The court of public opinion

The article below was first published in the August 2017 issue of Carmudi Magazine where TessDrive has a monthly column.

I used to receive a bunch of e-mails from motorists and readers of the broadsheet where I write about automotive stories. These e-mails usually contain complaints against their cars’ casas, or dealerships, because of perceived service shortcomings.

You may wonder why I receive these “love letters”. Well, I used to maintain a sort of “Dear Kuya Eddie” column in that broadsheet, and in this case, my column was titled “Repair and Despair”. That weekly column often exposed the sordid details of soured customer-casa relationships. My intentions were never to rumor monger. I wanted that column to act as the “bridge” between the two parties; that by putting the case in black and white, in full view of the reading public, both complainant and casa would come to their senses and arrive at happy compromises.

And always, my letter senders tell me that they had exhausted all means necessary—they had written the top management, they had gone to the DTI, etc, etc. In short, mine was the court of last resort. They were desperate, and had no other recourse but to take their story to the media.

I’d like to share a couple of these stories. The first one happened in 2012. I’ll name the car buyer Eduardo. Eduardo was an experienced motorist, having been driving for over 30 years. He had established good relationships with two dealers of Japanese brands, religiously bringing his cars to the casa even after their service warranties had expired.

Eduardo also owned an American-branded pickup, a high-end 2011 model that should have had a third brake light, but was conspicuously absent from his vehicle.

It was no big deal for Eduardo, who proceeded to buy the missing item from a legitimate auto shop and have it installed there. Much to his surprise, Eduardo was informed by his dealer that doing so would void the electrical systems warranty.

Eduardo then asked how much it would take for his own dealer to install the third brake light, and the dealer quoted him a price four times higher than what the German and Japanese aftermarket auto shops were charging.

In the end, Eduardo never did get the third brake light installed in his pickup. What he did get from the dealership were bad vibes, and he vowed to never again buy from this manufacturer.

The second story took place in 2013. A certain John e-mailed me to narrate his problem with his 2011-model 7-seater SUV. The problem, he said, started when the car began belching black smoke, at just the 8,000-km mark in its odometer.

The problem was so persistent that he went to his casa seven times to have the problem fixed. He lamented that each time he went, the dealership performed the same procedures, even when it knew they’d get the same result. Naturally, the problem would resurface a few days later.

John’s sooty problem did get solved—by a different dealership. That casa performed one simple solution different from what the former casa did repeatedly, and that was to clean the EGR valve thrice thoroughly. The black smoke disappeared altogether, and never recurred. That casa did the one right thing that John’s old, unimaginative casa failed to do.

I still receive those kinds of e-mails every now and then. Sadly, that column was discontinued because the broadsheet was starting to receive complaints from certain advertisers claiming their businesses were getting affected by what was being unnecessarily exposed in that column.

But those who have secrets to keep can’t keep those secrets forever, especially when they’re in the business of taking people’s hard-earned money in exchange for products and services they’ve promised to deliver on time, and up to par.

Now, thanks to internet and social media, anybody who has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account can do what I did in those days—pull the rug and expose the dirt swept under. In their hands they literally hold the power to make erring casas accountable for their actions. What’s more, every netizen can compel their government to take action against these casas.

The power of the court of public opinion is magnified exponentially, with every comment, reaction, and click of the share button.

But social media is a double-edged sword, and it can certainly backfire on those who wield it recklessly. An irate motorist who rants against an auto dealer on social media runs the risk of letting his or her rage get the better of him or her.

Use the power of social media wisely. Stick to the facts, be consistent with your narratives. Show anger, but not hatred. Be assertive, but never condescend. Be clear with what you want, and suggest realistic solutions and alternatives.

Also, be sure that you have exhausted all means necessary for you and the subject of your complaint to arrive at a solution internally first. If not, bring your issue to his or her superiors, and then to their superiors, and so on, until it reaches the very top of the corporate ladder. Next, try your luck with the Department of Trade and Industry. E-mail, then follow that up with the DTI mediation division. It is the DTI Fair Trade and Enforcement Bureau that handles consumer complaints, particularly in Metro Manila. Call them at 751-3330, Mondays to Sundays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Depending on your location, the FTEB will direct you to the regional/provincial DTI branch nearest you.

When all else fails, when the big corporate bosses have given you the runaround, when the DTI turns out to be a dead end, then, by all means, use social media to help you get a measure of justice. If it is the truth that you speak of, then you have two billion jurors who’s got your back.

Just set your privacy settings to public.

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