CTSI resolution

CCAS celebrates five years of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS), of which QASSS is an approved member, celebrates five years of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) consumer regulations and its achievements during this period.

The scheme aims to promote consumer interests by setting out the principles of effective customer service and protection. It goes above and beyond consumer law obligations and sets a higher standard, showing consumers clearly – through the right to display the CTSI approved code logo – that code members can be trusted.

Over the past five years, over 68,000 UK businesses joined the scheme and over £12.7M was recovered for consumers.

In April, a report revealed that CCAS now protects almost £135bn of consumer transactions, a 62% year-on-year increase.

By assisting consumers and businesses, ADR within CCAS helps both avoid costly court proceedings and enables them to reach an agreement quicker. Consumers gain access to a clear complaint and ADR procedure. Businesses are regularly audited and monitored to ensure they comply with the high standards set by their approved code of practice. By using an approved trader, consumers have protection above and beyond regular consumer law rights.

CTSI Chief Executive and Interim Chair of the CCAS Board, Leon Livermore, said:

“ADR has proved vital for strengthening the relationship between UK consumers and businesses. I am proud of CCAS’ achievements over the past five years, and I look forward to its continuing growth and development as we come out of the coronavirus lockdown, and over the next five years.”

QASSS is an approved provider of ADR helping both businesses and consumers to resolve disputes through mediation and avoid the stress and cost of going to court. Our award-winning service is industry leading with an average resolution time of just 3.59 days and 98.4% of disputes are resolved without need for referral to the Ombudsman.

Phishing and cyber security

Improving cyber security – avoiding phishing attacks

As part of our guides on cyber security, we’ve put together top tips on how to avoid phishing attacks based on advice from the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre).

AVOIDING PHISHING ATTACKS

In a typical phishing attack, scammers send fake emails to thousands of people, asking for sensitive information (such as bank details), or containing links to bad websites. They might try to trick you into sending money, steal your details to sell on, or they may have political or ideological motives for accessing your organisation’s information.

Phishing emails are getting harder to spot, and some will still get past even the most observant users. Whatever your business, however big or small it is, you will receive phishing attacks at some point. This section contains some easy steps to help you identify the most common phishing attacks but be aware that there is a limit to what you can expect your users to do.

Tip 1: Configure accounts to reduce the impact of successful attacks

You should configure your staff accounts in advance using the principle of ‘least privilege’. This means giving staff the lowest level of user rights required to perform their jobs, so if they are the victim of a phishing attack, the potential damage is reduced.

To further reduce the damage that can be done by malware or loss of login details, ensure that your staff do not browse the web or check emails from an account with Administrator privileges. An Administrator account is a user account that allows you to make changes that will affect other users. Administrators can change security settings, install software and hardware, and access all files on the computer. An attacker having unauthorised access to an Administrator account can be far more damaging than accessing a standard user account.

Use two factor authentication (2FA) on your important accounts such as email. This means that even if an attacker knows your passwords, they still will not be able to access that account.

Tip 2: Think about how you operate

Consider ways that someone might target your organisation, and make sure your staff all understand normal ways of working (especially regarding interaction with other organisations), so that they’re better equipped to spot requests that are out of the ordinary.

Common tricks include sending a false invoice, so when the attachment is opened, malware is automatically installed (without your knowledge) on your computer. Another is to trick staff into transferring money or information by sending emails that look authentic.

Think about your usual practices and how you can help make these tricks less likely to succeed. For example:

  • Do staff know what to do with unusual requests, and where to get help?
  • Ask yourself whether someone impersonating an important individual (a customer or manager) via email should be challenged (or have their identity verified another way) before action is taken.
  • Do you understand your regular business relationships? Scammers will often send phishing emails from large organisations (such as banks) in the hope that some of the email recipients will have a connection to that company. If you get an email from an organisation you don’t do business with, treat it with suspicion.
  • Think about how you can encourage and support your staff to question suspicious or just unusual requests, even if they appear to be from important individuals. Having the confidence to ask ‘is this genuine?’ can be the difference between staying safe or a costly mishap.

Tip 3: Check for the obvious signs of phishing

Many phishing emails still fit the mould of a traditional attack, so look for the following warning signs:

  • Many phishing scams originate overseas and often the spelling, grammar and punctuation are poor. Others will try and create official-looking emails by including logos and graphics. Is the design (and quality) what would you’d expect from a large organisation?
  • Is it addressed to you by name, or does it refer to ‘valued customer’, or ‘friend’, or ‘colleague’? This can be a sign that the sender does not actually know you, and that it is part of a phishing scam.
  • Does the email contain a veiled threat that asks you to act urgently? Be suspicious of words like ‘send these details within 24 hours’ or ‘you have been a victim of crime, click here immediately’.
  • Look out for emails that appear to come from a high-ranking person within your organisation, requesting a payment is made to a particular bank account. Look at the sender’s name. Does it sound legitimate, or is it trying to mimic someone you know?
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It is most unlikely that someone will want to give you money, or give you access to some secret part of the internet.

