The dreaded letter from Consumer Protection (Part 1)
There’s a knock at the door; Canada Post has a registered letter from your provincial Consumer Protection office.
By John Bleasby
Oh, oh! That troublesome customer complaining about incomplete or poor quality work now has the government after you too.
What can you do now?
How did it get to this stage?
How can you prevent this from happening again?
It’s important for contractors to understand how Consumer Protection offices operate in this country. Consumer protection is a provincial matter, each province with its own legislation and methods of handling disputes. You can, and should, check the website of the one operating in your province. One common element, across the country is the objective to ‘educate consumers regarding their rights and responsibilities’. While contractors might think this tilts the playing field against the industry and in favour of consumers, that’s not necessarily so.
Today, you have a problem. How do you deal with it?
There are very straight forward ways to ensure that your company doesn’t get hauled into a difficult and perhaps costly court case. If a complaint investigation is already underway, it’s because you’ve probably done something wrong, the very least of which was passing on your chance to arbitrate some sort of settlement earlier on.
Fact is, however, most government consumer offices aren’t looking for a fight. As Stephen Puddister, Media Relations Spokesperson for Consumer Protection Ontario explains that before his Ministry gets involved, his office will suggest that consumers “first contact the business in writing if they’re not happy with the performance of the contractor. We also suggest that the customer copy the Ministry so that business is aware that the customer is serious about the complaint. We might get involved if the business is not responding.”
This begs the question:
Did you respond to those earlier letters, and how?
You’ve got a side to the story: Tell it!
Most provincial agencies will give you 10 to 14 days to respond in some manner before they consider launching an investigation. Hiding under the desk is not a solution! If you don’t respond, things change gears. If you disagree with the complaint, you owe it to yourself to respond. As Mr. Puddister explains “It’s in everyone’s best interest to mediate a resolution without resorting to more serious action like court. We will always try to work with the business and the consumer to try and resolve the situation in the most mutually beneficial way possible.” And remember: your provincial consumer protection office only knows your customer’s side of the story so far.
It simply makes sense to have your side heard, and to then negotiate a settlement using your provincial consumer protection office as a mediator.
But how to avoid the situation in the first place?
That’s the topic for next week!