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Guest opinion: Managing complaints and safeguarding your reputation

Bill Fennell, The Motor Ombudsman chief ombudsman

With the recent introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) legislation and the game-changing Consumer Rights Act 2015, the number of claims made by motorists against independent garages, franchise dealers and authorised repairers is on the rise.

Effective management of these is therefore now more important than ever.

Reputation and a loyal customer base are critical to success in what is today a very competitive automotive sector.

Any consumer complaints made against your business, whether it relates to the quality of workmanship, or a part fitted during the maintenance of a vehicle, all have the potential to cause damage to even the best of reputations.

Social media in particular has become an extremely powerful communication channel, and is often seen as the first port of call for expressing discontent about a product or service.

No matter how negligible the claim, it is important to settle it quickly and fairly to help avoid any wider repercussions.

One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to address the issue directly with the customer, to ultimately seek the best way forward for both parties.

If possible, make a gesture of goodwill such as the contribution towards the cost of a repair or part to demonstrate that you are striving to help the customer to resolve the issue.

The offer of a small olive branch could reap larger rewards in the long-run such as repeat business and recommendation.

In addition, make a conscious effort to follow-up with the vehicle owner if any remedial work has been carried out, so as to ensure that they are completely satisfied.

If a suitable result cannot be achieved in this first instance, the details of your appointed ADR provider must legally be provided to the customer.

Their job is to act as a completely impartial body that will assess both sides of the argument in order to come to a reasonable non-legally binding conclusion for the awards in favour of the motorist and/or the trader.

In most circumstances, going through this process avoids the case going to independent arbitration which comes at a cost in terms of time and money for all involved.

Another of the main downsides is that the final decision may not go your way even if you deem it to be the correct outcome.

Many changes to consumer law have taken place during the past few months, and all impact on your business.

It is therefore crucial to understand that when dealing with any kind of dispute, you know what your rights and obligations are.

This allows you to know what can and can’t be realistically achieved within its parameters, and be able to ultimately determine the best course of action.

Author: Bill Fennell (pictured), managing director of Motor Codes, the government-approved consumer watchdog for the automotive industry.

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