Gripe Sites: Noble or Nasty?

Category: Reference

When consumers have grievances against companies, they often resort to the power of public opinion for support. But the Internet makes it possible to do much more than simply tell all your friends about a ripoff or poor customer service you've experienced. Online 'gripe sites' and complaint forums abound, but some may do as much harm as good. They may even be designed to malign. Here's my analysis and advice...

Should You Post on a Gripe Site?

Do-it-yourself types use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to air their grievances, hoping that their tales will go viral and bring pressure on companies to do “the right thing,” meaning whatever the aggrieved parties want them to do. Any many web-savvy companies do monitor these sites for any mention of their names.

Many newspapers and TV stations have “consumer advocate” reporters who specialize in making inquiries on behalf of people who feel they’ve been ripped off or treated shabbily. But news outlets receive more requests for help than they have story slots to fill. Some people don’t have enough of the right kind of social media contacts. Still others have grievances that nobody else seems to care about. That’s where online consumer grievance services – a.k.a. “gripe sites” – find a profitable market.

Gripe Sites'

Gripevine.com was co-founded by Dave Caroll, creator of the famously effective United Airlines Breaks Guitars YouTube video, and Richard Hue, a startup consultant who knows a good thing when he sees it. They help consumers describe their grievances and desired resolutions effectively, then get their presentations to the real decision-makers in a company. If that doesn’t work, Gripevine will help you spread the word to your social media contacts. Consumers can rate their customer service experiences and give each other tips in Gripevine forums.

Gripevine makes money from ads on its site and annual membership dues for businesses. It offers businesses “a civilized environment where your company can proactively engage with your customers in public without fear of being sullied by brand-damaging profanities or obscenities.” Besides requiring polite language, Gripevine lets a company challenge the authenticity of a complainant to weed out malicious fakers and competitors.

Scambook.com doesn’t seem to care if complaints are polite or genuine. It makes money by selling reputation protection to businesses, according to “anti” sites like Scambookscum.com and Scambookscam.com. According to critics, the business model goes something like this:

SCAMBOOK: “Hello, we have received a complaint about your company.”
COMPANY: “Put me in touch with the customer and I’ll try to resolve it.”
SCAMBOOK: “Give us money and we will.”
COMPANY: “No, thanks.”
SCAMBOOK: “Then we’ll just leave the complaint on our site and tell the world it’s there.”

Yelp.com, which hosts both positive and negative reviews of companies, is widely accused of a similar extortion scheme. Hundreds of business owners say that good reviews disappear, bad reviews rise to the top of their Yelp pages, and Yelp salesmen call to say they can make all those problems go away for the price of a monthly ad. Those who refuse to pay say the problems quickly get worse.

PeopleClaim.com sells convenience to consumers. File a complaint for free and the company will forward it to the relevant firm privately. If that doesn’t get results, $7.95 will get your complaint posted on PeopleClaim.com. For $4.99 per month, its “personal investigators” will mail certified letters outlining your complaint to the company of your choosing. For $14.99 per month, it will submit your complaints to multiple consumer protection agencies, regulators, and the media. Charging complainers has the advantage of weeding out frivolous and false complaints. But PeopleClaim does nothing that consumers can’t do for themselves.

It's sometimes hard to tell if these gripe sites exist for a noble purpose (to help consumers) or if they're actually in the business of monetizing other peoples' pain. The Ripoff Report is one site which seems to have as many complaints about it, as there are complaints logged there. The site has a checkered history of lawsuits and countersuits, and some vocal critics who liken it to extortion. That link also has an interesting hypothesis as to why Google tends to ranks gripe sites on page one of their search results.

Don't Feed the Monster

All too often, consumers turn to these anonymous and dubious complaint outlets instead of going directly to the merchant they feel has somehow wronged them. Most merchants want to do the right thing, because it's good business to do so. Repeat customers are the life-blood of thriving companies, and businesses who are serious about satisfied customers will listen and do their best to resolve complaints fairly.

