Power Report: Victory over cell giant cost almost nothing
Consumers too often feel powerless against big corporates. After venting at shops or on social media, they walk away with nothing to show for the "fight" other than a bloody nose and a bruised ego.
Michael Loizides isn't one of them. And his story is a beacon of hope to all consumers who have ever felt vulnerable against the might - and deep pockets - of major companies.
The beauty of his victory against Vodacom - and why it has to be shared with as wide an audience as possible - lies in its simplicity. Not a complicated case, nor involving big money.
But it highlights an excellent option for weary consumers wanting the very basics of service from errant suppliers.
How? The underrated, underutilised small claims court. Here, claims of up to R15000 are entertained, and no legal representation is allowed on either side. It's a free and level legal playing field, so to speak.
Loizides didn't win in court; he didn't have to. Vodacom backed down when summons was issued, quickly doing what it should have done all along: settle a legitimate - and basic - customer service gripe.
The trouble started in September last year when Loizides, a Johannesburg IT director, booked his iPhone5 into Vodacom's repair centre at Sandton City. It followed a recall programme from Apple to replace faulty batteries. Loizides's phone worked, but the battery was flat by late afternoon every day.
A week or so later, the phone was returned to him, but with a cracked screen - and it no longer switched on. "I immediately booked the phone in again, confirming that this was not the state of the phone when first booked in," said the 40-year-old.
After numerous queries and follow-ups, the phone was returned two weeks later, with the screen repaired but the phone still not turning on.
He said Vodacom refused to repair the battery, claiming the phone had been tampered with.
"I tried every angle I could think of to resolve this," said Loizides. He threatened legal action, took to social media and even complained on Hellopeter.com, but in vain.
Loizides, who's never stepped into a court in his life, then made the unusual, but smart, decision to try the small claims court.
"I knew I could attach a value to the claim easily, and I was also convinced I had a case," he said.
He went to the Randburg Small Claims Court before noon, stood in a queue for 20 minutes, filled in the relevant form and was advised on procedure. He then returned to the Vodacom repair centre, handed in his court-stamped letter of demand for R5500 and requested that someone sign for it.
"Staff members [were] scampering around the building all too scared to sign ... I left with an unsigned letter," said Loizides.
He waited the required 14 days, and when no response arrived from Vodacom, returned to the court, completed an affidavit, and was issued a summons with a court date two months ahead. The sheriff's office in Midrand delivered his summons for a fee of R150 - the only cost to Loizides of the entire process.
Not long after the summons arrived, Vodacom called Loizides and asked him to return the phone so that the matter could be investigated. Within five days, the phone had been replaced.
Loizides, who posted an account of his success online, has offered to help consumers wanting to know more about the court process.
He said consumers didn't seem to understand that legal representation was not allowed and that the whole process cost nothing.
"In my opinion, a corporate like Vodacom is at a disadvantage. I had all my facts clearly documented, which I did not have to disclose until the court appearance. Vodacom had second-hand information and staff who don't take accountability; I do not see how they could have succeeded. I don't think they wanted to sit in a courtroom in the evening for a small amount of money anyway."
Vodacom's Richard Boorman admitted this week that the network was "in the wrong".
"I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to Michael for the extremely frustrating experience he had with us. We have addressed this directly with the store. There is no way that the handset should have been returned in that condition."
He said disciplinary action had been taken against the staff member involved for violating company procedures.
"On top of this, we have reviewed our complaints escalation procedure as it clearly isn't acceptable that the customer was not able to have his concerns addressed quickly and efficiently."
sub_head_start ARMED ONLY WITH A PEN sub_head_end
Visit the small claims court in the area where the company or store is located or where the incident occurred (check with the court on jurisdiction). Go armed with a pen, all the details of the defendant and your banking details so you can fill in the supplied "letter of demand" form while you wait. The court helps with procedure, but don't expect advice on your specific case;
The letter of demand, requiring only very basic details about your claim, will be stamped by the court. You then deliver (or post by registered mail) a copy to the defendant that should be signed. If the defendant refuses to sign, remember to add this fact to an affidavit you will later be required to prepare;
Wait 14 working days for the defendant to respond to you, as stated on the letter;
If you get no response, return to the court with copies of all your documentation and write an affidavit. You will then get, on the same day, a stamped summons containing a future court date that both parties are required to attend;
The court will give you the contact details of the relevant sheriff's office, which, for R150, will deliver the summons. You can claim this fee back from the defendant if you win. Check back with the sheriff for confirmation of delivery;
Go to the court - which usually sits after 5pm - on the given day, with all your supporting documentation (and witnesses if needed) and state your case before a commissioner, who will make a ruling.
Tune in to PowerFM 98.7's 'Power Breakfast' at 8.50am Monday morning to hear more from Megan