12. Customer rights and responsibilities

Questions for Discussion

  • 1. Do you agree with the saying that the customer is always right?
  • 2. What are the main customer rights?
  • 3. Why is it so important to know customer rights?
  • 4. Have you ever complained about imperfect goods or services?
  • 5. Did you succeed?
  • 6. What do you understand by “merchantable quality”?
  • 7. Can you demand a repair or a replacement if the goods broke down through no fault of yours?
  • 8. Is it reasonable to expect a complete refund if the product worked perfectly for a while?
  • 9. Should only manufacturers be held liable for a product’s safety?
  • 10. What should managers do to avoid complaints?
  • 11. What do you know about ‘product liability suits’?
  • 12. How can product liability suits affect business prospects?

Target Vocabulary

product safety

to be entitled to compensation

product liability suit

to keep the receipt

insurance policies


merchantable quality


faulty goods

to hear the case

a complete refund

product safety contingency

a replacement

to care about consumers

to cancel the purchase

to exchange the goods

Vocabulary Practice

Exercise 1. Use your target vocabulary to replace these explanations.

  • 1. to ensure a good condition for selling a product when it is not broken or damaged_
  • 2. the act of replacing one thing with another, especially when something is broken or imperfect_
  • 3. a sum of money that is paid back to you, especially because you returned goods to a shop/store_
  • 4. a piece of paper that shows that goods or services have been paid for
  • 5. the hearing of the case about the company’s breaking their side of the contract in court.
  • 6. to have the right to demand money back or a refund.

Exercise 2. Complete these sentences using your target vocabulary in the appropriate form.

  • 1. A customer may demand a ... if he is not satisfied with the quality of the product.
  • 2. The customer received a full... of the price of the goods he had found fault with.
  • 3. A person who makes a formal complaint against somebody in court is called a...
  • 4. Ask for a refund if the goods are ...
  • 5. If a customer files a lawsuit, the ... is heard in court.
  • 6. A customer must keep the ... to prove that he has paid for the goods.

Tips for Topic Development

Text 1

‘Social responsibility’ of companies has become a buzzword in modern societies. The motto of many businesses is caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’). It means that if the customer is not satisfied with the product they file a product liability suit, which can drastically affect business prospects. For example, the value of the stock of the Bic Corporation dropped when the company revealed a number of suits claiming that Bic lighters exploded, causing severe injuries and even death.

In order to bring a product to a market companies are expected to obtain liability insurance. From the customer’s point of view this approach seems justified but it creates a number of difficulties for companies. You can’t argue that a manufacturer should be held liable for a product’s safety only if the manufacturer “knew, or should have known, about its dangers.” However, even this approach has perils since it is difficult to determine the extent to which a manufacturer should do research to ensure that every possible product safety contingency is considered.

A stringent 100 percent requirement may mean that most products would take years to get to market — if they make it at all — and would be extremely expensive. It is clear that consumers wouldn’t appreciate this. One approach taken by businesses that care about consumers involves a compromise: attempting to be 99 percent certain that the product is safe, taking out large insurance policies, and hoping for the best. (based on K.M. Bartol, Management, P-121)

Agree or disagree with these statements.

  • 1. Companies spend too much time to obtain liability insurance in order to launch a product on the market.
  • 2. The number of product liability cases is growing because the customers are not satisfied with the quality of products and services.
  • 3. A manufacturer should be held liable for a product’s quality in all situations.
  • 4. A manufacturer must consider every possible safety contingency before getting the product to the market.
  • 5. A product liability suit is the only way to protect the customer’s interests.
  • 6. Companies are vulnerable in the sense that all lawsuits are won by the customers.

Text 2

Complaining about faulty goods or bad service is never easy. Most people dislike making a fuss. However, when you are shopping, it is important to know your rights.

When you buy something from a shop, you are making a contract. This contract means that it’s up to the shop — not the manufacturer — to deal with your complaints if the goods are not satisfactory. What do we mean by satisfactory?

The goods must not be broken or damaged and must work properly. This is known as “merchantable quality”. A sheet, say, which had a tear in it, or a clock that didn’t go when you wound it would not pass this test.

The goods must be as described — whether on the pack or by the salesman. A hairdryer which the box says is blue should not turn out to be pink; a pair of shoes the salesman says is leather should not be plastic.

The goods should be fit for their purpose. This means the purpose for which most people buy those particular goods. If, for instance, the shop assures you that a certain glue will mend broken china and it doesn’t you have a right to return it.

If the shop sells the faulty goods, it has broken its side of the bargain.

If goods are faulty when you first inspect or use them, go back to the shop, say that you cancel the purchase and ask for a complete refund. If you prefer, you can accept a repair or replacement.

If the goods break down through no fault of yours, after you have used them for a time, you may still be entitled to some compensation.

  • (an extract from a leaflet produced by the British “Office of Fair Trading”) Say which of the statements below are true and which are false.
  • 1. When a customer buys a product from a shop, the shop takes on responsibility to protect the customer’s rights.
  • 2. If a product doesn’t pass a merchantable quality test, the customer has a right to return it.
  • 3. If a shop doesn’t refund or replace a faulty product, the customer repairs the product himself.
  • 4. If a customer doesn’t inspect a product in the shop, he can’t complain about its defects which may come out later.
  • 5. Customers are entitled to full compensation if a product breaks down through no fault of theirs.
  • 6. It is not the shop but the manufacturer who deals with customer complaints.
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