Tip 4: Report all attacks

Make sure that your staff are encouraged to ask for help if they think that they might have been a victim of phishing, especially if they’ve not raised it before. It’s important to take steps to scan for malware and change passwords as soon as possible if you suspect a successful attack has occurred.

Do not punish staff if they get caught out. It discourages people from reporting in the future and can make them so fearful that they spend excessive time and energy scrutinising every email they receive. Both these things cause more harm to your business in the long run.

If you believe that your organisation has been the victim of online fraud, scams or extortion, you should report this through the Action Fraud website. Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre. If you are in Scotland contact Police Scotland on 101.

Tip 5: Keep up to date with attackers

Attackers are always trying different methods of attack, even when tools like automatic email protection have prevented previous attempts, therefore try and stay one step ahead and keep on top of the techniques used by attackers.

Consider signing up for the free Action Fraud Alert service to receive direct, verified, accurate information about scams and fraud in your area by email, recorded voice and text message.

Monitor the advice from your local Police Service, and Regional & Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), who will put out warnings of specific cyber crime activity in your area.

Or join CiSP32 which provides a forum for cyber security discussion from beginner through to expert level. It is also a platform where organisations can share intelligence gathered from their own network.

 

If you’d like advice on making your company cyber resilient, QASSS offers bespoke IT solutions and support for businesses in the home improvement and renewable sectors.

password protection cyber security

Improving cyber security – password protection

As part of our cyber security guides based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice, today we look at password protection.

PASSWORD PROTECTION

Your laptops, computers, tablets and smartphones will contain a lot of your own business-critical data, the personal information of your customers, and also details of the online accounts that you access. It is essential that this data is available to you, but not available to unauthorised users.

Passwords, when implemented correctly, are a free, easy and effective way to prevent unauthorised users accessing your devices.

Here are 5 top tips when using passwords:

Tip 1: Make sure you switch on password protection

Set a screen lock password, PIN, or other authentication method (such as fingerprint or face unlock). If you are mostly using fingerprint or face unlock, you’ll be entering a password less often, so consider setting up a long password that’s difficult to guess.

Password protection is not just for smartphones and tablets. Make sure that your office equipment all use an encryption product (such as BitLocker for Windows) using a Trusted Platform Module (TPM)21 with a PIN, or FileVault (on macOS) in order to start up. Most modern devices have encryption built in, but encryption may still need to be turned on and configured, so check you have it set up.

Tip 2: Use two factor authentication for ‘important’ accounts

If you are given the option to use two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) for any of your accounts, you should do; it adds a large amount of security for not much extra effort.

2FA requires two different methods to ‘prove’ your identity before you can use a service, generally a password plus one other method. This could be a code that’s sent to your smartphone (or a code that’s generated from a bank’s card reader) that enter in addition to your password.

Tip 3: Avoid using predictable passwords

Make sure staff are given actionable information on setting passwords. Passwords should be easy to remember, but hard for somebody else to guess. A good rule is ‘make sure that somebody who knows you well, couldn’t guess your password in 20 attempts’.

Staff should also avoid using the most common passwords, which criminals can easily guess.

Tip 4: Help staff cope with ‘password overload’

If you manage how passwords are used in your organisation, there are several things you can do that will improve security. Most importantly, your staff will have dozens of non-work related passwords to remember as well, so only enforce password access to a service if you really need to.

Where you do use passwords to access a service, do not enforce regular password changes.

Passwords really only need to be changed when you suspect a compromise of the login credentials.

Staff will forget passwords, so make sure they can reset their own passwords easily. Consider using password managers, which are tools that can create and store passwords for you that you access via a ‘master’ password. Since the master password is protecting all your other passwords, make sure it’s a strong one, for example by using three random words.

Tip 5: Change all default passwords

One of the most common mistakes is not changing the manufacturers’ default passwords that smartphones, laptops, and other types of equipment are issued with. Change all default passwords before devices are distributed to staff. You should also regularly check devices (and software) specifically to detect unchanged default passwords.

IT support and solutions

If you need help with business continuity, cyber security and other IT solutions to help your business stay safe, innovative and reduce IT costs, we can help.

We understand the home improvement and renewable sectors and offer a host of bespoke IT solutions whether on a project, temporary or permanent basis.

To find out more, call Nisar Raja, QASSS IT Infrastructure Manager, on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

home improvement

Positive signs for home improvement spending

Recent research from Insight DIY commissioned by Safestyle brings good news to the home improvement sector with 55%% of Brits prioritising plans to update their home as the Covid-19 restrictions continue to be eased.

The survey showed that 62% of Brits feel better off having saved money during the lockdown on things such as commuting, socialising, shopping and going on holiday. One in three (31%) are likely to spend this extra money on home improvements – with 1 in 8 expecting to invest in home improvements within the next six months.

Projects vary and include both interior and exterior home improvements:

  • 23% are looking to redecorate inside
  • 25% are looking at garden improvements
  • 13% are focusing on improving their home exteriors

In terms of safety, 34% felt comfortable letting contractors and tradespeople into their home to carry out work, with another 26 per cent having no strong feelings either way.

