The Director General of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Babatunde Irukera has charged businesses to understand the signs of times and embrace the new order of prioritizing consumer protection as the pre-eminent factor in protecting brand, businesses, managing crisis, building confidence and corporate growth, emphasizing that customer satisfaction is the most vital pillar to loyalty and trust.
Irukera, who made this known at a meeting with Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of food and beverage companies which was covered by THE ECONOMIC TIMES noted that customer service cannot be ancillary to business, especially in the food and beverage industry, rather it must be the core of business and operations.
He expressed his gratitude for being invited to a meeting of CEOs because it is an important and powerful gathering and it demonstrates their companies’ resolve to ensure consumer protection, admitting that CEOs are vital to customer satisfaction and economic growth.
He said President Muhammadu’s Buhari’s administration recognizes the role of business and their CEOs in economic expansion and as such is always listening to “credible, transparent, genuine, fair-minded, well-meaning and societally committed businesses”.
The CPC boss argued that consumer protection was more important than Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), noting that CSR is sometimes viewed with “suspicion and characterized as self-serving in part because the companies have not truly satisfied their customers”.
He expressed what he believes is the welcome “optional Corporate Social Responsibility”, but stated his insistence on what he termed “mandatory Corporate Obligatory Responsibility (COR) which is customer service or consumer protection, stressing that, a “vibrant combination of both is the best possible brand and reputational investment possible”.
The CPC boss maintained that “nothing repairs or maintains reputation and eliminates distrust better than fairness to customers and satisfaction in the products they purchase or consume”.
He emphasized the uniformity of CPC’s objective with companies in the association which is to please consumers and this, he said, made the case for industry and CPC collaboration, noting that, “when customer service is at its best, consumers are truly happy, spending is up, economic indicators are encouraging, my job is done, your performance is assured, and your brands endure”.
He further noted that collaboration in consumer protection was not just an imperative, but a sensible approach to a joint objective, pointing out that “for you (businesses), consumer satisfaction is a means to a commercial end, and for me (CPC), its an end in itself and fulfillment of a constitutional duty”.
He pointed out the global convergence in sophistication and expectations of consumers, noting that on other issues, “governments may be at different levels or be going in different directions, but consumers are not” and as such, consumers should be treated fairly and equally irrespective of their location.
He opined that a consumer protection regulatory challenge in any part of the world can damage a brand internationally, so companies should “prioritize consumer protection, diligence, transparency and forthrightness in dealing with consumer protection authorities”.
This he said “constitutes the most meaningful approach to crisis management” in addition to industry understanding the powers of regulators while recognizing those “powers are existential, even if not exercised”.
In the spirit of collaboration and achieving the CPC and Industry’s shared objective of customer satisfaction, the Director General identified some policy priorities of the CPC under his tenure, specifically noting the need to reinforce the existing complaint resolution mechanisms.
He informed the meeting that the CPC will introduce a more efficient system with the right technology that will ensure companies are the primary point of resolution, and only when that fails are complaints escalated to the CPC, except in serious or industry wide situations or abuses that require major and urgent immediate intervention, while encouraging the CEOs to ensure their companies adopt the comprehensive system and plug into it when it goes live.
Further, the Director General noted that from internal information and the feedback, including from this meeting, a major threat to both consumers and businesses is counterfeiting and adulteration.
He informed the meeting that the CPC will focus more on traceability and enjoined companies to cooperate in being more innovative and proactive in partnering with regulators to address this menace.
While assuring industry of government’s support, including offering to champion a partnership with other regulators, security agencies and industry to address this as a national emergent and security situation, Irukera admonished industry to be more transparent about tracing and tracking their products.
He insisted that “we must be able to swiftly and unequivocally eliminate confusion or dual possibilities about the source of a defective product”, adding that, “when defectiveness regrettably emanates from a legitimate producer, forthrightness and honesty in taking responsibility are factors in the company’s reputation”.
Earlier, the Group Managing Director of Flour Mills Nigeria Plc, Mr. Paul Gbededo, while welcoming CPC boss to the meeting, described AFBTE as a group of industries that have daily encounters with Nigerian consumers.
Gbededo said members of the association are eager to collaborate with the Council and happy to be regulated by the government agency, noting that “we are conscious that if consumers are not happy with us, our businesses will not go well”.
According to him, partnership between the association and the Council will be for the good of the country and the numerous consumers of their various products.