Sue Chetwin’s Consumer rort

e22e23Consumer Magazine has been one of our flagship institutions for generations.  Need a new heat pump?  What about a fridge?  What is the best phone company?

Our parents as their parents before them turned to the independent and comprehensive advice found in Consumer Magazine.

In the past, at least, you wouldn’t have expected Consumer Magazine to favour one product or service over another based on how much that company paid Consumer in cold hard cash.

But that has changed.  Come with me as I take you on a tour of damning evidence.

Internet providers are doing a worse job with customers more likely to be dissatisfied, according to an annual survey by Consumer NZ.

It said satisfaction in their overall services had dropped 6 percentage points to 68 per cent over the past year, based on a poll of more than 10,000 of its members.

Vodafone and Spark had “a long way to go” before their customers felt satisfied with their services, it said.

Consumer NZ said the feedback showed an overall decline in perceptions of network reliability, but Spark spokeswoman Lucy Fullarton said that did not marry with independent reports from the likes of Wellington testing company TrueNet which indicated Spark’s network was “stacking up really well”.

Spark would nevertheless study the report and was always looking to improve its services, she said.

Vodafone spokesman Brad Pogson said it had invested significantly in its fixed and mobile networks over the past year and in January TrueNet had said its cable customers had the best webpage download times.

2degrees was the “standout” mobile network provider, Consumer NZ said.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin confirmed the company had paid about $20,000 to become accredited as a “Consumer Trusted” business but said that could have “absolutely no influence whatsoever” on its survey findings.

Do you believe Sue?  

Consumer NZ has defended its practice of charging companies fees of up to tens of thousands of dollars to be accredited by the consumer body.

Chief executive Sue Chetwin described an aspersion over the practice as “low rent”.

Yesterday, a source drew attention to what they implied might be a potential conflict of interest after 2degrees scored well in a Consumer NZ survey of mobile providers.

They said 2degrees had paid about $20,000 to be accredited as “Consumer Trusted” and had been pointedly singled out for praise by the consumer body.

Chetwin confirmed 2degrees had paid probably a little bit more than $20,000 to become one of the first businesses to get its accreditation, but dismissed any possibility of bias in its membership survey which she said was independent.

The only linkage between the survey results and Consumer Trusted accreditation was that if Consumer found a business or service was doing well in its surveys, it might approach them to see if they would like to go through the process of trying to get accreditation, she said.

“That is because we generally find the organisations consumers like can get over the hurdles.”

Do you believe Sue?

I don’t have access to Consumer’s web site as I am not a member, but I asked someone to investigate it for me.  This is what I received:

According to Consumer NZ’s PR materials, 2 degrees was the ‘standout performer’ in the mobile provider survey.

But if you look at the detailed results (hidden behind their members only paywall), the top rated provider was actually Skinny (marginally higher than 2d).

Consumer has discounted Skinny’s results on the basis that only 118 of the over 10,000 survey respondents were Skinny customers, so therefore the results are statistically a bit dodgy.

Fair enough I suppose.

But in the parallel ISP survey, in which InspireNet was promoted as coming out tops, guess how many respondents they had … Only 162 out of over 10,000.

So, the results of one small provider (which hasn’t paid $25k to be accredited) are discounted, but another provider (which did pay $25k) and is almost exactly the same size, has their results trumpeted by Consumer … Why?

Let’s not be coy.   For Consumer to claim that paying them money has absolutely no bearing on their independent results is at best naive, and at worst a naked rort.

So now we find ourselves in a position where people who have a business relationship with Sue Chetwin can expect better returns through Consumer’s ‘advice’ and promotions than those that do not pay the exorbitant fees.

I’m not sure if historically Consumer took backhanders or products in kind for its staff to encourage favourable treatment for one company over another.  I’d like to think not, but then again, this is the real world.

What’s happened here is that the relationships are actually out in the open, but we are somehow to believe that if someone that paid Sue $25k’s product comes 2nd in a survey, then Sue won’t nudge them up a spot?

I know how the real world works, and from now on, Consumer magazine is nothing more than an advertising vehicle for companies that pay it.

After all, what’s the point of handing $25k to Sue if you get nothing in return?  There has to be some kind of quid pro quo.

ertertert

Next time you see a Consumer report, you have to ask yourself:  “which of these ‘winners’ paid Sue for a result?”.   Sue may claim all she likes that there is zero linkage between her taking 25 big ones off companies and what Consumer recommends, but if you believe that, I have a few deals for you myself (email me now).

From the Consumer web site

Our most recent survey of mobile providers found 2degrees was the stand-out performer. It’s ranked highly for the past three years. It scored above average in all of the customer-service ratings. Further, in terms of value for money it scored 79 percent compared with Vodafone and Spark which were below 50 percent.
Those scores distinguish 2degrees as a good performer, which is why we at Consumer are patting ourselves on the back too.

Last year we launched our business accreditation scheme, Consumer Trusted, and 2degrees was one of the first on board. We assessed the telco against the Consumer NZ Code of Conduct – 8 principles grounded in customer service – and 2degrees met the criteria.

It’s heartening to see that our processes are working – your assessment of how 2degrees operates is the same as ours.

What a coincidence.

I for one will see Consumer’s ‘advice’ as nothing more than a paid-for ranking service.  The proof of them nudging results arbitrarily can be seen, as you saw above.   Bit like climate change scientists adjusting temperature data after it is collected, or ignoring it altogether, because of some arbitrary reason.

I’m not sure why Sue Chetwin keeps saying there is no link between paying her $25 k and getting better results.   If she was taking people’s money and not delivering something in return, that would actually be suspicious.   Companies aren’t in business to provide no-ties donations to commercial magazines in the hope it may write something nice about them.  Maybe.

 

– Tom Pullar-Stecker, Stuff


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