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Yesterday’s piece on rather weak consumer protection framework in the recently announced e-commerce policy, leads to bigger questions of where is service in the service economy, who is measuring it, who is taking action against poor quality of service, and who is providing training for it. (See BR Research’s Consumer protection and e-commerce, Jan 21, 2020)

Here is a country that has disavowed both manufacturing and agriculture economy at the altar of service economy. Yet the speed and quality of services in the service economy remains outright poor.  Take a look around, the government as a provider of public services cannot even be nominated for any kind of annual service awards, save for perhaps exceptions like the motorway police.  The situation in private sector doesn’t look pretty either. Be it the case of housing schemes and societies or private sector utility companies, vox populi evidence suggests that consumers aren’t generally happy with the services. The quality of education and health services are no different with parents and patients and their caretakers complaining to no avail. Again, stories to this effect abound, as is the case of restaurants and other forms of eateries where the quality of food has only been recently put into spotlight, but the quality of services are only discussed socially, or on social media.

Then there are certain regulated areas such as banking, telecom, and insurance which are regulated by the central bank, the PTA and the SECP. They all keep making their own effort, one more successful than the other, but unless the consumer is a big spender like corporate consumer or high net worth individual or someone with a ‘connection inside’, the quality of services provided by banks, telecom and insurance firms aren’t even close to international best practises.

Here, it is important to clarify that the service aspect of service economy is not confined to consumer protection. It includes the speed and the quality of services itself, which in turn is measured on a wide range of indictors – often varying from sector to sector - including the experience of human interaction with the providers’ service.

It also includes the likes of late night promo SMSs by banks, asset management companies and telecom companies, and it includes issues relating to long wait time at call centres, customer handling by the agent, meeting the turnaround time of problem resolution, hidden charges, negative selling and what not.  Not to mention the absence of that harmless little thing called a smile.

Improving the service part of services economy doesn’t only require fixing the regulatory bodies. It also warrants the civil society to come together – both to create awareness of consumer rights, and to pool in funds and expertise to monitor the quality of services. Granted that Facebook groups, and rants on Twitter helps address consumers’ concerns sometimes. But without periodically measuring it service quality, and putting the big players under media spotlight, things are not likely to improve. In this age of tech, it is time for start-up walas to come up with mobile apps, and web-based portals, to track the performance in key service sectors in a manner that is objective, and non-partisan. Long live the consumer!