No matter what industry you work in, there will come a time when you receive a complaint based upon the services or goods you have provided.
Unfortunately, the automotive industry is no exception, and it can be easy to see such complaints as an unjustified attack on your company’s good reputation. In the heat of the moment, aggrieved business owners can jump to the defence of their company, engaging in a war of words with the complainant.
According to Gemma Carson, Head of Dispute Resolution at law firm Wright Hassall, they could do more harm than good: “Naturally, business owners can feel like they have a duty to protect their employees, and without thinking, fire back with an angrily worded email, expressing their displeasure with the original complaint.
“When emotions are running high, it is easy to get involved in a heated debate about the rights and wrongs, mistakes and failures, or actions and inactions of one party or another. It is at this point that things can escalate quickly and easily get out of control.
“The most serious issues can occur when promises or threats are made without due consideration given to any existing contractual agreements between the two parties.
“To reduce the risk of worsening the situation, there is plenty that can be done and it should start with a careful consideration of the content of the complaint. The pressure may be on, but take your time and ensure you make no commitments and no threats.
“Allow yourself time to properly cool down before sending a response, as emails sent while emotions are still running high have a nasty habit of biting back later down the line. “Instead, begin by drafting your email and save it to your ‘virtual mantelpiece’. This will give you time to review the situation and think carefully about what you want to say, instead of hitting back with a knee-jerk reaction.
“It is also important to check whether a service agreement and/or a contract exists between the parties. You should read any agreements carefully and check what they actually contain.“With an agreement in place, you may be able to respond to the complaint by highlighting any relevant contractual terms that may help you manage the situation.
“When dealing with a complaint, it is important to be proactive. By acting quickly, you can help diffuse the situation without the need for any legal involvement.
“Personal, face-to-face meetings will often help resolve issues before they can escalate. It is best to either raise the matter directly or if you suspect it to be more serious, to seek legal advice before you make contact.
“If it does feel serious, you should ensure you retain all of the relevant information relating to the complaint, including documents, correspondence and any products or specimen products from the same batch. It can help if you carry out and document any inspections of equipment or machinery.
“Seeking legal advice early on does not necessarily mean a serious legal dispute has arisen.
“Dispute resolution advice is very effective when delivered soon after the complaint is received, but your lawyers do not need to take an active role in the issue. They can offer strategic legal guidance focused on resolving complaint situations and diffusing potential disputes, whilst preserving the commercial position for the future.
“The most important legal factor to remember is that making a rash statement or taking a knee- jerk decision to stop providing your services or products, by sending that angry e-mail draft without first putting it on the virtual mantelpiece, may cause a serious breach of contract.
“If nothing else you risk a serious argument and potentially a threat of injunctive proceedings. In simple terms, a breach of contract can entitle the party affected by it to terminate the contract and then bring legal proceedings against you for damages.
“For this reason, sending that inflammatory e-mail without firstconsideringthe consequences could be a huge mistake that ends up costing time and money, both of which could be better spent managing or growing the business.
“Finally, where parties have become so embroiled that legal proceedings are not only threatened, but seem the only option, choose to work with experienced lawyers who understand commercial disputes and demonstrate a commitment to reaching an early, commercial and cost- effective resolution” concluded Carson.