Consumer counseling in Germany has so far mainly been based on the expectation that consumers have to proactively visit the advice centers. This implies that consumers are aware of the advisory services of the consumer advice centers and contact them for information and support with consumption related problems.
Yet this approach has some flaws. There is a myriad of consumers that does not make use of the consumer advice centers, even when they have good reasons to do so. As empirical evidence shows, not only is the consumers’ knowledge about their rights generally quite low, but also do especially young, poorly educated and low-income consumers show a lack of awareness when it comes to their rights as consumers and do not seek professional advice. This group is typically called “vulnerable consumers”.
In order to better reach these vulnerable consumers, the consumer advice center of Cologne is now taking a new path. Within a pilot approach, the concept of outreach counseling in the neighborhoods is tested. The barriers of making use of pre- and post-contractual consumer counseling, particularly for people with low income, from a migrant background or with a low-level of formal education as well as senior citizens, are supposed to be diminished.
ConPolicy supported this approach by consulting and evaluation over a period of two years. As part of the consulting work, ConPolicy conducted strategy workshops and team workshops for the consumer advice center NRW. The final evaluation report which has been presented to the consumer advice center NRW in December 2017, ConPolicy draws a positive conclusion:
- Within a short period of time, a strong network and synergies with important actors in the neighborhoods could be observed.
- The experience suggests that a target group that is not easy to reach can be reached according to their needs.
- The consumer center was able to take first steps towards a sensor function for neighborhood-specific problems.
The report also contains recommendations and success factors for consumer outreach counseling in the neighborhood. These are:
- Guarantee a strategic focus
- Choose suitable neighborhoods
- Define target groups precisely
- Allow for low entry thresholds
- Invest in intense networking
- Ensure consistency
- Create a coordinating function
- Ensure and develop the fit between demands and staff
- Install possibilities for flexible work
The whole report can be downloaded here.