Evluating Consumer Services

How many times have you wondered how to find the best auto repair shops, plumbers, banks, health insurance, pharmacies, TV or appliance repair outlets, household movers, employ­ment agencies, nursing homes, hospital emergency rooms and other services in your community?

Robert M. Krughoff also wondered, and two years ago he resigned his federal job in Washington to do something about it.

IT WAS HIS belief that while more people were spending more of their money on services, there was not even a consumer report to evaluate these local services. And going through the yellow pages was more confusing than helpful.

He got in touch with Col­ston Warne, president of Consumers Union, which tests consumer products and distributes the results in Consumer Reports.

For many years, Warne had been looking for a way to tell people how to make wide buying decisions on services in their home towns. Krughoff obtained a CU grant for a pilot study of local service problems, and consumer attitudes toward them, in Washington, D.C.

The study’s findings were not surprising. Consumer dissatisfaction, frustration and lack of information about where to obtain the best service and what rights are available to pur­sue complaints was intense.

IT IS NOT only the money significance of these services — 37 cents of every consumer dollar is spent on services — but also the damage to health and safe­ty that results from poor medical and nursing home services, for example, that makes this neglected part of the consumer movement so important

Krughoff and his associ­ates now are preparing service evaluations (of, for example, hospital emergen­cy services) in simple but specific language.

To bolster their informa­tion, they are inspecting the facilities, analyzing govern­ment records and staying in touch with consumers.

Organized as the non­profit Washington Center for the Study of Services (1910 K St. NW. Washing­ton, D.C. 20006), Krughoff is about to launch a quarterly magazine called Washing­ton Consumer’s Checkbook. The publication will regu­larly report on and update its evaluation of various local services.

OBVIOUSLY, if the Checkbook attracts enough subscribers to support the efforts of the reporting staff, Krughoff’s pilot project may well be adapt­able to cities throughout the country. But each effort would have to be home­grown and locally support­ed.

Krughoff wants to share his ideas and findings with consumer groups in all states. Just write to him at the above address, enclos­ing a self-addressed, stamp­ed envelope.

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