Many contractors and tradespeople have been working hard to put in place strict COVID-19 safety plans to protect their customers and employees. QASSS alongside HIES, DGCOS and HICS who represent businesses in the home improvement and renewable energy sectors, issued full safety guidance and advice based on government guidelines back in May to support a safe return to work.

To help protect from COVID-19, the top five requirements from those surveyed included:

1) Keeping at least 2 metres away (71%)
2) Washing/sanitising hands before entering (67%)
3) Wearing a protective face mask (63%)
4) Confirming they have no Covid-19 symptoms (56%)
5) Wearing protective gloves (56%)

COVID-19 has transformed how we live and work, with remote working now becoming a more permanent way of life and home considered the safest place to be. And with economic uncertainty, people are choosing to improve or extend their homes rather than move.

If you’re planning a new project, make sure you only instruct skilled tradesmen who are members of a consumer protection scheme or other trade scheme demonstrating adherence to quality standards and service.

HIESHICS and DGCOS are consumer protection schemes that cover the whole of the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. Trade members undergo full compliance checks and all consumers get access to free ADR (alternative dispute resolution) should something go wrong.

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

construction

New support for the construction industry to get Britain building again

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures to be introduced this week to help the construction industry boost building and return to work safely, including the extension of planning permission deadlines, flexible working hours on construction sites and changes to the planning appeal process.

Planning permission deadlines extended

Planning permission deadlines will be extended, planning appeals will be sped up and builders will be allowed more flexible working hours following agreement with their local council.

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not started onsite. Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent extended to 1 April 2021. This will prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether.

The government estimates that by the end of this month alone, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired. The new measures will help these developments and more resume as the economy recovers.

Planning appeal process

New measures will also permanently grant the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) the ability to use more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal, enabling appeals to happen much faster.

Last year a pilot programme tested this approach and implemented recommendations of the Rosewell Review, which more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries, from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

Flexible working hours

Builders will be able to quickly agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council for a temporary period. This will make it easier to follow public health guidance onsite and by staggering builders’ arrival times, public transport will be less busy, and the risk of infection will be reduced.

Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said:

Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

New laws will enable us to speed up the pace of planning appeals and save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and create many others.

Taken together, these measures will help to keep workers safe and our economy moving as we work together to bounce back from the pandemic.

 

 

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

mediation

7 reasons to use mediation

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and is a process to settle disputes without the need for litigation. Mediation can help resolve issues after a consumer and business has reached a deadlock.

So why use mediation to resolve a dispute?

Alternative Dispute Resolution Process   1) It can save you money

Going to court can be an extremely costly process when you consider court fees and legal fees. Depending on the outcome of the case, you may also be ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party if you have unreasonably refused mediation in the process.

QASSS Remedial Works Management   2) It’s quick

ADR is quick, particularly where mediation is involved. ADR providers do have varying average resolution times, so it’s important to inquire about this beforehand.

Our average dispute resolution time is industry-leading at 3.59 days, whereas the UK average ADR resolution time is currently 80 days. (CTSI ADR Report, 2018).

QASSS Partnerships   3) It will save you time and resource

Court proceedings can take up a huge amount of time and resource in both preparation and attendance. Businesses can also realise operational efficiencies using ADR services, freeing up considerable management time.

mediation fairness   4) It’s fair

Mediators are trained to factually assess the dispute and resolve the dispute with an outcome that satisfies both parties. Mediators do not have full control of the outcome and therefore enable the parties to reach a mutually agreed and fair outcome together.

customer satisfaction   5) It helps preserve customer relationships and drive better outcomes

ADR can be a less adversarial and hostile way to resolve a dispute. It allows both parties to be heard and have the opportunity to understand each other’s point of view. ADR is less confrontational which can not only reduce stress for both parties, it can also be an important consideration for a more positive ongoing relationship.

confidential mediation   6) It’s confidential

Court proceedings are in the public domain whereas ADR can be kept confidential by agreement, safeguarding your reputation. Confidentiality usually extends to what happens in the mediation and any settlement arising out of it.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Process   7) It’s flexible

Alternative dispute resolution can be much more flexible in terms of outcomes. It can achieve outcomes that a court could not order, or to get a result that both parties think is fairer than that dictated by law.

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

Mobile technology cyber safe

Improving cyber security – mobile technology

As part of our cyber security guides, QASSS has put together a quick guide based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice to help businesses become more cyber resilient. In this article, we look at mobile technology.

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY – STAYING CYBER SAFE

Mobile technology is now an essential part of modern business, with more of our data being stored on tablets and smartphones.

Here are 5 quick tips that can help keep your mobile devices, and the information stored on them, secure.

Tip 1: Switch on password protection

A suitably complex PIN or password (opposed to a simple one that can be easily guessed or gleaned from your social media profiles) will prevent the average criminal from accessing your phone.

Many devices now include fingerprint recognition to lock your device, without the need for a password. However, these features are not always enabled ‘out of the box’, so you should always check they have been switched on.

