Every small business needs a bank account, internet and electricity. As a business owner, that means you rely on essential service providers like banks, telcos and energy companies to keep the lights on (sometimes literally).

This can be a problem when things go wrong – maybe your business credit card has been blocked, your internet is dropping out or your energy bill is too high. It can feel like an unfair fight to ask your service provider to listen to you and fix the problem for your business.

Thankfully there are some great options for small businesses to resolve complaints with large service providers:

  1. Make a complaint directly to the service provider.
  2. Go to an ombudsman.
  3. Use a third party.
  4. Speak to a lawyer.

Let’s look at each of these options and explore when they will make the most sense for your business.

1. Complain Directly To The Service Provider

Your bank, internet provider and energy company all have complaint handling processes. So your first option is to make a complaint yourself by following those processes. Complaining directly makes most sense for more straightforward issues where there has not been a significant impact to your business. It can also be a good pathway where you have a strong existing relationship with the service provider – for example, if you have a dedicated account manager you can raise the issue with.

The main downside of complaining directly is that you need to manage the process yourself – from finding the right place to raise the complaint, to working out what information to provide and dealing with the back-and-forth once the service provider responds. Many small business owners don’t have time to spend on all that.

2. Escalate Your Complaint To An Ombudsman

As well as internal complaint handling processes, essential service providers are also part of external dispute resolution schemes (often called ombudsman). For example, the banking ombudsman is the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), for internet providers it’s the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and the energy sector has state-based schemes like the Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW.

The majority of ombudsman complaints are from consumers. But they can also help resolve complaints from small businesses. For banking issues, AFCA accepts complaints for small businesses as long as they have fewer than 100 employees.

The main hurdle for using an external dispute resolution scheme is that you’re expected to try resolving the complaint directly with the service provider before escalating your issue to an ombudsman.

3. Use A Third Party To Make And Manage Your Complaint

When you’re going direct to the service provider or escalating a complaint to an ombudsman, sometimes you need a bit of extra support. Small businesses have plenty of important things to stay on top of, so it’s always a relief to take something off your plate. Luckily there are third parties who help small businesses resolve complaints with their service providers.

Usually these third parties are consultants that a business can pay to investigate an issue and then engage with your service provider to reach a resolution on your behalf. One focus area for these consultants is complex billing issues, where the small business could be saving lots of money on their bill each month. An interesting alternative to consultants is Ajust, an online platform for resolving customer complaints. Small businesses can use Ajust’s platform to identify, create and manage their complaints with banks, telcos, energy providers and other businesses. Ajust has helped consumers and small businesses resolve thousands of complaints.

4. Speak To A Lawyer About Your Rights

If an issue with a service provider could have a significant impact on your business, it’s sensible to consider engaging a lawyer. The majority of complaints can be dealt with in a pragmatic way. If your business internet connection is slow, your NBN provider might investigate the issue, fix the problem and give you some credit to make up for the inconvenience. Then everyone can move forward with a positive relationship between the small business and their service provider.

Some situations are more difficult. For example, if the issue involved could cause a lot of harm to your business – like a big increase in fees or a service provider preventing you from accessing a service you need to run your business. Another tough scenario is when a service provider is unable or unwilling to fix a problem for you. In these cases, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your legal rights, so that your business can be in the strongest position to resolve the dispute.

If your business is facing a situation like that, you can reach us at 1800 730 617 or team@sprintlaw.com.au for a free, no-obligations chat.

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