Friday, October 8, 2010

Leaving Dracula In Charge Of The Blood Bank

(Today's editorial has been written by William Allan)

We’ve all experienced it. You’re sitting down to dinner when the phone rings or the doorbell chimes, and you are confronted with a barrage of sales tactics at such a pace you are barely able to interrupt with a polite but firm “no thanks”. Ceiling insulation, cheaper phone rates, bargain holiday packages, and now even electricity are being sold both door to door and by unsolicited phone calls. In recent times, the ‘Do Not Call’ register has delivered some success to those of us who’ve had enough of the harassing phone calls. Introduced in a wave of sweeping reforms, it was a firm response to what clearly was an inability of businesses to play by the rules. So if businesses can not be trusted to ‘self regulate’ when it comes to telemarketing, how on earth can they be trusted to ‘self regulate’ when it comes to ‘door to door sales’.

Yet that’s just what the Energy Retailers Association of Australia has been touting as part of a new era in improved customer service and standards. They’re making a formal proposal to the ACCC to establish a ‘self-regulatory’ scheme to monitor and control door to door sales tactics used by electricity companies – a marketing strategy the companies themselves admit has been plagued by underhanded tactics and false information. The electricity companies want to register and track the door knockers, weeding out those who use questionable sales tactics. Fair enough. The problem however is not with the door to door sales person - they’re just trying to make ends meet. The problem is with the electricity companies themselves – companies that are making substantial profits, paying exorbitant executive salaries, and charging prices that fewer and fewer can afford. These companies are pressuring their door knockers to resort to extreme tactics.

Who is really to blame, when an employee’s ability to put food on the table is directly proportional to their ability to convince people to change electricity providers – all for the sake of a few cents in savings. Marketing practices employed by the energy companies continue to account for almost 10% of Ombudsman complaints. Shockingly, energy marketing complaints continue to grow at a rate five times faster than similar complaints made about phone companies. Despite this, the energy companies believe that complaints are at an acceptable level, and that they should be given more control.

The trouble is most people see that as nothing more than leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

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