contract states that the agreement will remain in effect until such notice of cancellation is received (or words to that effect), again fairly standard.

The view taken is that the consumer was a victim as he was then debited for a period of no less than 5 months (before he noticed) and then complained to the provider. They then from what I can read have cancelled the agreement as per the terms of the agreement.

Interesting for me is that this clause is seen as punitive to the consumer.

My view is that if you sign, or verbally agree via a recorded conversation, to a contract that you need to ensure you fully understand all of the terms of the contract. It is simply not good enough to say you did not know or were not made aware of the conditions of the contract. If you intend to bind to anything then it is your duty, after all it is your money the organization is accessing, to fully understand what you are signing or agreeing to.

My view on this clause is that, there are many consumers who do not know when their contract “expires”. If the mobile providers, in this case had ended the agreement, thereby cutting the communication off, they (the consumer)would argue that he was happy with the terms of his original agreement and would be happy to continue. I would certainly not like to be cut off without notice.

For the record, the second case Wendy Knowler talks about regarding the communication from Cell C about the termination of her agreement based on her option to port to a new provider I fully agree with. Customer contact is critical and organisations must take account for the manner in which they speak or communicate with their clients. Wendy writes for the Daily News out of Durban and this column was on page 11 of the Daily News for the 16 of April 2008.

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Mike • April 17, 2008

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  1. Wendy Knowler April 18, 2008 - 3:41 am

    Hello Mike,
    Picked up on your post via Google Alert.

    I write two consumer columns a week for The Star, which syndicates them to the Cape Times, Pretoria News and Daily News.

    I’ve been a journalist for 23 years, the last 10 specialising in consumer journalism.
    Fair comment re the need to read terms and conditions, and regular readers of my columns will know that I’m big on consumer responsibility too. But this particular obligation – to provide written cancellation, within a certain time-frame – is buried deep within those terms and conditions, and seldom, if ever, verbally pointed out to subscribers. Not when they take out the contract over the phone, or over the counter, and not when they upgrade.

    The call centre agents will call about an ‘early upgrade’ and if the person says “no, actually, I want to cancel”, they are not told it has to be done in writing.
    If someone is able to get into a contract over the phone, and ‘upgrade” it over the phone, it’s natural for them to assume that they can get out of it over the phone.

    You and those folk on the plane may have a certain understanding about what the obligations really are , but my email inbox bears testimony to the fact that a great many do not.

    This “standard practice” of contracts which don’t actually expire on the expiry date, is regarded by the Dti as extremely consumer unfriendly – not just cellphone contracts – gym and home security contracts, too – which is why the Consumer Protection Bill will change the way these industries operate in this respect to a large extent.

    They will be compelled to contact the consumer not more than 80 and not less than 40 days BEFORE the expiry date of the so-called fixed term contract, notify them IN WRITING of the impending expiry date, and spell out their options, should they wish to renew or cancel. That way no-one can get “cut off without notice” – or unwittingly end up paying for a service they no longer need or want.


  2. Sean April 19, 2008 - 1:33 am

    Hi Mike,

    Very interesting comment, I know that at Virgin Active they have started getting new members to specifically sign a seperate clause to highlight the rollover clause. I do think that corporate can be extra careful in this regard, especially with the legal literacy in South Africa. I do believe that there are creative ways that corporations can use to ensure that this is a benefit rather than a manipulation of the consumer.


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