Getting little joy from those that provided you with kit that’s not performing to expectation? Then try this route to dispute resolution, recommended by Brian Sims, principal consultant at Metis Print Consultancy.
1. Keep talking
Firstly make sure you keep communication channels open, avoid confrontational letters and posturing as it creates barriers that can end up a greater hurdle than the initial problem.
2. Take personality out of the problem
It is important when attempting to negotiate an agreement that you take the ‘people’ aspect out of the debate, and simply focus on interests. Again, this might seem obvious but personalities can get in the way and cloud the negotiation. You have shared interests with the supplier so make sure you both understand them - it’s these that will lead to an agreement you can live with.
3. Be sure of your facts
Too many disputes come about when facts are neither clear nor accurate. This can originate from the original scope or request, right through to filing a complaint. Prior to making a complaint or demand of your supplier, properly explore any contract or purchase order that was in place prior to work starting - and consider whether it can be relied upon. A supplier may have delivered a product to you in good faith, and it has only failed to live up to your expectation because you have not communicated what you specifically required in the first place or set it out in a contract.
4. Be clear and concise
With regards to communication, it is extremely helpful to a supplier to know exactly what it is that is wrong. That might sound obvious but all too often in the heat of the situation, the lines become blurred and the points of contention are lost. It can be extremely helpful to both parties for the claimant to write down in clear and unambiguous text what it is that needs to be resolved and most helpfully, by when.
5. Avoid threats
You may well be feeling very angry over the situation but avoid sabre rattling - the supplier’s shutters will come up very quickly if they feel threatened, and finding a mutually acceptable outcome will be all but impossible.
With regard to interests, very rarely will a capital equipment supplier remove or exchange a piece of equipment they have installed. The dispute battlefield is notoriously strewn with statements such as ‘I will throw this in the car park’. But, in reality, the equipment is staying where it is and a solution is needed. Try to avoid making these statements they actually inflame the situation. Ultimately you have a shared interest in keeping the equipment where it is.
6. Avoid positional bargaining
Most people automatically go for a positional approach, such as “unless this does….it’s out of the door”. This puts a very significant line in the sand that is then difficult to broker a way around.
7. Do this instead
The best approach to take is one known as principled bargaining. This frames the dispute differently and attaches a resolution to your ‘needs’ not your position; “I need this because…….” puts across the same points but sounds more reasoned because the line in the sand is not there. You can avoid ‘win/lose’ situations when you focus on shared interests and agreements are normally easier to find.
8. Say what you want
As previously noted, make sure you have communicated clearly and precisely where your misgivings are, and if possible set them against your expectations, either documented or expected. By doing this a supplier will be able to understand you position and the principle of the dispute and desired outcome, but then allows work on your shared interests. If there is not a detailed contract or purchase order in place that you can rely on, it would not be too late to detail to the supplier what was expected.
9. Avoid finger pointing
Try not to be too much onus on the supplier to come up with all the solutions - or to blame them for all of the issues. Quite often the issues have their feet in both camps so it is helpful to avoid finger pointing or allotting blame at this point. By taking this approach you show willing to seek a collective approach to resolving the issue.
While neither side may concede the point, each needs the other equally. You possibly invested tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds in new equipment. No supplier in this current economic climate can afford either to lose you as a customer or have the potential for bad publicity, possibly affecting future sales. Both sides have reason for sorting the dispute out so try to keep an open mind.
10. Avoid legal posturing
The “you’ll be hearing from my solicitor…” rhetoric immediately changes the dynamic between parties, making it more adversarial. When things have deteriorated this far and communication is primarily via solicitors it becomes very inefficient method problem solving. Using solicitors or legal action actually only gets an answer to the argument, not the problem! You might well end up right and be able to say “I told you so…” but it is likely you will still have the problem.
11. Consider ADR
Should things not be resolved via the positional and depersonalized route or negotiation, prior to instructing solicitors to resolve an issue, consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR); legally now you will have to. Mediation, the most common method of ADR, is becoming more and more common as parties are being pressed to resolve issues prior to the commencement of proceedings. Mediation focuses both parties on what is important - not winning an argument but resolving a problem to mutual gain. It also strives to create the foundation to rebuild a damaged client/customer relationship and hopefully bring about a stronger and robust association for the future.