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Department of Consumer Affairs is a city agency which main focus is to protect and enhance the lives of New Yorkers. DCA started on April 29, 1968 (NYCDCA). New York City Department of Consumer Affairs was created to protect consumer (public) from deceptive business practices and it was passed by the city council. Consumer affairs merged with the department licensing which means that DCA license certain businesses. Consumer Affairs deals with cases like advertising, appliance repairs, automobiles, billing dispute, cell phones, cancellation of contact, furniture service, home improvement contractor, locksmith, pawn brokers, second hand auto dealers, towing, travel agencies (DCA).
There are certain issues that are outside of DCA’s jurisdiction. On a daily basis DCA receives calls regarding matters such as Abandon or unsafe buildings, Bail Bond, Bankruptcy, Business names obtain, copyrights, Hunting licenses, housing, mortgages, product information, product safety, trademarks etc. (DCA) Contacting 311 can help consumers with Questions or complaints about the matters and will refer them to appropriate resources or agency.
Department of consumer affairs is consisting of about fourteen different divisions within its department. The divisions of DCA are as follows administration, collections, communications & marketing, Consumer services, enforcement, external affairs, finance, general counsel’s office, Human capital, licensing, office of financial empowerment, office of labor policy & standards, and technology and strategic solutions (NYCDCA). I was specifically placed in the General Counsel-consumer services divisions. The consumer division is where mediation process goes and this divisions specifically deals with the complaint filed by consumers.
The mission of the agency basically is “To protect and enhance the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities” (NYCDCA).
This means that DCA is there to help the public from fraudulent businesses as well as stop deceptive business practices. It also ensures that consumers are not taken advantage of and are educated on their rights. Every division within the agency is has different structure. There about 81,000 business in fifty different industry are licensed by DCA’s and the division that takes care of this is the licensing division (DCA). When consumer complaints about a business which is licensed by DCA then the mediator can request for an investigation which is taken care by the enforcement divisions. Consumer services division specifically focuses on mediating cases between consumer and business. The consumer service division is consisting of about thirty employees.
To have a better understanding of the agency and for the purpose of this paper, I interviewed one of the current employee of the agency. Vickie Moore is working at the department of consumer affairs from last twelve years apart from this she has been working with the city from last twenty-eight years. Vicky is the consumer division supervisor specifically her title at the DCA is administrative support, her Civil Service title is administrative staff support (level II). She has a Bachelor of Science in finance and business administration, minor in Economics. Before working for the city Vickie worked for brokers and commercial farms in the private sector.
On a daily basis she does variety of different tasks and handles multiple assignment, deals with consumers, works with different staffs, determines the nature of the consumer complaint and directing it to the appropriate agency/divisions. Basically, her job responsibility is to handle all the administrative duties, in other words she handles everything that goes on from the beginning to end in the division. Before being placed at the consumer service divisions, she was the director in trails and hearing divisions within DCA. when asked her about her perspective of the agency, she said that the agency is helpful for everyone, the public, it allows the consumers to find resolutions of their problems with certain issues that the agency handles. She further mentioned that courts would have been overcrowded if there wasn’t a specific agency focused around issues of consumers disputes. There would also be mountains of dispute, litigation cases which would have been impossible for the courts to handle in a timely/effective manner. Its s as well will be expensive, time consuming and hassling for both the consumers as well as courts. Moreover, it will keep the business from harassing the consumers.
Vickie said that what she likes most about her job is that when she is able to find the proper resources and information to help the consumers and learning and becoming aware of different aspects. the thing that she dislikes about her job is when consumers and business refused to understand the policy and regulations that are in place as well as complicated consumers. She added that it will be great if everyone in the divisions learn about everyone tasks and responsibilities and work more collaboratively.
As a city agency employee there are certain rules and policy that everyone must follow and abide by. During the orientation, I was advised by the human resources coordinator Diana Morales about rules and policy of the agency. She explained and made me sign on documents regarding confidentiality. As per Diana, as a city intern must not share any information about the internal work, in other words any information of the consumer and business to anyone outside. should not try to take advantages for private gain, should never post or say anything to the media or social networking sites on behalf of the city.
Apart from these, while we were handling cases of consumers as a mediator and city intern, we weren’t supposed to be determining whether the consumers and businesses are saying the truth or not, even when we know that either one of them are not saying the truth. We are to mediate in best of our ability without making any judgment. Also, when we advised the consumers or the business to take the matters to courts, and the parties are not aware of the process of the court. Even then we aren’t allowed to refer them to appropriate resources or explain them the process. Another important policy of the city was that, none of the employees are supposed to be accepting any sort of gifts. If anyone wants to gift, then it has to be for the whole divisions and it cannot be of more than five dollars. impartiality and sincerity of the employees of the city is outmost important.
