At Modria, we refer to the place where two parties (e.g. a buyer and a merchant) go to resolve a dispute (i.e. a transaction problem) as a “resolution room.” A well-designed resolution room is essential to the success of any online dispute resolution system or platform. It instantly puts your users at ease by ensuring them that they are in the right place, and that their problem will get a fast, easy solution.
But designing a resolution room for your website can be difficult. Transaction problems are tough because your user enters the room already frustrated with the situation. An off-key design can not only make that frustration worse, it can send the wrong message – which can drive your customer away.
If you think that your standard customer service “contact us” experience is sufficient, you may be underestimating the unique complexity of transaction problems.
If you think that your standard customer service “contact us” experience is sufficient, you may be underestimating the unique complexity of transaction problems. “I forgot my password” or “my coupon code isn’t working” is quite a bit different than, “I was treated unfairly” or “I think my seller is defrauding me.” Resolution rooms require empathy, action, and seriousness. This is a big loyalty moment for your user, and you need to get the tone exactly right.
One creative way to think about getting that tone right is to look at the challenge of creating a resolution room in the same way an architect or contractor goes about designing a room for a house. There are many factors to consider in designing a room, but HGTV breaks them down into 11 simple steps. I believe this is a terrific framework for how to think about designing a resolution room for your website as well.
1. Decide your room’s purpose
HGTV: “Decide, for example, if your room will be a living room that you’ll entertain in on just a few occasions or a family room you’re going to use every day. A room’s purpose should be one of the strongest cues for the decor.”
A resolution room is designed for a specific purpose: to get two parties to work out a transaction problem. When the two parties arrive at the room, in most cases there is already some tension in the air. The room should reassure the parties and encourage them to resolve their problem, productively by providing all the tools they might need to do so. The right tone will go a long way toward ensuring the parties can find a solution by mutual agreement. Keep the room clean, organized, and well laid out so it’s clear to both parties what they’re supposed to do and when.
A resolution room is designed for a specific purpose: to get two parties to work out a transaction problem.
2. Remember who lives there.
HGTV: “…while silk slipcovers would be a sophisticated choice for an adults-only room, they wouldn’t make it through one season in a space that routinely hosts kids and pets.”
Since this is a room designed for parties experiencing a dispute, the process needs to cater entirely to their needs and expectations. Maybe the buyer (for whom this is likely a first dispute) should be walked through the process step by step, while the seller (for whom this may be the tenth, hundredth or even thousandth dispute) should be given streamlined tools to make the process quick and easy to handle. The design of the room cannot and should not further frustrate either party – that will just add insult to injury and deepen their aggravation.
3. Do your homework.
HGTV: “Most designers want to see any photos you’ve earmarked from your favorite design magazines.”
Listen to your users (and your data) to help design your resolution room. What types of issues are causing your customers the most frustration? How often are your best customers reporting problems? How many touches are required to get their concerns addressed? Are the same sellers having many disputes initiated against them? Which cases can be automatically resolved, and which ones should be escalated to a customer service representative or supervisor? Which ones to the fraud or white glove team? If you do your homework, when your users enter the resolution room they will be instantly reassured that they are in capable hands and they’ll move toward a solution quickly and effectively.
4. Keep size in mind.
HGTV: “As a general rule, it’s best to always match furniture’s scale to the room’s overall scale. An oversized sofa in a small room will look out of place and make the space feel cramped.”
You need to right-size the scale of the problem with the process provided. As we say at Modria, it’s vital to “fit the forum to the fuss.” The best resolution rooms don’t overstate the size of the issue (e.g. calling a misunderstanding a fraud case) or underemphasize the frustration of the parties (e.g. by telling a user they’re over-reacting to a minor concern). Equally important is determining whether dialogue between the two parties is appropriate for the case, or just providing an automated refund.
5. Create a consistent look.
HGTV: “When you do one room, you have to think about everything that touches it, all of the spaces that connect. And stay with the whole scheme of the house.”
The resolution room should fit seamlessly into the rest of your website. Why? Because you don’t want users to feel that they’re going somewhere else to resolve their problem. The buyer or seller need to feel reassurance that they can resolve a problem right where it arose. If you invite someone to stay in your house you don’t want to then walk them out to a wood shed on the edge of your back lot. The resolution process should feel like a seamless step away from your core site, so that reporting and resolving a problem is as natural and intuitive as it was to buy the item or service in the first place.