Tip 2: Make sure lost or stolen devices can be tracked, locked or wiped

Staff are more likely to have their tablets or phones stolen (or lose them) when they are away from the office or home. Fortunately, most devices include free web-based tools that are invaluable should you lose your device.

You can use them to:

  • track the location of a device
  • remotely lock access to the device (to prevent anyone else using it)
  • remotely erase the data stored on the device
  • retrieve a backup of data stored on the device

Setting up these tools on all your organisation’s devices may seem a huge job, but by using mobile device management software, you can set up your devices to a standard configuration with a single click.

Tip 3: Keep your devices up to date

All manufacturers (for example Windows, Android, iOS) release regular updates that contain critical security updates to keep the device protected. This process is quick, easy, and free; devices should be set to automatically update, where possible.

Make sure everyone knows how important these updates are, and explain how to do it, if necessary. At some point, these updates will no longer be available (as the device reaches the end of its supported life), at which point you should consider replacing it with a modern alternative.

Tip 4: Keep your apps up to date

Just like the operating systems on your organisation’s devices, all the applications that you have installed should also be updated regularly with patches from the software developers.

These updates will not only add new features, but they will also patch any security holes that have been discovered. Make sure staff know when updates are ready, how to install them, and how important it is to do so straight away.

Tip 5: Don’t connect to unknown Wi-Fi Hotspots

Ensure staff understand why they should not connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots (for example in hotels or coffee shops), as there is no way to easily find out who controls the hotspot, or to prove that it belongs to who you think it does.

If you connect to these hotspots, somebody else could access:

  • what you are working on whilst connected
  • your private login details that many apps and web services maintain whilst you’re logged on

The simplest precaution is to not connect to the internet using unknown hotspots, and instead use your mobile 3G or 4G mobile network, which will have built-in security.

You can also use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), a technique that encrypts your data before it is sent across the Internet. If you are using third party VPNs, you’ll need the technical ability to configure it yourself, and should only use VPNs provided by reputable service providers.

IT Solutions

QASSS is a Cyber Essentials accredited business and able to provide businesses with support and insights on how to best manage security with their organisation.

We understand the needs of home improvement and renewable companies and offer a wide range of bespoke IT solutions. If you’d like advice and support, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

 

Image by rawpixel.com

Complaint Handling

Top tips for complaint handling

Good customer service has always been important, now more than ever given the rise of social media and review sites. Quick and effective complaint handling will help you turn customer complainers into brand advocates, helping to increase brand loyalty and your company’s reputation. Every email, call, letter or social media message and the way you handle it is crucial in the process. Here are our top tips to help you achieve this below and you can also download our handy guide here.

Complaint Handling

Time is of the essence

Be quick to respond – this should be a priority. Customers become even more frustrated by slow responses, feeling that their complaints are sat ignored in a lonely inbox. Phone customers wherever possible, even if they made contact through a different channel. Make sure you have planned capacity to handle all complaints, even during peak periods, as swiftly as possible and from all communication channels.

Make your customers feel listened to

When responding to unhappy customers, you need to get them into an agreeable frame of mind. Listen to them, do not interrupt and let them blow off steam. In many situations, it’s as important to ensure you fully listen to the problem and make sure the customer feels like they’ve been understood, as it is to resolve the problem. Make sure you not only acknowledge the facts of the situation but also how it’s made them feel.

Be genuine

Customers can often become more aggravated when complaint handlers are following a script. Empower your team to focus on the customer experience and let them use the opportunity to start a genuine conversation. This builds up trust and helps the customer feel respected and that you are taking their complaint seriously.

Exceed Expectations

Some complaints cannot be resolved easily, particularly where you cannot undo the problem, but you should always strive to make it up to the customer. This will go a long way into converting complainants into brand advocates. Going above and beyond makes customers feel important and respected. By exceeding customer expectations even by a small amount, you can make them feel like your most valued customer which leads to repeat business and true brand loyalty.

Manage the wider conversation

With the rise of online reviews and social media, an unhappy customer can reach huge audiences so it’s important to act quickly and protect your brand from negative reactions. Manage the wider conversation and use your interactions with unhappy customers to turn them around and demonstrate excellent customer service to wider audiences and prevent louder and more negative conversations.

Use the opportunity to build brand reputation

When you deal with complaints really well, unhappy customers will turn into delighted customers and become loyal brand advocates. If you exceed expectations, they are more likely to be motivated to tell friends and share their experiences with others, particularly on social media. If customers do share their positive experiences, thank them, and use the opportunity to repost.

Use analysis to continually improve

Unhappy customers will be brutally honest. By listening and taking detailed notes for analytical purposes, this will give you invaluable insights and feedback which will help your business improve and minimise future complaints. Root cause analysis will help you understand potentially wider problems and issues. Analysis of how you have handled complaints and outcomes will also help you improve your complaint handling process.

