The founder of consumer advocacy group, Consumer Halla, Tunde Shofowora , speaks with TOFARATI IGE on the relationship between brands and consumers plus other issues
What is Consumer Halla all about?
It is an advocacy platform which is aimed at enhancing relationships between brands and consumers. There is a wide gap between brands and consumers; particularly in this part of the world. In Nigeria, consumers play the last fiddle; nobody thinks about them. A lot of brands are very deceptive; they will tell you that they are consumer-centric but that’s not true. In the chain of marketing, the product is at the centre. The consumer should dictate the product, market, price and the kind of promotion around the consumer. But in this part of the world, brands make products without the input of the consumers and expect them to accept it just like that. Apart from that, if the consumer has a problem with the product, he often has to live with it; there are no see-through ways for him or her to seek redress.
We observed this and felt that we can help to bridge the gap, which is what led to the creation of the Consumer Halla portal. We believe that through Consumer Halla, we can help to bring about an amicable settlement of complaints and issues; and in the process help to create a market where business would thrive.
Was there any specific instance that sparked the idea for Consumer Halla in you?
About eight years ago, I travelled to South Africa with a Nigerian airline. And while there, some persons gave me money to help them deliver to someone in Nigeria. I then put the money in my luggage in between some clothes. I got to the airport and checked in the luggage and we flew back to Nigeria. When we got back to the country, I waited for hours but didn’t see the luggage. Later on, I saw the luggage on the carousel but it had been badly torn, while the money and other valuables had been stolen.
Meanwhile, there were about three other people on that same flight whose luggage had also been vandalised and their property stolen. Together with the other victims, we went to the office of the airline at the airport and made complaints. But they were nonchalant and told us that we had to go to the company’s office on Victoria Island to lay our complaints. The next day, we went to the office and till this day, nothing has been done to address the issue; let alone refund the money. I had to repay the money to the owners. There have also been times when flights have been delayed for hours without any official explaining why it is so.
Conversely, I flew on an international airline to the US about two years after that incident. During our flight back to Nigeria, the air conditioner between the business and economy class malfunctioned and it started getting hot. Immediately, an air hostess noticed and reported it. Soon after, the pilot announced apologetically that there was a fault with the air conditioning system and they were working towards fixing it. The pilot kept apologising intermittently, while giving us a blow-by-blow account of what was being done to rectify the fault. After some time, they declared an open bar to make up for the inconvenience suffered by the passengers. As if that wasn’t enough, the pilot declared that the airline would provide a £50 voucher to all the passengers. Everybody was so happy and they even forgot the discomfort that they suffered.
The contrast between those situations strengthened my resolve to start Consumer Halla because I already had it in mind before then. It is not that consumers cannot do anything about their grievances with brands, it is because there is no platform for them to do that.
What gives you the conviction that Consumer Halla will work, given that there have been similar platforms that were not successful?
If you sweep with a broomstick, it will not move anything but if you do that with the whole broom, you will get more results. The aim of Consumer Halla is to, first and foremost, provide a platform for consumers to speak out. And if you speak out, part of the problem is already resolved. Beyond speaking, we have also created a robust platform where many things can be done. On the platform, we have identified the major brands in Nigeria, particularly the ones that are listed on the stock exchange. Leveraging on our relationship with brands and using our database, we know the right people to send complaints too.
How does the platform work for consumers with complaints?
For example, if you have a complaint against a particular brand, you log onto the platform, click on the name of the brand and lodge your complaint. Immediately, you do that, the complaint is routed automatically to the brand. The brand is then given 48 hours to respond to the complaint while the consumer is assured of feedback within 72 hours. Immediately the brand responds, the reply is automatically sent to the customer. Meanwhile, we monitor all the communications between the brand and the consumer to make sure that something is being done about the complaint.
If the brand doesn’t respond, the system is programmed to send reminders while the company is given additional 12 hours to reply. If the brand still does not respond, the customer then has the option to make the complaint public, because before this point, the complaint is only known by the brand, the customer and Consumer Halla. By the time the complaint is made public, people get to know about it and others who have had similar experiences will speak out. With this complaint going round, the brand is already been portrayed as unresponsive to customers’ complaints. I don’t think any brand would want things to get to that level.
In the case where the brand is still being adamant, there is an option on our website for consumers to engage the service of lawyers for free. We have legal firms that are registered on our platform who would take up such cases on behalf of the customer.
Are there cases that have been resolved by Consumer Halla?
Yes, quite a number of them. There was a particular woman who bought a land from a company but she wasn’t given the land and her money wasn’t refunded. She had done several publications about it and tried different channels but nothing came out of it. She made the complaint on Consumer Halla and we took the case up. As we speak, the company involved has started making payment to the woman.
That is what it means to return power to consumers. That is why we also do a lot of enlightenment for customers to know their rights. We are not against brands; we are just trying to get them to behave and follow the rules.
We also have other features on the platform such as Best Deals and Consumer News.
How do you ensure that brands don’t regard you as an enemy?
Bill Gates once said that, “Your most unhappy customer is your greatest source of learning.” Brands should understand that what we have created for them is an advantage and not a disadvantage. It is only a brand that is not knowledgeable that would think we are trying to do something that would affect them. Consumer feedback is meant to help brands get better.
As a matter of fact, a lot of brands have commended us for what we are doing.
How do you intend to make money to sustain Consumer Halla?
We do not charge consumers and the brands. All we have done is to create a robust market where buyers and sellers would do business and that is how we intend to make money.
We are also going to be doing consumer analytics; giving brands valuable information about consumers that they didn’t know about.
As our traffic increases, there will also be advertisements. Firms such as Google and Facebook didn’t start with the idea of making money. They were created to meet a need and money followed soon afterwards.
What other business activities are you involved in?
Consumer Halla is an initiative of a company called Brand I, which provides consumer research and intelligence to support businesses. We also have a sister firm called Red Ribbon, which is an experiential marketing and PR company. We organise creative events that would generate income for businesses.
What is your work history?
I worked with FCMB for 16 years. I joined the company as a corporate affairs officer and I rose to head the brand communications department.
However, I started my career with Guardian Newspaper as a reporter. I was on the business desk and we were responsible for the Business Guardian, which was published as a pullout in the paper. Every day of the week, we focused on different sectors of business. I pioneered the ‘Appointments’ page in Guardian and it was a big money-spinner for the company.
From Guardian, I moved to Thisday and while there, I pioneered a daily report of the stock market. In those days, the stock market was reported weekly by the dailies. I felt the activities of the stock market could be reported every day. I worked towards it and I was able to achieve it. So, Thisday was the first newspaper to start a daily reportage of the stock market.
Which schools did you attend?
For my elementary education, I attended Odu Abore Memorial Primary School in Mushin, Lagos. I went to Holy Saviour’s College in Isolo, Lagos, for my post-elementary education. For my tertiary education, I attended the Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University) where I studied Business Administration. I also did a master’s in Business Administration at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State. Over the years, I have also done a lot of professional courses. I am a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, as well as a certified and accredited PR practitioner in Africa.
What can you recall of your childhood?
My childhood was quite challenging because my father died when I was very young, so I lived with an uncle.
How do you relax?
I was born into a Muslim home but I am a devout Christian now. Nothing gives me more joy than telling people about Jesus Christ. I also relax with my wife and three daughters, as well as listen to music. I used to play football and lawn tennis but I haven’t been able to indulge in them for a while now.
Credit: The Punch