ACCAN Customer Service Project (25 August 2009)

4.5. Findings

Overall, the service charters appear to contain content that meets the marketing / branding needs of industry, with some minor benefits for consumers. If the service charters were written by consumers they would be very different. A brief examination of consumer driven charters reveals much higher standards and expectations – see for example the Draft Charter of Consumer Digital Rights (CHOICE[21]) and the Charter of Health Consumer Rights (Consumers Health Forum of Australia[22]).

Despite this, service charters do have some strengths:

  • Service charters are generally written in plain language and are easy to understand;
  • Service charters are very short and quick to read;
  • Some service charters provided a useful ‘one-stop’ source of relevant information about consumer rights;
  • There is a potential for service charters to have a positive impact or even lead to cultural change within an organisation;
  • Service charters contain clear contact information and useful information about how to complain; and
  • Some service charters (although only a small number) provide additional consumer rights and remedies that may not be available in other laws, regulations and codes.

The service charters examined in this study revealed the following weaknesses:

  • Many service charters consist entirely of high-level statements of principle or aspirations;
  • The majority of service charters lack any detailed promises or targets;
  • Where service charters do include detailed promises and targets the required standard is set very low, often well below the reasonable expectations of consumers;
  • The high-level promises and statements included in service charters are no different from statements contained in typical advertising and branding campaigns, and carry similar weight;
  • Service charters may not be attractive or accessible to younger consumers; they tend to have a traditional ‘old world’ appearance (sometimes including wax seals) and are not presented in a modern communication style. In an environment where younger consumers expect to be able to provide instant feedback on customer service (e.g. at sites like eBay and Whirlpool) the appeal of customer service charters may be limited;
  • Very few service charters include enforcement, sanctions or compensation arrangements;
  • Where sanctions and compensation arrangements are in place the remedies are set at extremely low levels; and
  • Service charters often lacked basic information about the scope and date of the charter – for example, it is difficult to distinguish between current charters and older or expired versions.

[21] CHOICE, Choice campaigns for you, op. cit.

[22] Consumers Health Forum of Australia, op. cit.