Dispute Resolution Processes and Guides

The Commonsense Alternative
What is Better Business Bureau?
BBB is a nonprofit organization supported by local businesses. It is dedicated to promoting and fostering the highest ethical relationship between businesses and the public through consumer and business education and voluntary self-regulation.

Your BBB assists in the resolution of disputes between a business and its customers. BBBs have a national reputation for fairness because they remain neutral in a dispute. They do not take sides with either party and work to get the problem settled as quickly as possible.

If you have a marketplace dispute, BBB can offer you several ways to resolve it. We can work with you and the business to reach a solution to your problem using various dispute resolution (DR) processes. These processes are an alternative to going to court - they are informal and user-friendly and help to resolve thousands of complaints each year. Look up BBB here

How DR Works

Most BBBs offer several DR methods to help you resolve your dispute. In conciliation, BBB staff collect factual information from both parties to a dispute and work to encourage open communication between them.

BBB staff may promote discussion and the exchange of offers but will not discuss the merits of either side's position.

In mediation, BBB will provide a professionally-trained mediator to talk with the parties and guide them in working out their own mutually-agreeable solutions.

In informal dispute resolution (IDS), BBB will provide a professionally-trained hearing officer who will listen to both sides and make a non-binding decision on how to resolve the dispute.

In conditionally-binding arbitration, BBB will provide a professionally-trained arbitrator who will listen to both sides and make a decision on how to resolve the dispute that is binding on the parties only if the customer accepts the decision.

In binding arbitration, BBB will provide a professionally- trained arbitrator who will listen to both sides, weigh the evidence presented and make a decision on how to resolve the dispute that is binding on all parties.

Advantages of Dispute Resolution 
DR services generally are low cost or free. The customer usually pays little or nothing for dispute resolution services.

Conciliation can usually settle a problem in a couple of weeks - sometimes in a day or two. If the complaint requires more assistance, the mediation, informal dispute settlement and arbitration processes generally take less than 40 days from start to finish.

DR allows for informality. You are free to have a lawyer assist you, but most people do not use one in DR proceedings. Hearings are held in a relaxed setting and courtroom rules of evidence do not apply.

DR is empowering. It offers you a chance to state your case in a confidential forum. In conciliation and mediation, you create your own agreements.

And finally, DR is convenient. BBBs will try to schedule mediation sessions and arbitration or IDS hearings at the parties' convenience.

Filing a complaint with BBB
If you have a complaint, get in touch with BBB and briefly outline the problem or use the online complaint system. Your BBB contact will tell you what you need to do next.

If you have not contacted the business directly, BBB will encourage you to call the business first to discuss the problem. BBB may have the name and number of a person at the business for you to contact.

Some BBBs have a "hot line" where disputes can be resolved through quick telephone contacts, but most BBBs will ask you to put your complaint in writing or fill out a complaint form.

When we have the information we need from you, BBB staff will contact the business and work with both of you to encourage communication and assist in negotiation to settle the problem. This process is called conciliation.

BBB staff can effectively present the customer's views to the business and offer the business' viewpoint to the customer in an impartial way. Conciliation frequently settles the matter simply and quickly.

Mediation (Mediation Rules)
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 confidential mediation session and will let you know how to prepare for that session.

The mediator will be a trained professional, either a BBB staff person or a volunteer from the community.

The mediator will not decide who is right or wrong. Instead, he or she will create an environment that will help both you and the other party clarify the issues, understand each other's underlying interests and help you discover possible options to settle the dispute.

If you do reach a solution, the mediator will assist you in writing an agreement that explains what the solution is - typically some action to be performed.

Informal Dispute Settlement (IDS) (IDS Rules)
IDS is a process in which two parties present their views of a dispute to an impartial third party, called a hearing officer, who will make a non-binding decision on how to resolve the dispute.

While the hearing officer's decision is not binding on any party, BBB Accredited Businesses have agreed to act in good faith in determining whether, and to what extent, they will comply with the decision.

The issues and the types of decisions the hearing officer may consider will be outlined in a document called the Submission Agreement. BBB will work with the parties to write the Submission Agreement so it is based on the facts of each case. The hearing officer will be asked to make a non-binding decision he or she believes is fair based on the facts of the case.

Arbitration(Conditionally BindingBinding, Binding for Pre-Dispute Arbitration ) If conciliation and/or mediation efforts are not successful, arbitration may be the next step. The parties state their views at an arbitration hearing, offer evidence and let an impartial arbitrator make a decision that will end the dispute.

If you proceed to arbitration, BBB will ask both parties to sign an Agreement to Arbitrate that briefly describes the specific issues involved and the scope of the arbitrator's authority in your case. This agreement sets the groundwork for the arbitration hearing.

BBB staff will arrange for an arbitrator -or a panel of arbitrators - to hear your case and a time will be set for your arbitration hearing.

In arbitration, the arbitrator is asked to consider all relevant factors and to make what he or she considers a fair decision. While the parties in dispute may argue legal principles, the arbitrator does not have to follow them strictly in making a decision.

The Arbitration Hearing
An arbitration hearing usually takes one to two hours and is less formal than a courtroom session.

Most arbitrations take place in a conference room at BBB. Some hearings may occur at the site of the dispute - for instance, at the customer's home if the dispute is about home contracting work.

If necessary, BBB can also arrange for a hearing to be conducted over the telephone or in writing.

At a hearing you have the opportunity to state your case, ask questions and you will be asked at the end to summarize your position.

The arbitrator will listen to both sides and weigh the evidence presented at the hearing. Then he or she will make a decision about the dispute after the hearing is over. BBB will then send the decision to you and to the other party.

Your legal options
If you participate in conciliation, mediation or informal dispute settlement (IDS) with BBB, you are free to take your dispute to court if you are unable to resolve your problem.

If you participate in conditionally-binding arbitration, a customer is free to go to court if he or she does not like the decision, but the business must abide by the decision if the customer accepts it.

If you participate in binding arbitration, the arbitrator's decision cannot be reviewed by a court except under very limited circumstances.

Your BBB contact will let you know what type of arbitration is applicable to your particular case. A booklet describing the process in more detail is also available from your BBB.

Special Programs
BBBs offer specialized dispute resolution programs for certain industries. There currently are specialized programs for

Your BBB will inform you of any additional specialized programs that can resolve your dispute.

Glossary of DR Terms

  • Arbitration is a process in which two or more persons agree to let an impartial person or panel make a decision to resolve their dispute.
  • Arbitrator is the individual or panel selected to conduct an arbitration and make a decision.
  • Conciliation is a process in which an impartial person acts as an intermediary to open communication between parties to resolve their dispute.
  • Decision is the written document in an arbitration that is signed by the arbitrator and mailed to the parties.
  • Informal Dispute Settlement (IDS) is a process in which two or more persons present their case to an impartial hearing officer who makes a non-binding decision on how to resolve the dispute.
  • Mediation is a process in which an impartial third party assists parties in working out a mutually-acceptable solution to their disagreement.
  • Mediator is the individual selected to conduct a mediation conference.

For further information on dispute resolution opportunities and programs, contact your BBB or call the CBBB at 703-276-0100.