The Motor Ombudsman reinforces the importance of effective complaints handling for long-term customer relationships

Having a robust internal dispute resolution process in place to conclude any problems quickly and effectively can pay dividends.


Cars have become increasingly complex in terms of their engineering and electronics, and are today made up of thousands of different parts. Therefore, when something goes wrong, customer complaints can occur as a result of a repair that has been carried out, or because a garage has been unable to successfully diagnose or solve a problem.


With the rise of review websites and the power of social media, consumers can freely engage in “citizen journalism” and publically express their view to a large audience. It therefore does not take long for the word to spread if an individual has had a negative experience. This means that it’s more important than ever for a business to nip any issues in the bud, and to strive to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution that seeks to maintain a positive and long-term relationship with the customer. It will also save time, potentially costly legal fees, as well as any further publicity that may prove unfavourable.


Clear, simple and fair


To help achieve the swift resolution of disputes, no matter how minor, one of the most effective steps that a business can take, is to have a comprehensive and effective internal complaints handling process in place. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, but it should nevertheless be documented, easy to understand and fair for all parties involved. The Motor Ombudsman’s Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair equally requires businesses to be able to make a copy of the process available on request by a customer.


By introducing prescribed dispute handling procedures, this means that both garages and vehicle owners are clear as to how a complaint can potentially be resolved, and who the relevant point of contact is, such as a customer service manager or business owner. As of 2015, the law also dictates that the consumer should be signposted to a business’ preferred Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider, such as The Motor Ombudsman, in the event of deadlock. Additionally, organisations that are part of an ADR scheme should make customers aware of this by displaying the appropriate logo their website, literature and premises, in order to adhere to the requirements laid down by CTSI.


The three stages of an internal complaints handling process


There are three defined stages in a typical internal complaints handling process, which are namely “informal front-line resolution”, “formal investigation” and “appeal”. Some disputes will be resolved quicker than others. This is where the first stage of informal resolution comes in, and for those that are more “straightforward” to conclude with a simple remedy such as an apology, a target of around five working days to offer a solution to the customer is recommended. If this proves unsuccessful, the business should undertake a formal and more detailed investigation to review the complaint (this can also be managed by a different person to that involved in stage one), and a decision should be provided to the consumer in writing within a recommended period of 20 working days.


Of course, going through the above doesn’t guarantee a suitable outcome that a customer would be amenable to, and therefore, when the final position is delivered by a business, it is advisable to detail how a customer can lodge an appeal. This should be via an impartial third party, such as an ADR provider, who can help bring the dispute to a close, and avoid any element of bias.


For more information on The Motor Ombudsman, and the benefits of accreditation to its Motor Industry Codes of Practice, visit