For consumers who feel powerless in conflicts with companies, gripe sites offer hope of power. To companies, gripe sites offer the threat of reputation damage. The ancient Romans said that 90% of the things we fear never happen; the same can be said of things for which we hope.

My advice might sound old-school, but here goes. If you have a problem, pick up the phone and talk to a real person. Be polite and pleasant while describing your issue. It's a proven fact that in negotiations, you'll get more by being pleasant and non-threatening. If you're emailing, calmly provide all the relevant facts, documents and photos.

If the merchant is not responsive, or unfairly refusing to help with a legitimate complaint, resorting to third-party online gripe forums might make you feel better, but it probably won't do much to help you resolve the problem. Contacting your bank, or opening a Paypal dispute is more likely to get results. In cases where you suspect fraud or criminal wrongdoing, contact the police or a local office of consumer protection.

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Posted by on 10 Jun 2013


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Most recent comments on "Gripe Sites: Noble or Nasty?"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Don
10 Jun 2013

"Most merchants want to do the right thing"
I really don't believe that. If they think they can get away with it most will do nothing. The only things that change that are either massive negative publicity or, perhaps sometimes more important, the impact on possible repeat business.
Threats of lawsuits can also make them take notice, but the truth is most complaints just don't rise to the level of being practical and actionable, and the merchants know it.
Sites like Amazon are like "white knights" for consumers, because businessmen who deal through them know Amazon will drop them if they get a lot of complaints. And generally that busness is just too important to them. Read the Amazon reviews and pay the most attention to recurring complaints that would matter to you. Generally it's pretty easy to spot the phony reviews, good or bad.


Posted by:

Lucy
10 Jun 2013

While slightly different, Yahoo local business reviews was somewhere I went to to discover how local businesses were perceived in my city. I found it was fairly easy to determine which reviews to ignore.

I started to write my own reviews and had written in excess of 100 positive reviews, and only two detailing a problem. Those two reviews were truthful, carefully written and just stated the facts about my particular experience.

Maybe I am naive, but I really was shocked to find that those two reviews were removed, I assume at the request of the businesses, one of which had several unhappy customers whose reviews are no longer online either.

I no longer even check the website or write of my own experiences as I feel if only the reviews the business approves of are allowed to remain then a false sense of the business may be portrayed.


Posted by:

Lucy
10 Jun 2013

Bob, or anyone .....

Has anyone used or got an opinion about the website
Angie's List?

Not a gripe site but advertizes as offering honest opinions from customers of local contractors/businesses.


Posted by:

Ruth
10 Jun 2013

Hi Bob, thanks for the interesting article. You forgot about the Better Business Bureau. While they just act as a go-between, it can spur a company into action. There is even a BBB in Canada.

I have used yelp and tripadvisor in the past. I didn't know about yelp's business 'extortion' model...that's not good.

If I buy a product I'm not happy with, I quite often go to the business's website and tell them how I feel using the 'contact us' option. I have gotten great results that way. I find the company really wants to rectify the situation.


Posted by:

Peter
10 Jun 2013

Good points Bob. I have always found it better to talk to a company about 'resolving a problem' rather than simply complaining about poor service. You catch more bees with sugar than with vinegar.


Posted by:

Carole
10 Jun 2013

I had my credit card number stolen at a hotel back in 2006. I reported it on Trip Advisor, but I went beyond that point. I found out the name of the person who did it, where they lived & their phone # and turned all the information over to the police. The hotel didn't want to talk to me. Now you can sign up with credit card companies, so if someone attempts to charge on your card, they will notify within seconds.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
10 Jun 2013

Complaining online about a business, is useless at best. Sorry, but, most of the complaints are stupid and too many people posting, are only doing so, to "heat up" the situation. I much prefer to write the company's President and tell them what I think of their company's handling of the "issue". I did this with a major online/retail store about a computer that I purchased in September 1996 and got results!!! It was a 4 page letter, which is usually ignored, however the circumstances were highly unusual. Bottom line ... I got a brand new computer tower, that worked ... At NO charge to me. To this day, I will purchase from this company, because they "honored" their warranty and took care of business.

