This year, the main themes in the traditional Elonmerkki event of communication professionals were design and user-oriented service design. The speakers talked enthusiastically about how to develop straight-forward and well-functioning services by listening to users.
However, the presentations failed to cover one element central from the viewpoint of the user, i.e. materials associated with the services. There is still plenty of room for improvement in the user-orientation of various contract and use terms as well as terms associated with special offers.
It is possible to draw up terms and conditions in such a way that they, in a genuine way, account for the user and function to make his or her life easier. With this aim, it is not purposeful for the company to try to underline its expertise by coming up with terms and conditions filled with professional jargon. Terms like these are likely only to generate uncertainty in customers and lead to conflict situations that create more work for everyone, the company itself included.
One indication of user-orientation at its best is that when making major changes in its system, the company does not base its actions on the blind faith that everything will go according to plan. Backup plans and processes must be in place to cover for the eventuality that things can go wrong. Sampo Bank and Communications service provider Elisa, among others, have experienced this for themselves when implementing significant changes in their information systems.
This is why it has been perplexing to observe the state-owned railway company VR struggle with its ticket reform. When competing with other modes of transport, taking your customers for granted is not an option. Moreover, it is not acceptable to justify your blunders in retrospect by saying that the demand was too high.
Automatia, however, was successful in learning from its mistake. It rectified the mistakes of its fundraising campaign last spring by listening to both its customers and authorities.
The lengthy preparation work for the Consumer Rights Directive is practically finished. Among the positive results of the work is the harmonisation of certain regulations associated with distance selling, such as time limits. Attempts have been made to clarify difficult-to-determine situations for example by providing a clear definition of home selling.
The Commission has now set its sights onto a new project and is actively promoting an alternative instrument of contract law for the member states. The aims are laudable, but numerous issues are yet to be settled. In a worst case scenario, a familiar operating environment will be replaced with a fragmented system of contract law with no single market benefits.
It is also possible that the instrument may displace current legislation protecting the consumer and thus have a significant negative effect on consumer protection. This will be the case if companies are given the right to decide on the use of the instrument in their contractual relations with no real choice afforded to the consumers.