Indeed, there is nothing quite like a consumer complaint to provoke apathy, even in the most enthusiastic flooring contractor, and understandably so.
Complaints can be a costly and time-consuming exercise, and often they can result in a loss of productivity and potentially damage business relationships.
It may not be possible to eliminate complaints, but it is possible to reduce the costs and losses associated with addressing them.
It helps if consumer concerns and complaints are viewed as an opportunity to fine-tune standard operating procedures, and minimise future risks. Developing a complaints procedure is a good place to start – it doesn’t need to be complicated, but should consider your organisation’s responsibilities to the consumer and the manufacturers involved.
The following information has been used previously to develop complaint and inspection processes for industry associations and manufacturers, and may be of assistance to those wishing to review or develop their procedures.
When a complaint is received it should be documented with sufficient detail for the organisation’s inspector to action the matter. Points to capture are the client’s name, address, contact numbers and concerns, and product details.
An example of points to capture are the manufacturer, type of flooring, size, quality and quantity, and installation details. These should be easy to access from the company files. Always respond to the concerns promptly because delays can see the problem escalate, making future communication with the client difficult.
The retailer or head of contract should inspect the site where the flooring has been installed. This is so they can view the concern and, if possible, determine what part of the project has failed ‘e.g. product, installation, maintenance or other issues that has caused the customer to reject the installation’.
A written report or summary of the findings should be prepared prior to any remedial work commencing.
All disputes can be summed up in three words: issues, options, and agreement. These points should be addressed promptly and confidentially. To make this process consistent and accountable, it is advised that an inspection process should be established. The following steps and points form the basis of a functional inspection procedure.
Please note: All flooring inspected should be viewed from the upright position, one to two metres from the defect and at an angle of 90 degrees, with the defect visible from three different directions. Viewing the floor directly in the light will invariably accentuate any fault.
The person addressing the complaint should have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the organisation, extensive knowledge and expertise in the area of concern, and good communication and interpersonal skills. Skills to be wary of are an awareness of body language and active listening.
If the concern is deemed to be a manufacturing fault then the complaint, including a copy of your inspection report, should be registered in writing with the appropriate manufacturer. The manufacturer may request a sample or picture of the problem. Keep a record of all correspondence and continuously keep the customer informed on the progress of their complaint.
If the manufacturer accepts your report they may direct you when addressing the issue. Alternatively, they may contact your client and arrange a time to inspect the site. At this point, the manufacturer will either accept or reject the claim. If the customer accepts the decision then the file can be closed and all records should be retained in case of any future claim.
Should the customer reject the decision then alternate avenues for remediation may be sought by either party.
We have always advocated the inclusion of the following dispute clauses on quotes as part of the conditions of sale:
“Any dispute or difference whatsoever arising out of or in connection with this contract shall be submitted to Mediation/Conciliation in accordance with, and subject to, The Institute of Arbitration and Mediators Australia Rules Mediation/Conciliation Rules.”
Should an agreement be reached the mediator/conciliator may assist the parties in drawing up an agreement to settle, which outlines what role each party has to play. Once signed, both parties understand that the agreement is binding and failure to comply with the terms of the agreement may result in a summary judgment against them in court without the opportunity to further defend the matter.
You may add the following clause if you require the matter to go to arbitration if not settled:
“If the dispute or difference is not settled within 30 days of the submission to mediate/conciliate (unless such period is extended by agreement of the parties), it shall be and is hereby submitted to arbitration in accordance with, and subject to, The Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia Rules for the Conduct of Commercial Arbitration. Notwithstanding the existence of a dispute or difference each party shall continue to perform the contract.”
While some small operators, or organisations, do not have the staff or resources to attend the site in a timely manner, there are many on-sellers who contact product manufacturers before conducting their own inspection. More often than not the issue(s) are not product related.
Like it or not, the initial response to consumer concerns is the responsibility of the contract holder.
It’s part of being in business and with good communication skills, a mutually acceptable appointment time can be negotiated.
When the remedial work is completed and the complaint is resolved, follow up
the interested parties with a courtesy call and advise them of the file’s status.
Thank them for their co-operation throughout and before closing the file, write a brief report summarising the issues and events that unfolded.
In an ideal world this process works. However, every now and then you will come across a complaint that, despite all good intentions, you are unable to resolve.
In such instances, when costly litigation seems imminent, there is still the opportunity to resolve the issue through alternative dispute resolution.