Better Business Bureau (BBB) is known as the place to turn if consumers encounter a problem in the marketplace. For nearly 100 years, BBBs have been helping parties resolve everyday marketplace disputes. Even in the best of families or personal relationships, disagreements arise and the assistance of an objective friend to guide the discussion and overcome the misunderstanding is needed. The role of the sage advisor or friend in the marketplace is filled by BBB. BBBs were providing informal dispute resolution services even before the phrase was coined and more formal proceedings and protocols developed. In those informal processes, that still precede any formal dispute resolution process, BBBs open the lines of communication, shuttle information, help the parties talk productively and focus on solutions.
BBB promotes choice for parties to permit consumers and businesses to use fast, fair, accessible dispute resolution programs and services when it is decided by the parties to be the best option for them. BBB programs are built around industry best practices adapted to work for everyday people. BBB provides detailed information about the programs, procedures, potential remedies and outcomes to help individuals considering BBB services evaluate if the BBB option is how they want to proceed. BBB Conciliation
BBBs offer several dispute resolution (DR) methods. In conciliation, BBB staff collects factual information from both parties to a dispute and works to encourage open communication. When BBB is provided information from the consumer about the dispute, BBB staff contacts the business and works with both parties to encourage communication and assist in negotiation to settle the problem. BBB Mediation
If conciliation does not solve the problem, mediation may be the next step. In mediation, an impartial third party - the mediator - clarifies and reframes problems and helps the two sides talk with each other and discuss solutions. The mediator does not decide the merits of either party's claim. The mediator's goal is to identify the interests of each party and work with them to arrive at a win-win solution.
If both sides agree to mediate their dispute, BBB gives them an explanation of the basic rules of mediation and asks each party to sign an Agreement to Mediate. This agreement states that each party is entering mediation voluntarily and will make a sincere effort to resolve the dispute. It identifies the role the mediator will play and the obligations of the disputing parties.
BBB will schedule a mediation session and educates the parties to help them prepare for that session. The mediator will not decide who is right or wrong. Instead, he or she will create an environment that helps the parties clarify the issues, understand each other's underlying interests and discover possible options to settle the dispute. If the parties reach a solution, the mediator assists in writing an agreement that captures the agreement reached by the parties. If no settlement is reached in mediation, the parties may decide to use BBB arbitration to resolve the dispute. BBB Arbitration
Before committing to an arbitration hearing, BBB encourages consumers to evaluate their options to decide if arbitration is the preferred forum to resolve the dispute. Some of the issues a consumer should consider include:
- Cost. What is the cost to participate in the arbitration process compared to court or other options?
- Accessibility. Where will the proceeding be held and will the scheduling of the proceeding take into account the schedule of the consumer?
- Process. Is the process explained, does it provide for equal treatment of the parties, permit consumers to fully and fairly present claims, and how long until the outcome or decision is reached?
- Remedies. What are the remedies available from the process? Are the remedies acceptable for the type of dispute and how do they compare to other potential forums?
- Outcomes. What is the likely outcome; if the process is not satisfactory, what other options remain available after utilizing the forum? Some forms of arbitration are not binding on the consumer (e.g. BBB AUTO LINE), thus permitting a consumer to use the arbitration process, reject the decision and still pursue the matter in court if he/she is not satisfied by the arbitration decision and reasons. For auto manufacturer warranty disputes, BBB AUTO LINE® outcome data is also published to help parties assess whether the forum provides a reasonable way to proceed. In most forms of arbitration, the outcome is binding on both parties and very limited rights of appeal exist if the arbitrator’s decision is unfavorable. The ability to appeal a negative court decision, especially for cases a party cannot afford to lose, may be a significant factor in deciding whether to use either arbitration or the courts as a means to resolve a dispute.
By carefully weighing the pros and cons of arbitration with other options, consumers can make informed decisions about the best way to resolve their dispute. Every dispute is unique, and the factors most important to an individual consumer will vary. Armed with options – and enough information to fairly evaluate those options – consumers can make an informed choice.
Complete information about each type of BBB dispute resolution is available at http://hawaii.bbb.org/Dispute-Resolution-Services/Guide/.