The IFA Ombudsman Program:
The IFA Ombudsman Program was launched in 2001 to assist members with the resolution of disputes arising from business issues. The expectation is that the Ombudsman will assist franchisors and franchisees to resolve their disputes to their mutual satisfaction and avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. In an informal and confidential manner, the Ombudsman, who operates as a neutral, independent, third party, assists franchisees and franchisors to identify the issues that require resolution and to make use of various alternatives for managing conflict effectively.
The primary feature of the Ombudsman program is to help facilitate constructive communication between franchisors and franchisees in order to address current concerns and build a foundation for resolving conflicts effectively on an ongoing basis. This is a valuable service to IFA members.
The IFA Ombudsman program is a membership benefit and there is no additional cost for phone call consultation.
Our current IFA Ombudsman since 2004 is Sue Vandittelli, a Certified Ombudsman and Chartered Mediator.
- Contact information for the IFA Ombudsman: 1-888-452-0303 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Function and Role of Ombudsman
An ombudsman program serves many functions:
- Active listening – many disputes will resolve themselves simply by providing an independent third party who is available to listen;
- Understanding the issues for solving the problem;
- Discussing options – minimal problem solving may be all that is necessary;
- Negotiation a good starting point – facilitates meaningful discussions;
- Shuttle diplomacy – serving as the intermediary bringing ideas to the table without the "heat" that often accompanies disputes;
- Elegant solutions – seeks out innovative approaches to resolving disputes;
- Change agent – helps organizations look at the root causes of the issues that caused the dispute and provides a basis to avoid those disputes in the future.
The ombudsman acts as an impartial source of assistance in the resolution of disputes. For the process to work, the Ombudsman must enjoy the fullest support and confidence of both the franchisor and the franchisee. The Ombudsman should be viewed as an impartial specialist in dispute resolution, a neutral resource who provides confidential and informal assistance to resolve the dispute.
Unlike Mediation requiring both parties to participate he Ombudsman process can also be accessed by one party either the franchisee or franchisor, especially in the early stages. It is quite common for one side to request the Ombudsman assistance, best case scenario both sides are willing to dialogue but when that’s not possible the Ombudsman can often work with one side to resolve the matter in an innovative manner.
A frequently adopted mission statement for the ombudsman is "to provide a confidential, neutral, independent and informal process that facilitates fair and equitable resolution of disputes."
“Talking to you helped me to make the right decision and I appreciate your guidance." ~ IFA Franchisee
What issues are appropriate for review by an Ombudsman?
WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE?
- If the communication is breaking down or non- existent between the franchisee and franchisor.
- If the parties are at an impasse with a dispute or conflict and are unwilling to move forward.
- If either the franchisee or franchisor is looking for additional ideas or resources to assist them with a potential dispute.
- If the franchisee is self- representing themselves in a dispute and the situation is escalating.
- If either party is looking to IFA to become the mediator in a dispute.
- If the franchisor is having difficulty working with a franchise association or groups of franchisees or if the association is looking for additional support.
- If the case is in mediation, court or after the case is settled and the system is significantly being negatively impacted. We may be able to help the system without becoming directly involved. If the external processes are closed and the issues are re-surfacing we may be able to help at that point.
- If a franchise system is exploring developing an in-house Ombudsman program.
WHEN IS IT NOT APPROPRIATE?
- If the case is being litigated and there is no significant negative impact on the system.
- If the situation is being successfully negotiated or mediated.
- If the franchisee or franchisor is seeking legal guidance on the specifics of their case. We can work through the dispute and it often starts with the question of legal “rights”. We don’t replace the attorneys but can assist with identifying a variety of strategies for resolution based on our experience. We ask the parties to retain credible franchise legal advice as appropriate.
How can my franchise system use the IFA Ombudsman?
The IFA Ombudsman Program has three distinct applications to benefit its members.
- IFA Ombudsman Program – IFA Ombudsman can provide all of the services directly to the parties under the IFA name;
- Private-label Ombudsman Program – IFA Members can retain a qualified Ombudsman, referred by the IFA Ombudsman, to provide continuing ombudsman services within their franchise system under the company’s name; and
- In-house Ombudsman Program – IFA members can retain consultative services to assist in creating an Ombudsman Program tailored to fit the needs of their franchise system, and which the company would fund and operate independently of the IFA.
The cost of the private label and in house Ombudsman Programs reflects the time and resources necessary to provide the services to the franchise system.
Under the first and IFA member can call the IFA Ombudsman and the IFA will cover the costs of the phone calls and the Ombudsman's services. If the parties wish to utilize the IFA Ombudsman for assistance in resolving a dispute, which requires a face-to-face meeting, the parties will be responsible for travelling and meeting costs.
Under the second, or private label program, an Ombudsman, referred by the IFA, will be retained to assist the franchise system in establishing the criteria and structure for an ombudsman program. The costs of this initial consultative phase will range depending upon the nature of the company’s needs. Once the structure has been determined, the program will be contracted to a qualified Ombudsman, who will administer the program on behalf of, and in the name of, the franchise company. Disputes reviewed by the Ombudsman will be charged at an agreed upon rate.
Under the third, or "in-house" program, a franchise system may retain an Ombudsman, referred by the IFA, to create and implement an in-house ombudsman program for the franchise system. This service may range and may be primarily of interest to mature franchise systems. When completed, the franchise system will have its own, internal ombudsman capability. From then on, the entire process of the ombudsman function will be funded and administered internally by the franchise system.
The IFA Ombudsman program will provide benefits to both franchisees and franchisors.
Franchisees gain a low cost method and a resource to resolve disputes peacefully. It enables them to clarify issues about their relationship with their franchisor and work toward a fair and mutually beneficial franchise relationship.
Franchisors also gain a low cost method to assist them in resolving disputes with their franchisees. For many franchise systems a resolution process of this kind may not exist within their systems because of the financial and human resources necessary to create an internal program.
Both the franchisor and franchisee benefit from the opportunity to reduce and resolve issues before they become major disputes that could result in litigation or other disruptive activities.