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Customers in the doldrums. Rohan Samarajiva Dhaka , 30 April 2014. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Canada. . Professor Stephen Littlechild on consumer protection.

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customers in the doldrums

Customers in the doldrums

Rohan Samarajiva

Dhaka, 30April 2014

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Canada.

professor stephen littlechild on consumer protection
Professor Stephen Littlechild on consumer protection
  • “Competition is indisputably the most effective - perhaps the only effective – means of protecting consumers against monopoly power. Regulation is essentially the means of preventing the worst excesses of monopoly; it is not a substitute for competition. It is a means of ‘holding the fort until competition comes.’”

1983 Report to UK Government, Para 4.11

best economist not have received a nobel albert hirschman 1915 2012
Best economist not have received a Nobel: Albert Hirschman, 1915-2012
  • Economics privileges exit; Politics voice
    • But increasingly cross-overs occur
  • Very useful framework for thinking about quality of service in electricity and telecom
c onsumer protection in context of a single supplier e g electricity
Consumer protection in context of a single supplier (e.g., electricity)
  • In a monopoly environment, government has major responsibilities with regard to consumer protection
  • When there are no exit options (alternative suppliers), voice is only option (other than doing without)
    • Voice can be direct: consumer speaks/complains to supplier
    • Voice can be directed to 3rd party (consumer protection agency/utility regulator) who has power over supplier
    • In extreme cases, voice can lead to anti-supplier  anti-government agitation
consumer protection under competition
Consumer protection under competition
  • Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware) is the starting position
    • Assumes homogenous products and costless exit options
    • Assumes perfect knowledge of competing products
      • Obviously unrealistic; For all markets, but especially for markets in infrastructure services
  • Government actions in absence of assumptions
    • Reduce information asymmetries
    • Regulate suppliers proportionate to deviation from competitive market(e.g., differential treatment of fixed v mobile telephony)
a low quality equilibrium even in presence of multiple suppliers
A low-quality “equilibrium” even in presence of multiple suppliers?
  • Customers unhappy with quality in Supplier 1 move to S2; S2’s disaffected move to S3; and so on; but S1 gets an equal number of unhappy customers from Sn
    • In India 89.7 million MNP requests (around 1/10th of total number of active SIMs) were received over 28 months, indicating significant level of unhappiness
  • No supplier receives the feedback postulated by theory
    • Does this change with business analytics that allow operators to see who is leaving and joining?
    • Or do they see, and do nothing?
does exit mute voice
Does exit mute voice?
  • Does the possibility of satisfaction through exit, weaken incentives to give voice?
  • Is it thus necessary for both suppliers and regulators to seek to reduce transaction costs of complaining, using ICTs?
when voice is valued does exit decline
When voice is valued, does exit decline?
  • In service industries, perfection is never possible
  • If voice is valued
    • Customers may not exit
    • Also, customer complaints can be a valuable resource for improving service