 

QASSS provides bespoke complaint handling and dispute resolution services to help improve your brand reputation, repeat business and save you time and money. To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by rawpixel.com

cyber security data back up

Improving cyber security – backing up data

QASSS has put together a quick guide based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice to help businesses protect themselves and improve their cyber security. In this article, we look at backing up data.

BACKING UP YOUR DATA

Think about how much you rely on your business-critical data, including your customer database, leads, quotes, orders, payments and more.

All businesses, regardless of size, should take regular backups of their important data, and make sure that these backups are recent and can be restored. By doing this, you are not only ensuring your business can still function following the impact of flood, fire, physical damage, or theft, but this will also protect you against data loss after a cyber attack.

Here are some top tips to consider from the National Cyber Security Centre:

Tip 1: Identify what data you need to back up

Your first step is to identify your essential data – the information that your business could not function without. Normally this will comprise documents, photos, emails, contacts, and calendars, most of which are kept in just a few common folders on your computer, phone, or tablet or network.

Tip 2: Keep your backup separate from your computer

Whether it’s on a USB stick, on a separate drive or a separate computer, access to data backups should be restricted so that they:

  • are not accessible by staff
  • are not permanently connected (either physically or over a local network) to the device holding the original copy. Ransomware and other malware can often move to attached storage automatically, which means any such backup could also be infected, leaving you with no backup to recover from.

For more resilience, you should consider storing your backups in a different location, so fire or theft will not result in you losing both copies. Cloud storage solutions are a cost-effective and efficient way of achieving this.

Tip 3: Consider the cloud

You have probably already used cloud storage during your everyday work and personal life without even knowing (unless you are running your own email server).

Using cloud storage (where a service provider stores your data on their infrastructure) means your data is physically separate from your location.

You will also benefit from a high level of availability. Service providers can supply your organisation with data storage and web services without you needing to invest in expensive hardware up front. Most providers offer a limited amount of storage space for free, and larger storage capacity for minimal costs to small businesses.

Tip 4: Make backing up part of your everyday business

We know that backing up is not a very interesting thing to do but the majority of network or cloud storage solutions now allow you to make backups automatically. For instance, when new files of a certain type are saved to specified folders. Using automated backups not only saves time but also ensures that you have the latest version of your files should you need them.

Many off-the-shelf backup solutions are easy to set up and are affordable considering the business-critical protection they offer. When choosing a solution, consider how much data you need to back up, and how quickly you need to be able to access the data following an incident.

More cyber security tips and advice

For further guidance, we’ve also provided advice and tips on a range of cyber issues, including:

IT solutions for your business

At QASSS, we truly understand the needs of home improvement and renewable companies and offer proactive and bespoke IT solutions to help businesses with infrastructure, cyber security, end-user computing and management and web management.

QASSS are a Cyber Essentials accredited business and able to provide businesses with support and insights on how to best manage security with their organisation. If you’d like advice and support, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

home improvement

Latest data shows high complaint volumes in the home improvement sector

Latest data shows that the Citizens Advice service dealt with over 47,000 consumer issues and complaints relating to the home improvement sector over the last 12 months to April 2020.

What is also disappointing for the sector is that out of all defined categories in consumer goods and services, ‘home maintenance and improvements’ issues came second highest (the number one spot was used vehicles).

 

home improvement issues

The statistics also show the most complained about products and services within the home improvement sector. We’ve put together the top 10 by volume, with roofing and chimney repairs being accountable for nearly 7,000 complaints and window frames and doors receiving over 6,000 complaints from May 2109 to April 2020.

 

home improvement complaints

 

Being an accredited member of a reputable home improvement consumer protection scheme (such as HIES, HICS or DGCOS) not only helps increase conversion rates but shows a commitment by the firm to providing customers with trust, confidence and peace of mind before, during and after their installation.

QASSS provides alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services for the three consumer protection schemes. The service is free to consumers and offers industry-leading mediation services. The benefits of using ADR for businesses and consumers alike include cost savings, savings on time, reduced stress, speed, flexibility and fairness.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dispute Resolution Overview

Not many businesses are aware that they have an obligation to signpost consumers to a competent ADR provider and tell them whether or not they are prepared to use them to deal with the dispute. We’ve put together a handy guide to ADR (alternative dispute resolution) looking at why businesses need ADR, how ADR works and the benefits of using ADR.

About Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

What is ADR?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a service that is used to resolve escalated complaints, or disputes, between customers and businesses, using mediation with the intention to resolve before the need for court proceedings.

The service helps the customer and business resolve a dispute by finding a fair resolution that satisfies both parties.

Why do companies need ADR?

We know from experience that complaints handling is critical to the home improvement sector.

With the emergence of online platforms that support a consumer’s ability to comment on a company’s reputation, it is increasingly important for businesses to deal and correct a complaint, quickly and effectively.

At QASSS we understand that complaints, if not dealt with, can lead to costly and lengthy litigation and court proceedings as well as being a drain on internal resources. Read more on the soaring costs of litigation vs mediation here.

Using an ADR service also takes the emotion out of the situation where disputes are resolved impartially based on facts.

It also helps prevent louder negative conversations on social media and protects brand reputation.

