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Help! I’m a business owner, how do I protect myself and benefit from the Consumer Protection Act?

If you own a business, you have been warned you could lose your trade licence if you don’t adhere to the Consumer Protection Act. Carol Coetzee of the Economic Development Department says they will impose penalties such as hefty fines, limitations on business dealings and will go so far as to revoke licenses if companies abuse consumer rights. Transparency in dealing with customers is no longer optional. It must be standard.

This shouldn’t necessarily generate panic for business owners. With the right knowledge and the right tools businesses can enable themselves to offer great (and lawful) customer service. One such method is to put the right enabling technology in place to change the way customer interacts with the business; for example an online self-service system, which incorporates the requirements of the CPA, and which creates a channel for the customer interaction, could become a business’s new greatest asset.

Looking at the CPA, there are a few sections, which lend themselves to an application by means of an online self-service portal. What follows is a short discussion on how some of the protections that are afforded to customers in the CPA can be used to generate customer satisfaction and loyalty by the use of such an online portal, thereby benefitting the business in the long run.

When billing and invoicing, there is massive pressure on the business to be clear and transparent as to what exactly they are charging for. There can no longer be hidden costs of any kind, disguised with asterisks and small print.

Good self-service software is designed with transparency in mind. Business can make bills and invoices available online with a detailed breakdown of what’s being paid for. It empowers the customer for sure, because you have to make sure that all your business practices are legitimate and that you haven’t been overcharging on items. It also inadvertently creates trust between you and your customer if your transparent bills are cheaper item-for-item than your competitors.

The section in the CPA that details the end of automatic renewals of fixed-term contracts can also be addressed with an efficient online self-service tool.

Just because some consumers are fed up with having contracts automatically renewed without their permission in the past, doesn’t that mean all consumers feel the same way. If you offer great terms and a great product/service chances are your customers will want to renew with you anyway. A self-service system can automate this process, sending notifications at set intervals to customers to remind them to renew, and then provide a quick and easy platform for them to do so online.

The cancellation of advance bookings and orders, the returning of unsatisfactory goods to suppliers are all rights afforded with consumer preference in mind.

A self-service solution can automate these processes, like when a reservation needs to be cancelled or opting out of a contract before the cooling period is up.

Through an online or mobile self-service system, you can create a space for your customers to manage their own marketing permissions with you. Direct marketing has been cornered by the CPA and regulations are incredibly strict.

This does not mean that certain customers do want to hear about new products and information. If you create an easy accessible way for them to choose the way they want to be communicated with, you will not only be abiding by the CPA but will generate a greater customer rapport.

Essentially we are suggesting that if you are serious about being compliant with the CPA and being a business with attention to positive customer service you will need to do a little bit of digging around to find the right software solution for you, create the right processes and make that investment.

In the same way that the National Credit Act is aimed at protecting customers, the Consumer Protection Act also protects customers and creates more benefits for them. Managed correctly, the protections afforded to customers will ultimately turn out to be good for business.

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