Saving Business Relationships
By Ying Wang
In this story of a successful mediation between a business and its long-time customer, we start with Sally, who had the tail light of her BMW repaired at Joseph’s repair shop.
Sally paid Joseph $700 for the repair. Two months later, one of the car’s sensors began to malfunction, so Sally contacted Joseph to ask if he could repair that as well. Joseph replied that he would try to fix it for her but that he couldn’t guarantee success. Later, Sally found reason to suspect that the sensor was damaged during Joseph’s repair of the tail light.
Surprised by this unusual negligence on Joseph’s part, Sally asked for her $700 back and an additional $400 to repair thesensor elsewhere as compensation for the damage. Joseph did not believe it was his responsibility to return the money and pay the additional cost for repairing at another shop, explaining that he had nothing to do with the sensor damage. After a few phone calls to Joseph with no progress, Sally decided not to deal with Joseph by herself and called us for help and told us her story.
Sally, Party 1 (P1), is a customer of Party 2 (P2), a merchant. P1 sought mediation services after realizing that she could not resolve the dispute with the business owner without the help of a neutral third party. The fact that P1 only spoke English and P2’s first language was Spanish made it more difficult for them to communicate. However, our bilingual mediators allowed for smoother communication between both sides.
During the mediation, P2 confirmed that he said he could try to repair the sensor for P1. However, P2 said that because it took P1 two months to discover the faulty sensor, the damages were caused during this time period after instead of during the repairs. P1 explained to P2 that since her car was a BMW, discovery of the damaged sensor was delayed, because the dealership had to inspect all the electronic components to ensure the car was functioning properly. Furthermore, P1 also went on vacation for a month after repairing the car which was why P1 contacted P2 two months after his initial repairs on the tail light. P1 stated that she preferred for another shop to repair the sensor primarily because P2 could not promise a complete repair and secondly because she believed the sensor was damaged during the first repair by P2.
At the end of the day, the issue became whether or not the damage to the sensor was caused by P2. Neither party wanted to pursue further investigation as it was costly and time-consuming and so proving the source of the sensor damage became impossible. This left the dialogue at a “he said, she said” impasse, with neither party able to prove their side nor seemingly willing to compromise with the other. In mediation, however, there is a human element that is often pushed out of more legalistic situations. This knowledge enabled our mediators to restore the relationship.
Both P1 and her father have been long-time customers of P2, establishing a common interest in future business for both parties. P2 wanted to keep P1 happy to maintain a good customer-merchant relationship while P1 did not want to select another auto repair shop because she and her father were quite pleased with P2’s prior work and were quite surprised by this rare incidence of negligence.
Therefore their common interest was to solve the problem and continue the relationship. After a few conversations, P2 was willing to return the money P1 paid for repairs. Although there was a $400 gap, the parties were willing to compromise and P2 returned the original $700 and also gave an additional $100. These compromises demonstrated that there was hope of repairing their relationship. Our goal for this mediation was to guide the customer and the merchant to a mutual understanding and to accept the differences between each other to work out a mutually beneficial agreement.
Overall, the mediation went pretty smoothly. After a few conversations between the two parties through a neutral and bilingual mediator, they reached an agreement in which both sides made concessions. Today, Sally remains a regular patron of Joseph’s shop for all her car maintenance needs and even recommends his services to her friends and family. Joseph’s business is more successful and he is happy to have come out of mediation with an even better relationship with a loyal customer. Sometimes both parties just need a neutral place for them to communicate their concerns and interests and feel at ease in a safe, cooperative atmosphere before they can agree to a mutually beneficial solution.