Online Dispute Resolution

Courtesy of Leigh Ann Roberts, Attorney and Mediator, Nashville, TN

Many of you have heard of ADR but what about ODR? As defined in Wikipedia, the online dictionary/encyclopedia website, ODR or "Online Dispute Resolution" is: A branch of dispute resolution which uses technology to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. It primarily involves negotiation, mediation or arbitration, or a combination of all three. In this respect it is often seen as being the online equivalent of Alternative dispute resolution (ADR). However, ODR can also augment these traditional means of resolving disputes by applying innovative techniques and online technologies to the process.

ODR is used hundreds, if not thousands, of times each day by large, online merchants utilizing the World Wide Web to sell and market products and services. Whether a dispute is over a broken product, an unwelcome communication, a failed transaction, or other such conflict, disputants from opposite sides of the globe can call on the services of a trained, neutral, third-party to help them resolve their dispute. SquareTrade, the industry leader in on-line merchant verification and dispute resolution for EBay, has been providing ODR services since 1999. SquareTrade was responding to the concerns that consumers were already voicing about online trade and problems with communication, warranties, misunderstood or false representations, you name it.

Since that time, other companies and organizations have begun to use ODR as a way to not only resolve disputes but also to maintain stellar customer service. ODR is an ideal solution for a resolution process that involves two customers who are geographically unable to connect for a standard ADR process. Often times, the amount in controversy does not warrant attorneys, travel or even formal dispute processes. In these instances, ODR may provide a solution where other avenues fail.

There are situations, however, where ODR should be avoided. Like mediation, arbitration or even the newest Alternative Dispute Resolution hybrids Arb-Med, Med-Arb, Binding Mediation, Non-binding Arbitration; ODR will not work if either of the parties participates in bad faith. If one or more of the parties is perpetrating a fraud, some confidential information shared during the ODR process could further expose the injured party to damage. And, as a general rule, when a party has committed a fraud in a previous transaction, word to the wise, any agreement resulting from the ODR process is only as good as that party's word. ODR should also be avoided if one or more of the parties are uncomfortable with utilizing a computer or the necessary technologies utilized in ODR.

If you are a business owner who does a significant amount of business over the internet, you might consider utilizing ODR for your customer conflicts. Conflicts can be costly, not only in terms of dollars and cents but also for your organization's reputation and customer service. Help parties resolve a dispute with ease and you could earn a customer for life!

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