Conflict resolution is part of our daily life. Conflict is generally known as disagreement and argument between parties which can pose as a hindrance to parties. conflict between parties is basically arises due to lack of consensuses and differences of perspectives. The internship is all about dispute and conflict resolutions between consumers and business. In conflict resolution and in the internship site active listening is one of the most important skills. improving listening and communication skills help in understanding other perspective (MSU). At DCA consumers complaints often don’t include details description of the issue therefore when following up with them, it is important to listen to what they have to say and noted down to understand their stance so that a negotiation process can follow. What I learned is that often miscommunication and misunderstanding causes dispute between the consumers and the business. Therefore, it is very important to listen to both of the party when discussing the matter individually. After talking to both the parties for the first time, the next step is to mediate and come up with possible resolutions based on the information that both parties provided. The negotiation is one of the process that is applied, as mediator most of the time asks the business if they are willing to come to an agreement to resolve the issues. Negotiation techniques often help in reducing conflict specially of the businesses are licensed. Based on an article by Lauren Seymour there are three level of negotiation, which are power, rights and interest. in the cases of licensee business negotiation are based on power in terms of being panelized and revoking licenses. Through affective communication and negotiation conflicts can be handled better.
I was placed in at the consumer service division of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs as a mediator intern. Even as an intern I was treated like an actual employee of the city. I was given a desk, with my own computer, official city ID card, assigned an official city government email address, a phone with extension, as well as registered into the official IT system. my job responsibility includes assisting the consumer division mediator with cases, contacting consumers and businesses to discuss complaint that have been filled, entering notes into the ALBA system to reflect the contact that have been made with both the consumers and businesses. The job responsibility further includes uploading documents pertaining to cases being mediate. As a intern we were mediating cases alongside of the mediators. Mediators at the division gives some of their cases to the intern to help them out with. When a case is handed to us, we first review it, read it thoroughly to understand what the case is about, check for all the required documents. Next, we are required to write a brief summary of the case and immediately post it in the ALBA system. After that contact the consumer and business to discuss about the case and write the notes into the system. after making the first initial contact and receiving the business response, we have to call the consumer and let them know about the business response. If both consumer and business comes into terms with each other then the case closes.
A typical day working at the consumer services division basically is like, reviewing cases, contacting consumers, following up with consumers if needed, requesting for more documents if requires, check to see if all the notes and documents are uploaded properly. In short reading, writing and communicating with consumers and business constantly. On a daily bases DCA receives tons of different type of cases. Cases that I mostly worked on were home improvement contactor, appliances repair/purchases, fitness club, automobiles, pricing disparities, retail stores, pawn broker, furniture contract/pricing, as well as contract disputes in general. For instance I was working on a case about appliance purchase in which the consumer brought a refrigerator from a undisclosed company, which isn’t working properly and the consumer is demanding a refund or exchange of the product. In this case first I wrote the summary, then I checked to see if the documents attach reflects the matter, the price and product the consumer is complaining about. Next I made call the consumer, discussed the matter, gave her the case number, assigned mediator contact info as well as mine (intern) contact info for further follow up. After that I called the business discussed the matter with them, stated consumers response and asked for their site of the story. Once I was done with the initial contacts, I uploaded the notes and additional documents to the system. In this case the business agreed to dispute the conflict through exchanging the appliance. Once both the business and consumer came into term with each other, the case is closed. The assigned mediators asks the intern to close the case when the conflicting parties resolve the issues.
While working at the DCA at the beginning, I had difficulties in navigating the ALBA system as well as handling the cases. I thought that as an intern I probably will be doing administrative tasks, rather than handling actual cases. On the first day I was assigned about five different cases pertaining different issues and was asked to review it and then write the summaries down. After I wrote the summaries, I sent it to my supervisor who reviewed it and told me that, the summaries don’t have to be in a specific format or detailed and we are allowed to use terminology instead of writing a long word. The next day I had to follow up with the consumer and the business through telephone. I was furious, confused and nervous hearing about contacting business and consumers, as communication is one of my biggest weakness. However, my supervisor went over that with me, he showed me how to contact the consumers and business and what to speak to them, as well as navigating the ALBA system.
To overcome my fear and weakness, I made the first call a small business and it went well. On the third day I was required to contact a consumer who is a doctor my profession, I was so anxious to make the call as I confused as to what to and how to talk to her. I was about to go to my supervisor and tell him that I won’t be able to do this, but then I realized that, this is part of job and I have to overcome this weakness. Communication plays big role in conflict resolution and misunderstanding usually crops form miscommunication (MSG). It is important to be an effective communicator. I reviewed the case thoroughly, note the important parts, and wrote down questions that I will ask her. With great difficulties, I made the call and to my surprise it went so well, my supervisors-supervisor who was there at the time came to me and told me that I did a good job on it. From that day on I worked hard to overcome the communication obstacles through constantly communicating with consumers and businesses as well as with the stuffs.
Working at the department of consumer affairs is one of the most enhancive experience. I never thought that, through this internship I will be able to have real world mediation work experience at a city agency. I was treated like one of the one of them by everyone at the consumer service division. Everyone there is very welcoming, worm and helpful. At the beginning of the internship I was advised by my supervisor about the type of work I will be doing. He further step by step showed me how to handle the cases, navigating and uploading documents through a specific system. Understanding dispute resolutions through academic coursework such as the dispute resolution skill building, sociology of conflict resolution prepared and help me with the internship. Since this internship is about consumer dispute resolution, having prior knowledge in the area was a plus point. Through this Internship I was able to learn a lot about dispute resolution as well as about consumer affairs. This internship helped to improve reading, writing and communication skills. This internship requires constant communication between, business and consumers, as well as reviewing and writing down everything that the consumer and business has said. I will definitely recommend this internship site to other students, as from this internship one will get insight of real-world work experience and exposure to wider issues.
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