The benefits of using ADR

Good handling of complaints and disputes is critical to companies and brand reputations in the modern world given the emergence of review sites and social media.

Crucially, ADR services also help save time and money by avoiding litigation.

  • Save time and resource

Referring disputes to an experienced ADR provider will realise operational efficiencies, free up customer care services and other internal resources.

  • Save costs and avoid going to court

Consumers will be less likely to bring court actions that are not only time-intensive and costly but in the public domain.

  • Drive better outcomes

Improved outcomes for customers and avoid deadlocks and potential reputational damage.

  • Ensure fairness and independence

ADR officials act with impartiality when resolving disputes.

  • Improve conversion and retention

Stand out from the competition by demonstrating a clear commitment to high-quality customer service.

  • Avoid costly compensation

ADR seeks to strike the right compromise based on the evidence.

Award-winning ADR services

QASSS provides award-winning and CTSI (Chartered Trading Standards Institute) approved alternative dispute resolution services for the home improvement and renewable sectors.

We provide ADR services for members and companies directly, as well as a ‘white label’ complaint and dispute management solution, fully packaged and branded.

We are no. 1 in the industry with an average speed of resolution of just 3.59 days and we resolve 98.4% of disputes in-house without referral to the Ombudsman or the need for court proceedings.

If you’d like to find out how we can help with complaint handling and dispute resolution, contact us today on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

cyber resilient

Is your business cyber resilient?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched further online advice to support SMEs to ensure their companies are cyber resilient, particularly given the increasing risks of cyber attacks and fraud during and post COVID-19.

Businesses are being urged to consider key questions to help them understand their business needs, particularly around adapting to more online and remote working. Even if you have a business that has been used to operating online, the nature of your IT services and support you require may well have changed with increased numbers of remote workers, increases in online quotes and transactions, and increases in video conferencing software and other meeting tools and apps.

To use the latest advice, businesses should consider the following 6 key questions to help identify current and potential risks and areas for improvement:

 

    1. What technology do you use already?

What IT assets do you own, operate and manage yourself? It’s difficult to secure technology if you can’t identify who’s responsible. Clarity is the important thing here.

 

    1. Are you using cloud services?

If you are, you need to assess the security of cloud-hosted software products.

 

    1. Do you have access to IT Support?

Are you becoming more reliant on digital services to do business? Think about how you would cope if these services were unavailable. Detailing the services you use, identifying support levels and escalation routes, will help you understand and prepare for any issues.

 

    1. What cyber security measures do you have in place?

The NCSC’s Small Business Guide can help you to establish a baseline set of security policies for your IT.

 

    1. Are there any regulations you need to follow?

If your business is now processing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) online, you will need to GDPR compliant. If you are processing card payment information, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard will apply.

 

    1. Do you have cyber insurance?

If you do, check the cover. Are any elements of it affected by your change in circumstances, such as working from home, running a predominately ‘online’ business, or by outsourcing key business functionality?

 

Even more so now given COVID-19, businesses must have effective cyber security systems in place. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), cyber-attacks before COVID-19 were costing UK businesses £34 billion annually.

If your answers to the 6 key questions have left you concerned about your company’s cyber resilience, we can help. At QASSS, we have breadth and depth of expertise within the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. We offer bespoke and IT solutions, helping you ensure security is at the core of your strategy.

For further guidance, we’ve also produced guidance on cyber security and the latest scams, as well as guidance on technology and the agile workforce.

 

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

 

People strategy

People strategy and the ‘new normal’ post COVID-19

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we are all human beings who still need to socialise and feel part of something greater than ourselves. It is inspiring to see how the world’s population has come together in support of our local and global communities.

For employers, this has set apart those businesses that have a true balance between the operational, legal, financial and ethical challenges. It will also show how ready businesses are for the opportunities a ‘new normal’ will bring post COVID-19.

Employee Wellbeing

During the pandemic, people have been isolated giving rise to concerns about their health and that of their loved ones. Moreover, with the uncertainty of the global economy, as well as financial and job security, businesses must find a true balance when making difficult decisions, handling these situations with genuine honesty, empathy, and respect. How businesses handle these will be remembered by their people and it is an opportunity for businesses to earn the trust of their employees even when facing adversity.

Taking a genuine interest in staff wellbeing will go a long way, now and post COVID-19. This can include small steps such as regular line manager check-ins, welfare conversations, advice on self-care, or ensuring regular breaks.

Some larger businesses may have Mental Health First Aiders, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or access to an Occupational Health Practitioner. However, there are free services such as Able Futures and resources from groups such as Mind which can also help with proactive care and advice on wellbeing to help reduce or prevent future issues and absences.

Flexible Working

COVID-19 has been a fast-track way for businesses to trial new flexible and homeworking practices, with many finding innovative ways for collaboration and communication, making use of the latest technology to replace the face to face human contact we all have come to miss.

Flexible working and homeworking are not new concepts, however, businesses have had to adapt quickly, alongside employees who may have found themselves caring for children and relatives whilst maintaining their employment commitments, some outside of the typical 9 to 5 working day.

