Businesses and Non-profits

Five Tips for Handling Disputes With Customers


You can use different strategies to prevent or resolve problems with customers. What are your options? Which rules apply? Here are five tips that can help.

1. Prepare clearly written contracts

The law generally doesn’t require written contracts. However, there are advantages to having an agreement in writing:

Managing expectations 

A written contract can help you manage your customer’s expectations regarding the service they can expect to receive in exchange for the price they’ve agreed to pay. For example, a contract to create a logo can specify the number of revisions included in the price.

Guaranteeing a result (or not)

You can use the contract to promise a result, such as the delivery of a product at a specific date and address. Or you can state that you will do whatever is necessary but without guaranteeing a result. For example, a veterinarian can promise to do their best when treating a pet, without guaranteeing that the animal will be cured.

Providing proof of your agreement

A signed contract can serve as proof that your customer promised to pay the agreed price once the service has been provided. This proof can be useful if the dispute ends up in court.

Protecting your work 

A written contract can help you protect your work by setting limits as to what your customer can do with your work. For example, a service contract between a programmer and customer might state that the customer is not allowed to sell the software the programmer has developed.

Notaries and lawyers can help you write up your contracts.

2. Get to know the Consumer Protection Act

The Consumer Protection Act applies when you do business with individuals in Quebec.

This law establishes several obligations. For example, you must provide certain information when you sell goods or services online (contact information, method of delivery, return policy, etc.). In certain cases, the law requires a written contract.

Having a good understanding of your obligations reduces the risk of conflict. To learn more, see the section dedicated to merchants on the website of the Office de la protection du consommateur (consumer protection office).

3. Avoid going to court

When a dispute arises with a customer, your first reflex should not be to rush to court. Other strategies might be less expensive and result in a quicker solution. For example, if a customer does not pay for the products or services you’ve provided, despite your reminders, you could try to find out why. Is the customer dissatisfied with the products or services received?

If you still can’t settle the issue, you can send a demand letter. This explains formally what you are claiming and what the customer must do to resolve the situation.

To learn more, refer to our article Writing a Demand Letter.

Your demand letter can also express your willingness to consider other options than going to court, such as mediation. To learn more, see our article Resolving a Conflict: Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration.  

Online platforms are also available to help settle disputes. One example is the Parle consommation platform. You can visit the website of the Office de la protection du consommateur to learn how this platform works.

4. Understand the rules for small claims court

In most situations you can go to court to force your customers to pay for products or services they have received.

In certain cases, you can file an application in small claims court, where the rules are simpler than in other courts. To learn more, see our article Small Claims: Going to Court Without a Lawyer.

5. Be proactive

There are time limits for exercising your rights. In most situations you have three years to go to court before you lose that option. The legal term for this is “prescription”, which means the time limit for taking a legal action. Generally, you can’t take a legal action after this time limit has expired.

See our article Prescription.