I have done tons of purchasing online and rarely have had to "complain" about anyone's service. Of course, things have happened ... However, I prefer to contact that particular company and try to resolve the "issue." As for brick and mortar retail stores, same thing, I prefer to go to the store and handle any "issues" that have come about.

Overall, I have found that business' want to maintain a good reputation and good customer relationships, especially, in today's economic struggles.

As for my online purchases, I have a "test" that I like to do. When, I have had an "issue", I like to contact the business by email. I personally believe, that the "email" test is one of the best, to see if the online business means business. So far ... Knock on wood ... I have been very fortunate in purchasing from GOOD online business', that truly care about their product(s) and customers. When the whole transaction can be handled by email ... That is a definite plus, for that business.

Yes, there have been plenty of times, when only a phone call will do. Again, overall I have been most fortunate, that 95% of the business' that I deal with, are GOOD business' and truly care about their customers and their own reputation.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
10 Jun 2013

Bob ... I just want to say ... I have been a subscriber to The Internet Tourbus/Ask Bob Rankin, since November 1996! I am proud of that fact. I still look forward and LOVE to receive these emails. What I am trying to say, even in 2013 ... Bob, you are still relevant and "spot on", even in today's computer world.

Thank you, for sharing your vast knowledge and research, with all of your subscribers. Plus, you have a way of being common sense and logical, in all of your articles. What I love the most, is your plain talking language, so that even Newbies can understand. In all honesty, the ability to explain complex computer technology, in everyday language and still be understood ... Is a rare gift and you've got it.

This article "Gripe Sites: Noble or Nasty?" is simply another example, of how you keep us all, up to date with computer issues. Again, thank you Bob. :)


Posted by:

Al S
10 Jun 2013

The BBB could care less, they protect their members and do nothing about those who are not members. There are almost as many complaints filed against them as to companies.

Angie's List is a joke. If you want to search another Zip Code than your own you pay extra. Check http://www.ripoffreport.com/ You can file a report good or bad.
As for contacting a company directly many have no phone number or email at best you might find a Postal Address. If they do receive your email or letter they will skip around your request

Papa John's is the worst. they have a Store just 5 blocks away and I can not order from them. This includes Calling on the Phone. The reason they do not have my area in their GPS.

Letters to them are replied to and do not cover the complaint. Luckily there are 5 other Pizza Shops within a block of Papa John's that deliver and meet 0hteir price.


Posted by:

Judy Means
10 Jun 2013

Bob, thanks again for another great article. I don't really trust the gripe sites. I will read on the scam sites though. There are far too many wild offers out there on the Net that can dupe the unsuspecting. Those have saved me some headaches.

I too would also add the Better Business Bureau as a source to use to reconcile a problem. They helped me quickly with two prior semi-serious problems. I have found also that writing to the "contact us" department also gets some fast attention. Most companies would rather reconcile a problem these days via email rather than via the phone. Just be patient with reason.


Posted by:

Angie
11 Jun 2013

I always go after companies if I feel as though I've been wronged but I generally go straight to the actual company. They are usually pretty good about resolving any issues I have. There's already enough HATE out there in cyber land without adding to the pot.


Posted by:

bb
11 Jun 2013

After 2 fruitless on-line chats, and 2 equally fruitless phone-cons about a UN-announced price increase by Verizon I got a robo-call from the "President of Verizon" asking is I was totally satisfied with their customer service. !

I responded with a admittedly somewhat snarky email and was surprised with a call the next day with a customer rep that gave me the same deal that new customers got that had been previously denied to long-term customers. That made me happy.

Verizon is well-known for their wonderful services and not-so-wonderful customer service; but in this case, as BobB suggests, a bit of perseverance and assertiveness goes a long way. But one should not overdo it, just yelling louder doesn't always get your own way. They might tell you to just go way.


