Laying down the law
In some circumstances, such as door-to-door sales or telemarketing purchases, companies are legally required to provide their contact details to consumers. Generally though, the Australian Consumer Law does not mandate that contact details be provided for consumer complaints.
However, under law, businesses must provide consumers with the ability to return faulty goods for repair, replacement or refund. And in the case of a recall, suppliers must provide details about what to do with recalled products and how to go about getting a refund.
If you need to contact a company or business about an issue with a product or service you’ve purchased and you’re unable to, the department of consumer affairs or fair trading in your state or territory can help. And if the business hasn’t provided you with sufficient information to enable you to enforce your rights under the ACL, that’s a case for the ACCC.
Who owns that?
If you can’t find any contact details for an Australian online retailer, you can check the Whois Registry. It lists email addresses and names of the owners of Australian website addresses. This search may reveal a parent company, whose contact details you can Google, or you can attempt to get in contact using the supplied email address. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a reply, but it’s a start.
Live chat case study
Angela downloaded a Microsoft Office trial, but decided to cancel her subscription before the trial finished and monthly subscription fees kicked in. When she tried to do so, she found she wasn’t able to log in to her account in order to cancel her membership.
Microsoft’s options for contacting a customer service agent in Australia include a phone number and a live chat, and Angela chose the latter option. First, the customer service agent told Angela her account didn’t exist, and that she’d have to escalate the issue via a call centre – in the UK, which she claimed was the nearest centre to Angela.
“When I asked the agent if she knew where Australia was, she told me she needed some time to ‘research the issue’,” says Angela. “I went round and round and they couldn’t or wouldn’t help me.”
Luckily, Angela’s persistence paid off, and eventually the problem was fixed. “But I wasted a lot of time trying to get it resolved.”
Hard to contact: a matter of CHOICE
In the course of CHOICE’s testing and investigation work, our journalists and researchers often need to get in touch with companies. Some are forthcoming with information and happy to help us out, even in cases where they may not be happy with the results of our investigations. Others, however, take a less conciliatory approach.
Some companies may not speak with us because we've been critical of them in the past - certainly, talking to the major supermarkets has become increasingly problematic since CHOICE’s major investigations into the big two. Others don’t have the time, or the inclination, to communicate.
Chris Shaday, leader of CHOICE’s content research team, says there are a number of reasons companies provide for their reticence. “Sometimes they disagree with previous test results, they do not know who CHOICE is, do not see CHOICE as important for their business, or they are genuinely busy.”
Shaday says some companies, such as Sunbeam, are very cooperative, while others, such as DeLonghi, are less so. “DeLonghi stopped talking to us when they disagreed with some test results on espresso machines, but the silence continued even after they performed well in further testing. They’ve taken the view that dealing with CHOICE takes too much effort."