By Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos

“SIR, you need to wait for your replacement.”

The sales lady said. And I couldn’t have any of the dozen or so new ones literally being displayed for new buyers even though the replacement was going to be exactly like the ones on the shelves before me. Nevertheless, I didn’t say a word because this is the Philippines and things take unnecessarily long all the time. It didn’t help that by some strange coincidence, there were two giddy guys paying for the exact same keyboard. And there I was, with the defective one I had just bought two weeks earlier, being treated less of a customer simply because I already forked my cash over to them.

In July of this year I bought an expensive keyboard from Data Blitz as an early birthday gift to my 29-year-old self. The salesman told me before buying it that it could take up to 2 weeks for a new one in case there was a manufacturing defect and so I knew what I was getting into even though the receipt itself or the warranty card doesn’t say anything about this limitation.

When I had to return the keyboard to the store because the “z” key was no longer functioning, the sales lady said that they needed to send it to their service center to verify my claim. Something which could obviously be tested right then and there at the store with the very same computer they used to test the one they gave me when I bought it.

A week later I called the service center and I was told that they would be replacing it with a new one and that I should wait for it to arrive at the branch. I happened to be in the area two days later and I stopped by the branch to find that there was obviously no shortage of stock of the keyboard as I could clearly see several new ones through the glass window even before I entered.

And that was where I was yet again reminded of how stringent their protocol was that I was entitled to only the new replacement keyboard which was being brought over at an undetermined date. It didn’t matter that it was more practical and more sensible to just be given any of the ones they had in stock and just have the “replacement” serve as a way of restocking the store. I mean, if it was indeed supposed to be a new one altogether (which it was when I finally did receive it), why would it make a difference to them? In fact, I would be indebted to them for helping me save a third trip of coming to their branch.

I left the store feeling beaten and cheated.

The only thing I could think about was the 80 or so video game boxes which I have amassed from their stores ever since I was 10. The fact that Data Blitz would rather have products in reserve for new customers to buy rather than helping out a bereaved one who already paid highlights a common stain in Philippine businesses. And that is the lack of empathy when they disregard the feelings of customers who must go through this dance of unnecessary protocol when they already deserve respect for choosing their business over others.

Infuriated, I called the service center again and told them that I have bought almost every single video game I own from their stores over the course of two thirds of my life. And that it didn’t make sense for me to wait for a specific replacement when any of the dozen or so they had at the branch would do. Conveniently during the phone call, the center told me that my replacement “had just arrived” at the branch I had left hours earlier.

The fact that consumers need to get angry and beg to have their rights respected is a depressing reality many of us face.

On the same day, Ace Hardware told me that the vacuum cleaner I bought less than 3 months ago could take up to 1 month to replace or repair and also repeated an oral warranty limitation, like Data Blitz, not found anywhere in the documentation and which actually runs counter to the manufacturers’ warranty of the vacuum. The Consumer Act of the Philippines provides that breaches of warranty must be complied with within reasonable time. Surely it is within reason to expect Data Blitz to allow me to pick up any stock they have of an item they’ve already agreed to replace. Hiding behind internal paperwork which clients are not a part of doesn’t form lasting bonds. Saying sorry and owning up to it does.

Businesses aren’t supposed to get it right all the time.

And one of the greatest opportunities for them to cement a relationship with a customer rests on how they make things right when they make the inevitable blunder. It’s a chance to take advantage of an emotionally charged memory but making it positive. Sadly, while I probably got my keyboard back quicker, I would rather it came back without me having to fight for something I was already entitled to.

Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos, a lawyer, sits on the Board of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu City.