The UK has a strong framework for protecting the rights of consumers. When customers purchase a product or service, they have a right to expect it to be of good quality and function as expected. They also have a right to expect safety from the goods they buy. It is important for all businesses to be aware of the quality standards consumers can legally require from them and their products.
Legal Rights of Consumers
The most significant piece of legislation relating to consumer rights in the UK is the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The Act was introduced to combine three earlier pieces of legislation on the subject and provide a simplified, stronger protection of customers' rights. Under the Act, all consumers have a right to expect:
- Quality. Consumers are legally protected from receiving faulty or damaged goods. Products must be in a good condition.
- Goods Fit for Purpose. Every product or service purchased must perform their intended function properly.
- Consistency. All purchases must live up to the way they were described and advertised at the time of purchase. This includes any samples shown to the customer before the purchase. Products cannot differ significantly from the way they were described before purchase.
All of these protections cover both physical and digital products. If a company's output fails to meet any of these standards, the consumer may have a claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
There are also legal protections for consumers purchasing services, such as building work, car repairs, or business services like law or accountancy. In these situations, consumers have a right to expect:
- The work is carried out with the acceptable level of skill and competence.
- The price is reasonable, if not agreed beforehand.
- The service is provided in a reasonable time, if the timeframe is not agreed beforehand.
Should a provider fall short of any of these standards, the consumer can reasonably expect the situation to be remedied. This could require the company to provide the goods or services again, to a higher standard, at no extra cost to the consumer. If this happens, they must take care to provide this in a timely manner and without causing undue inconvenience to the consumer. Alternatively, they may need to provide a full or partial refund.
In all cases, this framework provides the minimum legal standards customers can expect from their provider. Specialist industries and products may be subject to more specific legislation in their own areas and may therefore have more specific standards to meet.
Of course, customers' expectations of the goods and services they buy don't end at the legal minimums – and rightly so. When it comes to providing great customer service, companies will benefit if they concentrate on meeting and exceeding their customers' expectations. Staff that have received good quality customer service training are more likely to provide that to a high standard.
Some areas to focus on are:
- Listening and empathy. Customers value staff that make them feel heard and feel confident their needs are understood. Like all skills, these can be honed with proper training.
- Problem-solving. A lot of customer service enquiries require good problem-solving skills. These range from issues with deliveries to technical issues. To sort them out to the customers' satisfaction and in a timely way, customer service staff need good problem-solving skills.
- Product and Service Knowledge. A customer service representative who has a good knowledge of the company's products will be better placed to solve customer issues when they arise and provide good guidance and advice to consumers.
Companies that put customer focus at the top of their priorities list reap the benefits from satisfied customers, repeat customers and lower staff turnover, among other benefits.