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UP THE CHANNEL: Diagnosis without consultation is malpractice

UP THE CHANNEL: Diagnosis without consultation is malpractice

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Our readers are a sophisticated and well educated lot. When they want a PC they know what to ask for and more importantly how and where to get it without paying too much. Ever wondered how computer illiterate Joe Average and family find this experience. Read on.

My neighbours were in the market for a PC. They are educated people, a nice couple, empty nesters. Money is not a huge issue but good old fashioned value is and, more importantly, they are a little scared of the technology so good after sales support is even more important. Their needs included email, Internet surfing, word processing, converting "analogue" camcorder tapes and photos to CD/DVD, a fax and broadband.

They visited several PC stores to get "up to speed". One evening over a wine or three they dumped all the paperwork on my kitchen bench and said "You're the expert and we are confused. We don't know what or where to buy". Every computer sales person they had spoken to had started off with the line "What do you want to do with the PC?" to which my neighbours responded as above. But it was clear from quotes ranging from $1359 to more than $3500 that most salespeople did not listen particularly well and were simply looking for a rough price range and equipment match with what they had to sell. In all cases the salesperson had said "This will do what you need it to do".

I stepped in (as a good neighbour with an IT bent is want to do), compared Apples with Apples (sorry Steve J but your funky products were not considered but probably should have been), made my recommendations and the neighbours are happy. Although they eventually spent more than $4000, they got exactly what they wanted and needed.

Using this experience as basis for research I decided to go "mystery shopping" in Sydney for a new PC. I developed a 14-point, generic brief (no brands or technical specs) on what the PC was required to do and gave it to my "victims" - Harvey Norman (City), David Jones (City), a "specialist" PC store (that also sold video cameras), Harris Technology (North Ryde) and a dodgy looking larger discount store (no name, no pack drill).

I won't comment on individual responses except to say that in all cases the quotes were way off beam, ranging from $1500 to $3000, one didn't bother to respond and none met the brief.

Yet all said to me "This will meet your needs". Which goes to show that there are only perceived bargains in the retail computer game. Sadly most of these are because the product is not "fit for purpose" and I suspect most of the disputes are for similar reasons.

Spurred on I decided to refine my brief. I changed it from "what it needs to do" and replaced it with a list of 20 components (being specific about chipsets, CPU speed and so on but for the most part leaving brands out). I sent this to four Brisbane retailers and without exception the four came back within $100 of each other. The minor differences were due to the brands of "non-specified items". So if an "educated" buyer ties down a retailer with a good "spec" they will all receive a reasonably similar price and the decision then becomes more "Who do I trust?"

I put it to you that most retailers are still selling on specifications (or other criteria such as what makes them the most money), not on what the customer wants. Is it relevant that something has an 80GB HDD or more relevant that is has sufficient space to do one hour of video editing.

I gather that most retailers have failed "Fit for Purpose 101" classes that place the onus on them to meet consumer needs. Let's look at this a little closer. Most State Departments of Fair Trading declare:

Fit for purpose means that the goods must be fit for the purpose the customer describes to you at the time of purchase.

Remember, you are the expert in your field and the customer is entitled to expect your advice to be reliable and accurate, and to rely on your skills. When used within the solution negotiation context it places an onus of responsibility upon the vendor to ensure that its solution is (indeed) fit for the purpose which their client expects.

If you sell something that is not fit for purpose then you are 100 per cent obliged to take it back (and not just within seven days), refund in full, and may even be hit for contingent liabilities (damages).


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