Think disputes, you think courts. Think courts, you think pendency, delay, and exhaustion. At a time when we are witnessing technological disruption in service delivery in other sectors – finance, urban mobility, health, education, what if “dispute resolution” also underwent a technological disruption? What if dispute resolution was a service as easily accessible to us, over our phones, as online payments or online courses?
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) startups combining technology with trusted methods of negotiation, mediation, and arbitration are paving the path here. Businesses, in several meetings with the government and the judiciary, have signalled that the time for ODR adoption is now.
Currently, there are over a dozen Online Dispute Resolution service providers and over 50 businesses piloting ODR. The National Payments Corporation of India has also launched UPI-Help, an ODR mechanism for digital payments. So as the momentum towards ODR in business builds, the real operational challenge of ODR adoption also begins. Businesses get into individual conversations with the startups to integrate ODR, parties log the disputes onto these separate platforms, and disputes are resolved on these separate platforms – working alongside manual phone calls, SMS text messages and of course, WhatsApp where necessary.
However, truly large scale adoption of ODR will require the next level of trust, convenience and choice. Businesses need to be able to seamlessly add a dispute resolution layer on top of their existing services the way they plug into payments gateways. ODR providers can provide the key attributes, features and processes, particularly the neutrality of the platform and individual resolution agents, and the big data-driven science of what works for different disputes, while companies could choose to build their own complaint and grievance management systems that take off seamlessly from their other interfaces. .
This is where APIs to simplify Online Dispute Resolution could step in and be the next big adoption multiplier. In a pitch to a VC, Jeff Lawson, the founder of Twilio once said “we have taken the entire messy and complex world of telephony and reduced it to five API calls.” To convince Fred Wilson, the VC partner, Jeff quickly live-coded an app that would use this API to make a call to Fred, and it happened in 30 seconds. Fred later called this the best pitch ever. What Jeff had effectively done was turn the complex telephony system and turned it into a plug and play service that could work with just about any use-case scenario. This was revolutionary at the time because of its simplicity.
Can dispute resolution be reduced to 5 APIs that anyone can call? Can we break dispute resolution up into simple, plugin modules that anyone can access and integrate into their business? That’s where the next big opportunity lies.
Fintech integrators are already exploring ODR integrations to enable dispute resolution for the fintech sector, similar to payment integrations. With open APIs, the floor will also be open to CMS platforms, helpdesk platforms, ERP platforms and other customer-facing systems that have the potential to integrate into ODR systems and handle potential disputes before they become adversarial and graduate to court cases. Imagine a vendor dispute is resolved within a vendor management system, with all the heavy lifting happening in the background with the help of ODR APIs. Imagine customer complaints turned into disputes, being handled before being escalated to a legal department or court. Opening and integrating ODR APIs solve for the vacuum that exists between customer complaints and frustration leading to a dispute going to court.
The permutations and combinations are infinite. For example, Aajeevika Bureau, an organization that works with migrant workers, recovered INR 1.35 crores in unpaid compensation from employers during lockdown using whatsapp. There is nothing stopping us from turning WhatsApp / Signal / Telegram into ODR platforms. In fact, to break the internet penetration barrier, Online Dispute Resolution could integrate into traditional IVR systems that allow dispute resolution to take place over a simple phone call. Therefore, as companies look to converge and offer a seamless experience to their customers, APIs will become a crucial deciding factor.
These transitions to integrated systems are ever more important considering that the landscape of business today is quick and agile. According to Salesforce, 76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs. And when that doesn’t happen, “57% of customers stop buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.” So, to keep customers, companies have to move fast and adjust to changing consumer needs. In turn, ODR start-ups can focus on just the muscles that drive growth: development cycles become shorter, and variability in the development cycle is also kept to a minimum.
Ultimately, this determines the future of dispute resolution in India. In the not too distant future, resolving a dispute will not lie in physical court spaces. It will be a service accessible to us where we are. It lies in the inherent capacity of businesses and people to resolve their disputes at scale, outside of courts, in a legally permissible manner.
Photo credit: Financial Express
Disclaimer: This article reflects the personal views of the writers.