A few years ago, I tried to help the promoter of a company who said that his shares were unfairly delisted by the stock exchange. He had sent me a barrage of emails before I got around to taking up the matter. When the article was published, I was astonished to find him erupting in anger and calling it a ‘stupid article’. I had mentioned that he had payment difficulties which he flatly denied. I then went back to his previous emails, painstakingly culled sentences where he had mentioned his payment problems, marked them in bold highlights and sent them back to him. He cooled down and began to offer another long explanation; but, by then, my mind had completely switched off from his problem and issues.
Three other cases that we dealt with at Moneylife Foundation (MLF), in recent times, have provoked this piece. In two cases, the complainant was highly educated, with global experience at a very senior management level; and, yet, had been running around for months to have simple financial issues resolved. The worst of these was the case of Arjun Singh (name changed)—of interest being wrongly charged by a small bank which takes pride in being fair to customers. Not only were his representations to the bank ignored, but he also lost his case before the banking ombudsman. Not one to give up, Arjun had been doggedly pursuing the case for four years, before he approached MLF. Perplexed at what seemed such a straightforward issue, I asked him to email me, and the problem suddenly became clear.
What I received was a convoluted and garbled mix of documents expressing anger and recrimination with a litany of disjointed facts which nobody, who was not directly involved with the case, would have any interest in deciphering.
The second case was that of Vijay Sharma (name changed), 70, a, ‘Diamond customer’, of a public sector bank whose ATM failed to deliver the Rs15,000 he had withdrawn. To add insult to injury, the amount had been debited twice, since he made a second attempt to get the cash. The bank claims that the money was, indeed, withdrawn by Vijay, but hasn’t come up with a video recording even after four months of the complaint. Here, again, the bank is clearly at fault; but the customer’s letter to the bank, copied to us, was a surprise. There was no narration of facts upfront; reference to enclosures and passbook were not attached; the significant fact of his being a Diamond customer who was with the bank for 42 long years and no previous record of disputes was mentioned. The throwaway last line was more out of anger about the shabby treatment.
The third case was a fake credit card transaction of Rs25,000 in the account of Karan Shetty (name changed). The money went to a large private insurance company, leaving a clear trail. The bank probably suspected it was someone known to Karan. After giving him a four-month run-around, including making him file a first information report (FIR) with the police, when there was no redress, he approached MLF and the matter was resolved. But it took some handholding just to get the complaint written in a manner that would ensure resolution.
Clearly, many consumer battles are lost because people fail to articulate issues correctly. Here are five things that will ensure a proper hearing and improve your chances of getting early redress.
1. State the facts in a clear, concise and sequential manner; outline the steps, if any, that you have already taken towards resolution (online complaint or first-level complaint at the bank).
2. Ensure that all identification details are provided (name, address, account/credit card number, transaction details, amounts involved, dates, etc).
3. Be polite and avoid threats, sarcasm and anger in your first letter. The consumer services executive is trying to help; he or she is not personally responsible for your problem.
4. Don’t ask people to wade through fat attachments in which you have marked or highlighted a few lines. All such documents must be neatly cross-referenced and attached only for substantiation and verification, if required.
5. Mention clearly the outcome you are seeking and don’t get unrealistic with demands for an apology or compensation; resolution must be the first priority. Remember, everybody has limited time.