The New Handshake
A friend told me about Colin Rule’s work a few weeks ago. At first, the systems he developed to help resolve conflicts on e-commerce sites didn’t seem all that relevant to my work. After all, my own work focuses on the toughest conflicts we face as a society, not how online businesses and their customers work out their differences.
I was wrong.
In fact, there is a lot of value here. What Rule and his co-author Amy Schmitz have already done and what they propose companies implement in the future is critical for the future of conflict resolution in general.
In the days of the old handshake, I could go to the store and work things out with the manager. Now, I have to deal with massive merchants whom I will never know personally.
So, their first key point is for merchants to be proactive and create policies to expedite customer complaints, especially firms like eBay in which the merchant is actually an intermediary between buyer and seller.
Then, they point out that the likes of eBay or Amazon can’t hope to have personalized treatment for everyone and that the dreaded complaint desk phone services are simply not acceptable. So, what can be done? Their tools include the following:
- Establishment of a dashboard that allow merchants to manage the disputes that come in over poor quality merchandise, missed deliveries, and everything in between.
- Creation of a user interface in which it is as easy as possible for dissatisfied consumers to lodge a complain.
- Programming an automated system that proposes a solution for routine problems which are then sent to both sides.
- Allowing the sides to accept or reject the initial offer using a simple online voting process.
- If that doesn’t work, bring the two sides together in a formal dispute resolution program using online mediation tools.
I am not suggesting that Schmitz and Rule have all the answers.
We are no closer to having online resolution that works for all tough disputes than we are to being able to do effective counseling and therapy on line. However, unlike the problems you or I take to our therapists, many commercial disputes are fairly straight forward and can be handled routinely.
If nothing else, tools like the ones they outline can do the triage so that trained facilitators can focus on the tough issues whether they do so on line or face to face.
In short, this is a book that grew on me and that has implications that go way beyond the kinds of disputes they discuss.
And, it was fun to read.