Rather annoyingly I am losing sleep over the whole ADR thing again, but this time it is hypothetical debate by email with CISAS and not a case. This does, at least, mean we can sort ground rules out before getting a case.
The issue has come up over the types of dispute they can handle, which includes "billing", "service" and "customer service". The latter includes things like being rude to a customer on the phone. The debate started when I asked how they decide customer service issues and what they are, and they used the phrase "duty of care". I asked where it came from and they reference the implied term to use "reasonable skill and care" in providing a service. They have now said that this reference to the sale of goods act comes from OFCOM, which is a slight surprise, but does not change things.
I am surprised that providing a service (e.g. broadband) with reasonable skill and care could be taken as having to provide a level of "customer service". It seems a stretch to me, but that is, apparently, OFCOMs interpretation, so we'll work within that rather than arguing it.
Just to be clear - we want to provide good customer service. We understand that billing issues need correcting, and that a failure to provide service to the agreed level deserves the agreed level of compensation, but "customer service" comes down to keeping customers, getting referrals and getting good reviews. It is, in my view, not acceptable that someone can say we were rude to them and demand hundreds of pounds in compensation else blackmail us by threatening ADR which would cost us hundreds even if we "win". Let us be judged by our customers and their actions, not by CISAS.
It seems to me that they have several issues regarding "customer service" complaints and how they resolve them.
1. The Comms Act allows a complaint from someone who is not yet a customer, as it redefines customer to include someone simply seeking a service. CISAS agree that such complaints could only be about "customer service" as no bills or services yet. But the reference for the "duty of care" to provide "customer service" is an implied contract term, and there is no contract yet, so no duty of care. Ooops.
2. Even when someone is a customer, this duty of care comes from an implied term which OFCOM interpret in a particular way. However the sale of goods act allows such implied terms to be changed or removed by explicit terms in the agreement. So we do. We make it clear that we'll use reasonable skill and care to provide the actual service, but that "customer service" is not part of the contract. To ensure compliance with unfair contract terms legislation we even draw this to the attention of the customer when ordering. CISAS have now conceded that we can do this in the contract, but have not said what they would do about it (e.g. not take on customer service cases).
But then there is another issue which CISAS are still struggling to get their head around. I am still debating this one. It is the fact that they resolve disputes.
3. As a simple matter of policy, we agree customer service complaints. If someone says we were rude, we agree, and apologise. If they say they had poor customer service, we agree, and apologise. There is no disagreement, no difference of opinion, no dispute to resolve.
CISAS talk of whether or not our response to a customer service complaint "resolves the dispute to the customer's satisfaction" and cannot seem to grasp the concept that in such cases the complaint is not actually a "dispute" in the first place, and so the question of whether or how it is "resolved" does not come up. Also, being not a dispute, it is not a question of whether the dispute is within CISAS scope, or even how that is decided. If not a dispute, then there is no decision to make.
We're waiting for them to understand the concept of a "non dispute" and the fact that a "Dispute Resolution" service is not relevant to a non-dispute.
So, I'll keep you posted. At least we have some progress that the reference for customer service is apparently defined by OFCOM as an implied contract term which can be explicitly removed from the contract. That alone is massive progress. I wonder if other ISPs will follow suit on that. As I say, I am more than happy for our customers to judge our customer service in reviews and recommendations, but not via ADR.
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