6. Start with a signature piece.
HGTV: “What looks do your favorite things inspire? Maybe Grandpa’s handsome desk would be more at home in a ’40s-themed home office. Perhaps the rustic seascape you picked up on your honeymoon could become the centerpiece of a beach-cottage bedroom.”
When in the resolution room, there should be one central action that the user is clearly drawn toward. In most cases, that action is direct dialogue between the parties. To achieve that clarity, the “signature piece” of the resolution room should be a conversation box where both parties are encouraged to communicate directly with each other to find a mutually agreeable solution. Later, if the case is escalated to customer service agent or supervisor, the ability for that agent to review the discussion will save hours of time sifting through emails.
7. Formulate a plan.
HGTV: “Be sure to create your own room-design file. You’ll want to include key measurements and inspiring images… Clearly everything is flexible, but having this plan at your fingertips will help you make decisions and keep the momentum going.”
When you design a room, you need to have a floor plan. My colleague and Modria’s co-founder, Colin Rule, published an article last year called Crafting a Resolution Plan for Your Business. The article is full of practical advice for ways to design your resolution room. Perhaps the most important advice is to know that in planning ahead, your resolution room allows you to be proactive and preventive rather than reactive and inconsistent. And you can evolve your plan over time, and envision improvements you’d like to make as it scales up.
8. Shop around to create a look that’s all your own.
HGTV: “The best way to accomplish your own unique look is to avoid buying matching furnishings from one store and instead, shop from a variety of retailers, auctions and flea markets.”
Don’t just copy the resolution room of a competitor or another site. Often websites underestimate the importance of their resolution rooms, and just default to the industry standard. The implication of this lowest-common-denominator approach is not lost on your users. They’ll get the message about what priority you put on solving their problem if they’re dropped into a generic experience. You need to design a resolution room that demonstrates your personal touch and attention. That’s what makes a user feel supported.
Don’t just copy the resolution room of a competitor or another site.
9. Limit Trendy Pieces to Accessories.
HGTV: “Can you afford to change things often? If not, you may want to avoid trendy patterns on expensive pieces.”
Every web site has a shortage of dev days to do all the things they want to do. Look for third party SaaS providers (like Modria) who can power the back end of your systems. Those providers can constantly update your system so that it is in line with the times. If you don’t update the system regularly, your resolution room could one day look as out of date as the old rumpus room in your parent’s house, with wood panel walls and linoleum floors.
10. Light it up.
HGTV: “You can never have too many lamps,”
When it comes to building a resolution room, it needs to be very well lit – meaning, easily discoverable, understood, and entirely transparent. Users should never be surprised by twists and turns in the process that they were not made aware of before they began. Buyers and sellers should always understand the process, know exactly where they are in that process, and know what is expected of them at each step. That helps to ensure that they feel the process was fair, even if they don’t get the outcome they wanted when they started.
11. Make it Personal.
HGTV: “Your room should be a reflection of your style. In fact, designers consider their work a success when clients say a room feels like their own…”
Make sure your resolution room reflects your brand personality. If you’re a no-nonsense B2B equipment rental marketplace, craft a resolution room that is direct, efficient, and straight to the point. If you’re a fun and snarky fashion exchange, bring that humor and self-awareness into your resolution room. As your community of users evolves, so too must your resolution room. The best resolution rooms reflect the personalities of the sites they support. But like a room in your house, it should never be static.
If you’ve ever redesigned your house, or just redecorated a room, you know how challenging the process can be. The hardest part is managing expectations and keeping the project within a budget that is NEVER as big as you want it to be. But if you do it right, it can be very rewarding. The same is true for designing a resolution room.
Launching a resolution room for your website uses the same design skills required for search, find and checkout, but at a higher level. You need to work hard to see the situation through the eyes of your users, and to understand the worry, fear, and aggravation unique to the problem resolution experience.
When you finally get your resolution room right, clone it for every one of your users who has a problem, and invite them in. It will make them feel at home, supported, and comfortable. It will let them know that their issue is a priority for you. The design of that room will communicate again and again that you’ve got their back. And that will keep your customers coming back to you in the future.