By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
The secret to good personal relationships is the ability of two people to resolve their differences – to kiss and make up, so to speak.
In business, the same thing applies. If parties can reach an agreement on what separates them, each can put the dispute behind them. A consumer is satisfied, and a business can get back to pleasing other customers.
BBB’s services to the public and Accredited Businesses include dispute resolution, such as mediation and arbitration. But more often than not, complaints are resolved when BBB notifies a business of a complaint. Last year, BBB resolved 85 percent of the 20,851 complaints filed. Just 55 went to arbitration.
George “Butch” Welsch, owner of Welsch Heating & Cooling, believes companies should move quickly to address disputes rather than let them fester.
“Get on it and take care of it immediately,” said Welsch. “The number of people a dissatisfied customer will tell is 20 times the number a satisfied customer will tell.”
BBB complaints go into mediation when a consumer isn’t satisfied after BBB’s initial contact. BBB mediators call both parties and attempt to negotiate an amicable resolution. If they are unable to settle it, the dispute can go to arbitration if both sides agree. BBB dispute resolution is a free service, unlike disputes that go to court.
BBB Arbitrator Scot Sanders said business relationships are a lot like personal ones. Both parties want to be treated with respect, honesty and courtesy. When either side fails to live up to those expectations, tempers can flare and harsh words may be uttered.
“The worst thing that can happen is for a business and a consumer to part ways without resolution,” Sanders said. “We just wouldn’t do that with a friend or a family member.”
In personal relationships, “We want to talk it through,” he said. “This BBB service allows a business and a consumer to do that.”
Sanders, a former department store manager, has been volunteering as a BBB mediator since 2008 and completed arbitration training in 2009. He has a master’s degree in legal analysis, which helps him evaluate contracts between Accredited Businesses and consumers who are involved in a complaint.
BBB’s dispute resolution service stands out from others because BBB thoroughly investigates each complaint. Mediators and arbitrators listen to each side and attempt to find middle ground where a business and consumer can reach agreement to resolve the complaint.
“We’re the only avenue that would speak to both parties and actually engage in dispute resolution,” Sanders said. Rather than having a consumer just post a rant on a website, “we can sort through the facts of a dispute.”
Sanders said many complaints come down to a consumer wanting the business to hear them out and take some action to resolve the complaint. Often, what the consumer wants is not near as drastic as a business expects.
In one case, Sanders said a consumer who bought a modular home found out after two months that it didn’t have the architectural shingles that had been specified in the contract. The business told the consumer that he had been notified that regular shingles were used when the consumer accepted the home. The consumer said he was considering suing the business.
Sanders said he studied the case and found that architectural shingles were specified and that there was no written proof of any change to the contract. When he talked to the business, the owner agreed that the contract called for the more expensive shingles and offered money to settle the dispute.
“We were able to get a settlement to a dispute that had been going on for four or five months,” Sanders said. The business was able to move on and avoid a lawsuit. “We’ve saved everyone a lot of time and money and lawyer fees.”
Welsch, a member of BBB’s Standards and Compliance Committee, said he sometimes gets involved with businesses who are about to have their BBB accreditation revoked for failure to respond to a complaint. He calls the business and tries to convince the owner that it makes sense to get it resolved and make the consumer happy.
“I’m not a BBB employee,” Welsch said, “but I believe in making customers happy. I try to get the two parties together, even in the bottom of the ninth.”
“There’s often two good and credible parties involved in a dispute,” Sanders said. BBB, as a third party, often can sort it out.
Sanders said the biggest misconception he sees in dispute resolution is that some consumers feel BBB is on the side of business, while businesses feel BBB is on the consumer’s side.
“That’s not really the case,” Sanders said. “In mediation, we do everything we can to remain neutral and understand each party’s position.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Torchlight, BBB’s magazine for Accredited Businesses and Accredited Charities.