Flexible working has since proved to be a great way to maintain and retain an agile workforce. Allowing employees to sustain a work-life-balance whilst becoming more productive during their working hours, will ensure businesses keep hold of key talent and key roles during and post COVID-19.

 Back to the ‘New Normal’

Going back to the ‘new normal’ will be a challenge for some businesses. It could mean a smaller or larger workforce, changes to how work is conducted and where work is carried out. There is also the potential of business growth and talent acquisition within the global market which has been enhanced by our ability to evolve and adopt new ways of working during COVID-19.

Businesses must start to consider their people strategy now. They must consider their leadership teams and reflect on their management through the crisis, using these insights as a catalyst to review leadership, recruitment and working practices.

Employers have shown their resilience and ability to adapt to the quickly changing circumstances, whilst remaining connected, supportive and collaborative. They must now keep up this momentum and use this experience to foster and improve processes and practices to develop an agile, supported and trusting workforce for the future.

Post COVID-19 planning

To read more insights and our full guide on preparing for post COVID-19, click here.

 

Complaint impact cost

New – complaint impact cost calculator

It goes without saying that effective handling of complaints and good customer service has always been important. Given the rise of social media and review sites, we now have a wide choice of tools and channels to immediately call out poor service and ineffective complaint handling and share that message wide and far. But what is the complaint impact cost?

Do you know the true cost of unhappy customers?

We’ve introduced a NEW complaint cost calculator which you can download here. Input your business figures to calculate the impact on your company’s revenue and margin.

You also need to consider the cost of churn.

Here are a few headline stats:

  • Attracting a new customer is 6-7 times more expensive than retaining a current one (Salesforce).
  • Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95% (Harvard Business School).
  • One-third of consumers say they would consider switching companies after just one instance of bad customer service (American Express).
  • A customer experience promoter has a lifetime value to a company that’s 600 to 1,400% that of a detractor (Bain).

Effective complaint handling

Quick and effective complaint handling will help you turn customer complainers into brand advocates, helping to increase brand loyalty and your company’s reputation.

Even the most vocal and complex complaints handled well, will see your customer advocacy increase across the board. By helping customers and solving their complaints, you will increase affinity which helps drive profitable brand growth.

Brand advocates are not just loyal, your brand advocates will do the job of promoting your business for you and drive reputation, which in turn can help drive revenue.

For more advice and tips, click here to download our top tips on complaint handling.

How we can help

At QASSS, we have many years of experience in complaint handling and dispute resolution and we understand just how critical good complaint handling is to the home improvement sector.

Our bespoke complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution services can help you save time, money and avoid reputational damage.

To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email Laura Holmes, our Service Delivery Manager – l.holmes@qasss.co.uk

Rising cost litigation vs mediation

Mediation vs soaring litigation costs to resolve a dispute

In the UK we are avid users of litigation. Going to court and suing someone has often been the method of choice when trying to resolve a dispute. This continues to be the case when it comes to the purchasing of services and goods.

In October 2015, The Consumer Rights Act came into force, making Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) available to all businesses to help when a dispute with a consumer cannot be settled directly. Before the Consumer Rights Act became law, this service had only been available in certain sectors. A business which is involved in a dispute will now need to make the consumer aware of a relevant certified ADR provider. The business should also let the consumer know whether or not they are prepared to use the ADR provider to deal with the dispute. However, a business does not have to use ADR unless it operates in a sector where existing legislation makes it mandatory (for example, financial services).

Despite this change in law, it is no surprise that due to the emotion involved in disputes, litigation continues to prosper, without both parties realising the potential cost differences.

Much of the cost will depend on the actions and decisions of the other party to the dispute, the mediator chosen, the judge you are assigned and also which solicitor you use.

Another very important point is how one defines “cost”. We should rightly assign a ‘cost’ to our time even if it is not a financial outlay. It is similar to what economists might call the “opportunity cost”: “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”. Typically, a good metric is the approximate amount you earn for an hour of work; although another metric might be more suitable for your personal circumstances.

Below we set out the cost of mediation vs litigation, using QASSS as an example of mediation provider costs:

Cost of Mediation

The cost of mediation with QASSS is fixed, either on a per case basis, or via a subscription. The costs can be broken up into 3 categories:

  1. Dispute Management Fee – this is the fee charged by QASSS to handle the case, mediate between both parties and coordinate any independent expert advice if required. This will normally be £350 exc VAT per case.
  2. Basic Inspection Fee – this is the fee charged by an independent inspection company to come out to site and capture any evidence required as part of the case. This will normally be around £175 exc VAT.
  3. Expert Witness Report – this is an enhanced inspection that is written in line with court procedural rules and normally used in cases where the dispute value is high, and potentially likely to go to court. This will normally be around £750 exc VAT.

Based on the above, a business or consumer using Alternative Dispute Resolution, is likely to pay somewhere between £350 – £1,275 exc VAT per dispute. At QASSS, consumers who use members of our schemes receive mediation for free.

