Part 2 in a three-part series

Read part 1 and part 3

The first article in this series on customer dispute resolution established the importance of having a prompt, efficient process in place to resolve customer issues.

This article will provide suggestions on how to build that process into your business operations. The keys to an effective customer dispute resolution process are: dedicated staffing, effective communication, systematic documentation, and reasonable expectations.

  • Dedicated staffing: Establish a single point of contact for the client — someone at your company who has the personality, patience, and authority to resolve disputes. There should be a specific team member (or members) designated to handle customer issues. This “resolution specialist” must have problem-solving skills and a personality that allows him or her to objectively analyze issues and quickly build plans to efficiently resolve them. Too many times team members (and even company owners) become defensive or take sides when a dispute arises. Effective problem resolvers take neutral positions and look not at where to lay blame but focus instead on understanding the problem and building a plan to resolve it. Thus, a key component to successful dispute resolution is identifying, training, and empowering specific members of your team who will manage this function.
  • Effective communications: The resolution specialist should be identified to field workers and subcontractors, and it should be made clear that when problems arise, they must immediately be brought to the specialist’s attention. Hidden problems only get worse. When a problem is identified, the resolution specialist should contact the customer right away and inform him that the resolution specialist is the point of contact for resolving any issues. Customers should be allowed a reasonable opportunity to vent their frustration to the specialist, who should then make it clear that he is going to build a plan to resolve the issue. The specialist should establish a clear communication plan with the customer and follow up with calls and updates throughout the process.
  • Systematic documentation: Unfortunately, any customer problem could ultimately result in litigation. Therefore, diligently making use of your company’s notes system, contractual change orders, and punch lists is essential both for the systematic, consistent resolution of disputes and to building your company’s case should the resolution process fail and a lawsuit ensue. Remember the first rule of construction litigation: “If it ain’t written, it didn’t happen.” Therefore, it’s essential to build consistent documentation into your dispute resolution process.
  • Reasonable expectations: Customer disputes too often arise from unrealistic expectations that may actually be the result of the sales process. No one likes to talk about potential problems up-front. Thus, it is essential that when a problem does arise, the resolution specialist defines a clear and realistic plan to resolve the issue right away. That plan must be promptly communicated to the customer, and the company must follow through and do what it has said it will do, in the time frame it has said it will do it. If the customer demands “compensation” for the issue, keep the project moving while the discussions about compensation proceed. The concluding article in this series will focus on effectively dealing with “the compensation issue.” 

—Attorney Richard Feeley is president of Feeley Mediation & Business Law, a specialty law firm providing dispute resolution and business legal solutions to remodeling companies.