sealPurdue News

November 1994

Purdue expert outlines top ten consumer rights

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- It's payday. You've spent 20 minutes waiting in line to cash your check, and just as you reach the counter the clerk's phone rings and he spends the next five minutes on the phone.

Sound familiar? It should, says Richard A. Feinberg, head of Purdue University's Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing. He says consumer rights infringements like this one are out of control and that it's time some businesses get a wake-up call.

"Sometimes businesses forget the customer is the one picking up the tab," he says. "To make sure businesses get the message, consumers need to do whatever is necessary to get their point across."

For example, Feinberg says, you should reach over the counter and hang up the phone on that bank clerk. Tired of waiting in line? Knock on the company vice president's door and tell him to get behind a counter and wait on someone.

"It may sound radical, but that's exactly what consumers need to do to get the attention they deserve," Feinberg says. "I've done some of these things, and I'm here to tell you, they work."

To help consumers understand their rights, Feinberg has compiled the Consumer Rights Top Ten List. Here it is:

  1. Consumers have the right to get what they want.
    "The days of 'If you build it they will come' are long gone," Feinberg says. "Businesses need to start asking consumers what they want and then giving it to them."

  2. Consumers have the right to a "wow."
    Because virtually every aspect of life is stressful, Feinberg contends that shopping should be fun. "Believe it or not, it is possible to provide such incredible customer service that the customer says 'Wow, that was one of the greatest experiences of my life!'" he says.

  3. Consumers have the right to hear "yes."
    "When a customer hears phrases like 'we can't do that' or 'I'll have to ask my manager,' it's time to walk out and spend his or her money elsewhere," Feinberg says. "Front-line people need to have the power to solve the customer's problem immediately and to their satisfaction."

  4. Consumers have a right to complain and get satisfaction.
    "Consumers are mad as hell, but they're still taking it," Feinberg says. "Many businesses need to wake up and realize that very soon customers will reach a point where they won't take it any more. When a consumer complains, he or she is giving the company a chance to make things right. Consumers should take their business elsewhere if complaints don't generate satisfaction."

  5. Consumers have the right to value.
    "People work hard for their money, and they want a product that's worth the time and effort they put into saving to buy it," Feinberg says. "People don't mind paying a premium price as long as they are getting a premium product. Too often, that's not the case."

  6. Consumers have the right to products that work as promised.
    Feinberg says too many product claims in advertisements fall woefully short when put to the test. Advertising shouldn't tell consumers the product will do something it won't, and companies should make sure the product does what they say it will.

  7. Consumers have the right to have everyone who works in the store serve them.
    Vice presidents, managers and supervisors need to remember that without the customer there is no vice president, vacations, cars or salaries, Feinberg says. So, when customers are backed up in line and getting testy, everyone should be helping out.

  8. Consumers have the right to have it done right the first time, every time.
    "The biggest complaint consumers have about repair and delivery service is that it wasn't done right the first time," Feinberg says. "Nothing irks a customer more than when they buy a defective product and have to waste valuable time returning it."

  9. Consumers have the right to be treated with respect.
    Feinberg says customers are too often ignored, abused and treated as if they are an annoyance.
    "Interrupting a transaction with a customer to answer the phone is just plain rude," Feinberg says. "If a sales associate won't hang up the phone, reach over the counter and hang it up for them. I guarantee that will get their attention and respect."

  10. Consumers have the right not to wait in line.
    Waiting in line is the No. 1 customer complaint in supermarkets, banks and retail stores, Feinberg says.

"Time is precious, and there's no excuse for having to wait for more than a few minutes in line," he says. "If you have to wait too long, move into a closed aisle and start ringing the bell until someone opens the lane to wait on you."

Feinberg says that while consumers should take action to be treated fairly, businesses also need to affirm their commitment to customer service.

"There are countless examples out there of businesses with exemplary customer service," he says. "Those businesses are doing a number of things to let customers know they are important. For example, all businesses should strive to over-deliver on expectations. Give the consumer more than they bargained for. If you tell a customer it will be ready on Friday, have it done Thursday."

Complaints should be encouraged, not discouraged, Feinberg adds.

"Complaints are an excellent way to measure customer satisfaction," he says. "A resolved complaint leads to a satisfied and loyal customer. Businesses should encourage complaints, respond to them, and use them in the decision-making process."

And, Feinberg says, pay attention to what competitors are doing. Emulate the good things they do for customers and learn from their mistakes. It's always easier and less painful to learn from the mistakes of others than from your own, he says.

Whatever you do, don't blame the customer when a product isn't selling. If the product isn't compelling, it won't sell, Feinberg says. And last, but definitely not least, do not forget the employee's role in customer satisfaction, he says.

"In many ways, it's the employee that comes first, not the customer," Feinberg says. "If you treat your employees poorly, they will treat customers poorly. But, if you reward your employees and make them feel important, they'll treat the customer the same way."

Source: Richard A. Feinberg, (765) 494-8296; Internet, xdj1@purccvm.bitnet
Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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