Cost of Litigation

Court Fees

Court Issue Fees depend on the potential value of any claim being brought to court. For any claims up to £10,000, you can expect to pay in between £25 and £410 if paying online. This is up to £455 if paying via a paper form.

For claims between £10,000 and £100,000, the court fee is 5% of the claim value if the application is in paper form, or 4.5% if done online. For claims between £100,000 and £200,000 it is 5% and above £200,000, it is a fixed fee of £10,000.

If the claim is defended, then a Claims Hearing Fee will need to be paid, which is £170 for claims up to £3,000 and £335 for anything above that up to £10,000. Above this and it moves to a percentage fee again.

Solicitor’s/Barrister’s Fees

If you choose to use a barrister in court, a junior barrister will cost somewhere between £250 – £750 If you choose to use a solicitor instead, the cost of this ranges from a % of the final claim payment won to fees charged based on time. Sending a formal notice to the other party that you are suing them will cost between £15 – £80.

Your time

As a way of working out your own time cost and helping calculate how much time you may need with your solicitor, below is what an average timeline could look like, based on an average hourly wage of £14.80:

To calculate based on our annual salary, use our handy cost calculator here.

There are other costs that could potentially arise if further expert inspections are required, or other witnesses are required.

Based on the above, a business or consumer using litigation is likely to pay somewhere between £2,500 – £10,000 excluding your solicitor’s fees as well, likely to be a % of the claim value. Depending on the case outcome, you may be ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party if you have unreasonably refused mediation as part of the process. The court is likely to regard the following reasons as unacceptable when refusing mediation:

  • Believing there is no middle ground to be had.
  • Believing that only your side had a case, with the other having no merit.
  • Refusing to mediate due to hatred or malice between the two parties.
  • Stating the other side had not presented documentation in a certain way, or that you had not seen all the relevant documentation.
  • It is a matter of interpretation that can only be solved by a court.
  • Believing that both parties’ opinion is too opposite for there to be any chance of agreement.

On the other side of this, the general rule is that the winner recovers its legal costs from the loser. But the recovery is never 100% and generally falls between 60% – 80% of the total legal costs.

Therefore, as a result of the above, there is enough evidence to suggest that taking part in mediation ahead of litigation very much has its merits from a time, cost and emotional distress saving perspective.

How QASSS can help

QASSS offers mediation, specifically to the home improvement and renewable energy sectors, where we have vast experience of dispute resolution. We offer independent, experienced advice and mediation to businesses and consumers, in a bid to get to a fair resolution for both parties. We are an approved Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider, under the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). We also provide free of charge to both parties, in the event of us not reaching a successful resolution, access to the Ombudsman, whose fees we will pay on behalf of the parties.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

covid-19 business loans

New ‘bounce back’ loans for small businesses

The government has announced new measures for small and medium-sized businesses affected by COVID-19. The coronavirus ‘bounce back’ loan is 100% guaranteed by the government and will be available from Monday 4th May.

The details

  • The Bounce Back Loan scheme will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000.
  • The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.
  • Loan terms will be up to 6 years. No repayments will be due during the first 12 months. The government will work with lenders to agree a low rate of interest for the remaining period of the loan.
  • The scheme will be delivered through a network of accredited lenders.

Eligibility

You can apply for a loan if your business:

  • is based in the UK
  • has been negatively affected by coronavirus
  • was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019

The following businesses are not eligible to apply:

  • banks, insurers and reinsurers (but not insurance brokers)
  • public-sector bodies
  • further-education establishments, if they are grant-funded
  • state-funded primary and secondary schools

If you’re already claiming funding

You cannot apply if you’re already claiming under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBLIS).

If you’ve already received a loan of up to £50,000 under CBILS and would like to transfer it into the Bounce Back Loan scheme, you can arrange this with your lender until 4 November 2020.

More information about the scheme will be published shortly – keep an eye out for more details on www.gov.uk

Business support

New coronavirus business support finder tool

The government has launched a new ‘support finder’ tool will help businesses and self-employed people across the UK to quickly and easily determine what financial support is available to them during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ‘support finder tool’ on www.gov.uk will ask business owners to fill out a simple online questionnaire, which can take minutes to complete, and they will then be signposted to a list of all the financial support they may be eligible for.

The new business support finder tool can be found here at support finder

More details on support for businesses can be found on the coronavirus business support hub

Business Secretary Alok Sharma commented:

Businesses of all shapes and sizes play a vital role in our economy, which is why we want to make it as easy as possible for all of them to access our wide-ranging package of financial support during this challenging time.

This online questionnaire takes just minutes to complete and will quickly signpost a business to the loans, grants or other schemes they could be eligible for.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak commented:

We’ve launched an unprecedented package of support to protect jobs, businesses and incomes during these challenging times.

Millions are already benefitting, and this new online tool will allow firms and individuals to identify what help they are entitled to in a matter of minutes.

We are doing everything we can to make our support as accessible and as easy to navigate as possible.

QASSS have been supporting customers and clients with daily information on government measures available here in insights.

Image by rawpixel.com