Each month we’ll visit with a member of DSEF’s Board of Directors to learn how their experience and expertise helps the Foundation build trust in the market place by standing up for consumers and championing ethical entrepreneurship.
This month we visit with Rigoberto Reyes, who works for the Department of Consumer Affairs, L.A. County, and is President of the California Consumer Affairs Association (CCAA), which promotes consumer protection for Californians through education, collaboration and advocacy. Rigo serves on DSEF’s Board of of Directors and is a member of its Consumer Committee, which helps to build a broader understanding of direct selling’s channel of distribution and partners with consumer advocates, educators and public policy leaders to ensure the direct selling voice is heard throughout the global marketplace.
DSEF: How did you become involved with DSEF?
RR: I met Bettie Smith at a consumer event and heard her talking about the great work DSEF does on behalf of consumers and the direct selling industry. We have been continuously working together for the past 10 years. DSEF has been a terrific partner.
DSEF: What do you feel is DSEF’s value to the public and the direct selling industry?
RR: Everything we do has to do with consumer protection. I think the value of working with DSEF, and the DSA, is helping them to understand some of the concerns and issues that pop up from time to time, and working with them to put in place some policies. We encourage them to fix any problems that come up dealing directly with customers. We always say that it is a lot easier to prevent an issue than to have to deal with it down the road. I think DSEF is instrumental in working with the industry in strengthening consumer protection, ethics and policies in general. In the end, I think it is a win-win situation, certainly for a company in being recognized as treating customers fairly. For those companies that go out of line, we remind them that long-term business–customer relationships need to be built on trust and definitely on fair treatment.
DSEF: What specifically does your organization do to ensure a fair marketplace for consumers and businesses?
RR: The L.A. County Department of Consumer Affairs is a government agency and the issues really don’t change. We see companies that are deceptive, either through misrepresentation or omitting information. From deceptive practices to outright fraudulent activities, our department helps consumers and helps good companies remediate disputes, when remediation is appropriate. When we see some fraud pattern, or when we see companies that have to change the way they do business in order to do it legally, we do investigations—whether for civil or criminal charges—that are then brought to the attention of the district attorney’s office, the attorney general and federal agencies. We feel that that type of service helps the good companies as much as the victims who are being impacted by bad operations out there.
DSEF: How important is it for business leaders to support and promote consumer rights?
RR: I think it is critical. Any business leader who has a long-term vision for his or her company and who does not have a strong consumer protection plan in place is not in a good place. What is good for the company is obviously good for the consumer. When you have strong business leaders who create an industry that is known for fairness all around, that creates business growth, it creates customer trust and, in the long term, it creates strong success for anyone in that industry. When the big players in an industry don’t promote or advocate for good business practices and consumer protection, eventually the whole industry gets tainted and anyone who goes into it, long-term, is in trouble.
DSEF: What new challenges do businesses face in the online consumer marketplace?
RR: One of the big challenges agencies like ours face is managing customer expectations. Consumers expect almost immediate fixing of problems. For instance, if you have a dispute or complaint online, the consumer expects that the minute he enters the complaint somebody is going to resolve it or someone is going to get back with him—someone is going to give him the resolution he needs. We see it here. Consumers submit complaints and the next day they are calling for status. In the old days, 30 days to 60 days was the window, the expectation. I think companies that are not responding quickly are going to lose that customer, and then the customer is going to go on and tell others, and eventually the bad service will snowball when the consumer starts passing around information.
DSEF: What specific challenges do you see affecting direct sellers in the marketplace?
RR: I do not think they are any different than your regular stores in the sense that everyone is going online. Everyone has to capitalize on the new technologies and certainly the efficiencies that online selling and interaction create. However, I think that opens doors for possible friction, especially in regard to privacy. The collection, the selling and the safeguarding of consumer information is an issue. Companies need to ensure that information is being used for the originally intended purpose. For instance, if I go to a company’s website and sign up for a survey and they ask for my personal information, I want to be secure in knowing that information is being used for what I expected, what I authorized. I think that is becoming a major issue, and it needs to be worked out because it is not going to go away. We have to look for solutions and we have to work together to implement those solutions. At the end of the day, consumers will get a better deal and will be more inclined to do business with whomever is selling them goods and services.
DSEF: In what ways can DSEF and the industry further strengthen relationships with consumer regulators nationally and globally?
RR: I think one way is for DSEF and the industry, who are on the front lines working with consumers, to look for ways to be more responsive, to look for ways to address issues and try to anticipate those things before regulators have to get involved. It would be really helpful for companies to report to the appropriate authorities and try to work together. I think when it really gets out of control is when a problem comes up and they do not do anything about it, or worse, try to hide it. When the government comes in and it becomes a big fight, customers are the ones who get harmed in the process.