THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT IN KENYA – A CUSTOMER PERSPECTIVE

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The Consumer Protection Act 2012 that was later assented into law on 14 March 2013, has been deemed as a turning point for customers country wide, considering that it is the first of its kind to formally document the rights of consumers, and to provide guidelines on various consumer-supplier interactions. Contained in its statutes are two main objectives: to provide for the protection of consumers in the country, largely referred to in common speak as customers; and to prevent unfair trade practices in consumer transactions from suppliers.

Docile
Although the act has been in place for four years now, consumers in the country seem unaware of it and of the rights enshrined in it to protect them.
The perception that the Kenyan customer is at the mercy of the supplier is rife and is only now slowly turning around, with the advent of the more technically savvy and informed citizen.
It also said that Kenyans by nature are not litigious, and when faced with unfair transactions would rather defer and exit, rather than take suppliers to task.
This is attributed to a combination of two things – that the populace by nature is generally more docile than West Africans, as well as the general disenfranchisement of citizens by the judicial process that is deemed to be long, winding, arduous and terribly expensive with unknown outcomes.
These notions notwithstanding, consumers need to know that this act provides a powerful tool for lobbying for excellent service, as well as seeking redress for service failure.
The act indeed is a huge win for customers and the recognition of their rights has truly been captured. Albeit not with the intricacy required and with some sectors remaining unmentioned, it still advocates for the voice of the customer.
The act spells out the rights of consumers with regards to dissatisfaction from products and services, as well as an indication of the steps to take to seek redress.
This empowers customers not only to know what they are entitled to, but also to understand the action to take when faced with a genuine supplier originated problem. The act also covers compensation for customers in event that there has been a liability by the provider.

Drivers
It is crucial for customers to be aware of these three elements, and that they have a law behind them to protect their interface with suppliers.
It would be important for consumer education fora to be convened by the ministers in charge of trade and industrialization in each county, to ensure citizens are educated on their rights, and for civic education players to expand their jurisdiction from governance based awareness programmes, to include consumer rights.
Customers are the drivers of trade worldwide and for any country to flourish, it requires robust trade. This is entirely dependent on consumption of goods and services.
With the need to be competitive globally, a national re-orientation towards customer satisfaction is necessary from the commercial, not-for- profit, government and the informal sectors of our economy. The survival and growth of businesses today is pegged on a focus on meeting customers’ needs and designing customer oriented products and services.
Most importantly however, is delivering service excellence to further drive business continuity. If both suppliers and customers are attuned to the Consumer Protection Act, the nature of business services will change for the better, ultimately culminating in economic success.

Customer experience
Customer education forms a huge part of the drive for customer experience excellence. This is the bid to have fully knowledgeable customers, enabled to opt in from a space of complete awareness. The Consumer Protection Act includes the right to full disclosure and information pre-agreement or contractual sign up, so that customers are empowered to make knowledgeable choices.
The so called ‘fine print’ needs to be brought to the customer’s attention for informed decision making.There is the need for discussion of exit clauses that are often not mentioned until something wrong occurs. The Act protects customers by defining their right to the provision of adequate notice ahead of the termination of a service.
Arbitrary decisions to cut customers off at will and without prior warning are prohibited.
Gone are the days when brands could solely determine the direction to take, besides dictating what was to be done to customers. With the enactment of this Act, businesses must consider how they will respond to customers’ needs, empathize with them and before applying any termination, determine if adequate and fair notice has been applied.
Related but with more specificity within the Act are the rights of customers to raise issues concerning the quality of goods or services provided, especially if contrary to the agreed specification.
The customer has the right to complain and take legal action where these do not meet his or her expectations.
With regards to service delivery, the right to raise the alarm on delays in delivery or to amendment or rectification as agreed is captured.
So not only must the goods or services be of good quality, but also delivered on time or rectified in a timely manner as agreed by both parties.
Timeliness is a key principle of customer experience excellence. As enshrined in this law, all businesses alike must strive to keep their promises and deliver goods and services as planned. The drive for this although achieving both, should more largely be based on the desire to provide delightful experiences for customers, rather than complying with the long arm of the law.
The Act also gives consumers the express right to swing into action should there be a breach in the provision of goods or services.
Country wide, across business channels and economic sectors, customers feel helpless in the event of service failure. Organizations and enterprises, both in the formal and informal sector are often quick to dismiss customer complaints. The Act however heralds a new dawn that addresses unfair trade practices in consumer transactions.
Customers have been bestowed with the right to commence legal action in relation to any disagreement relating to a contractual relationship for the provision of goods or services.
Whatever agreement is in place between the customer and supplier should not negate the customer’s right to take legal action.

Celebration
Customers who often have numerous complaints that go unheard should celebrate this law.
It prohibits unfair practices by suppliers, and customer service activists have embraced the clause that indicates ‘Any ambiguities in a consumer agreement (including oral agreements) shall be interpreted in favour of the consumer’. No further evidence is needed that the Act has the best interests of customers at heart. By and large, it outlines what constitutes malpractice by a supplier including: misrepresenting goods or services as performing particular functions or services that are in reality inaccurate; presenting counterfeit materials as the original, or masking them to imply performance or quality where it isn’t achievable, taking advantage of ( or pressuring) customers who may be unable to comprehend the consumer transaction owing to disability, illness or illiteracy and over pricing where the price grossly exceeds the price at which similar goods or services are readily available to like consumers.
The Act on the matter of price goes further to indicate that if a supplier of goods or services provides an estimate, he or she cannot charge the customer an amount that exceeds 10%.
Consumers have the right, embedded in this Act to terminate agreements and seek legal action where a breach has occurred.

Empowerment
The customer environment is changing in Kenya. Customers have become more empowered over time and have very high service expectations from both the public and private sector.
They also have a heightened awareness of the opportunity for communication and feedback on goods purchased or services rendered.
The fact that a law that supports the consumer rights now exists is a step in the right direction. It is very encouraging to note as well that although the Consumer Protection Act is in place – and even with its inherent shortcomings – to safeguard the rights of customers as the main piece of legislature, it is very closely backed up by the work of the The Competition Authority of Kenya established under the Competition Act, No. 12 of 2010.
Its mandate is to enhance the welfare of the people of Kenya by promoting and protecting effective competition in markets, and preventing misleading market conduct throughout the country. This body also receives complaints from legal or natural persons and consumer bodies in the country, and it is responsible for reviewing and advising on consumer protection provisions, advising and educating consumers on their rights and responsibilities and also resolving disputes between consumers and traders.
Having excellent legislation in place is one thing, but having an enlightened populace is another. It should be the duty of every consumer to seek to understand what is in place to protect their rights. Likewise, it is the responsibility of every supplier to know the consequences of breaching consumer engagements. The awareness all round will serve to protect the interest of those being served and streamline those who have chosen to serve.

Carolyne Gathuru is the founder and director of strategy at Lifeskills Consulting. She has over 17 years experience in customer service strategy development and training. Email: cgathuru@life-skills.co.ke

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