There’s a couple of very interesting (and short) posts by Colin Rule, doyenne of online dispute resolution, on lessons eBay learnt when implementing their online dispute resolution systems (here and here). The key lesson was that a better, more accessible, complaints system: a) led to more complaints; but b) increased the volume of business for eBay. Another way of putting it is that it increased trust in eBay and did so in measurable ways. A particularly interesting claim, not entirely surprising to students of Tom Tyler’s procedural justice theory, is that even those complainants who were unsuccessful were more likely to use eBay than they had previously. Dealing quickly and (in a way that is perceived to be) fairly may extend beyond simply being damage limitation. Rule puts it like this:
What that meant was that buyers who “won” their case increased their activity, but buyers who “lost” their case also increased their activity. Now it is true that the buyers who lost their case did increase their activity at a slower rate than the buyers who won their case, but most surprisingly, both of those buyers increased their activity more than buyers who never filed a dispute in the first place.
Lawyers may not get repeat clients often enough to get very excited about this, but they do get word of mouth referrals. Capturing complaints at the very earliest opportunity and dealing with them fairly, may still be good business – as well as the right thing to do. And with more legal business being sought, handled, even transacted, online, the need for online dispute resolution with clients may become more pressing.