Posted by:

rich
11 Jun 2013

Some days you try to be nice and d things by the book - and get abused as mistreated. So you go to the company website and guess what? They have no contact email address, mailing address, phone directory or anything else that will let you report misbehaviour to management. Don't believe it? Look at Toshiba, for example. Is there any acceptable explanation for this behaviour? It sure makes the scandalous complaints I found on www.toshibasucks,com totally credible. And should I post there and the proprietors use it
to blackmail Toshiba - to me, they deserve it.


Posted by:

Jon
11 Jun 2013

I prefer using paper. It is so unusual these days that it gets attention. A polite letter to the company head outling what went wrong seems to often work. For example, how about half off on fiber optic installation due to installation problems? With electronic it is so easy to get lost. Either paper or electronic it is more effective to be factual and polite.


Posted by:

Sharon H
11 Jun 2013

Jon is spot on. Writing and mailing a letter does make a company stand up and notice. It also shows how serious a person is who bothers to go the old school route rather than the modern, convenient email.

Angie's List was useless for me. It kept finding businesses in the NYC area even though I live in central NJ. Waste of money.

RipOffReport has been around a looong time. It helped me learn that I was far from alone in a scam being perpetrated by a car rental company. It was a great aid in getting my problem resolved.

Another 5 star site is Trip Advisor. Not only can one read both positive and negative reports, but it can be very entertaining as well.

There is a place for these rating sites. Just use your own good judgment as to which are better than others. They can be a very useful tool.


Posted by:

Chris
12 Jun 2013

Real businesses (those that have been around an expect to stay around) tend to be responsive if you contact them directly. Some respond to online gripes with better service than if you call them, but most (ours included) treat online gripes the same as a hostile / threatening phone call. Click.
Fly-by-night scams don't care about repeat business, or reputation - online gripes mean nothing to a company like that. These are the ones with no contact info. If you gave your money to an online-only business with zero contact info, well... would you expect the guy you bought the Rolex from for $50 on the street corner to have customer service?
Large corporations that do not sell direct to the public, generally also do not have direct contact info on their website. Their distributor network IS their customer service department.
Proper channels and a good attitude work. Trying to go around them will almost never help you, whether the company is honorable or not. Online gripe sites may give you a warm feeling, but are otherwise useless, and can hurt a perfectly good business. Real review sites, like Trip Adviser, have a place, and are sometimes a good resource for consumers.


Posted by:

Ron
12 Jun 2013

The problem with most of these sites is that anyone can post anything anonymously, regardless of whether or not it's true. This makes it very easy for a competitor to ruin another company's reputation. What makes it worse is the fact that you are held hostage. Yes, you can pay to remove the post, or you can post your response to the charge; however, that will only increase the position of the page in a web search and invite more posts by the poster.

The company that I work for was blasted by a client that posted a lie to Ripoff Report. We, in fact, have a telephone recording where said client stated that he would admit that he would have the post removed. That was over 2 years ago and the post is still on Ripoff Report and continues to damage our company's reputation. This client not only received our services, but also cancelled his payment after receiving the services. When asked why he wouldn't remove the post after promising he would, the client stated that he was advised by an attorney that, if he admitted he had falsified the info, our company could sue him for damages.

I would suggest that consumers use a better method of checking out a business than sites like Ripoff Report and the BBB, who are basically blackmailing businesses. If you're a big fan of the BBB, I would suggest that you do your research on them.

-Ron


Posted by:

chris
12 Jun 2013

The most negative feedback I ever had was with H-P. This computer purchase in 2009 still rankles me as my worst consumer experience ever.
Amazon seems truly to care about your purchase. Their customer feedback and refund policy are first rate. Wall $treet seems to agree.


Posted by:

JP
13 Jun 2013

@Lucy: I've had mainly excellent results using Angie's List. The one negative experience was with a Realtor. "Everybody" raved about how great she was to work with. I found her to be excellent until it really mattered -- getting much needed communication as the closing date neared, and getting inaccurate information at times. I stressed during the process that since I don't sell houses frequently I'd have questions and need answers, and when time was crucial, a phone call was preferred over email. Emails sent late at night were the norm. I gave an accurate review based on my experience and was contacted by the Realtor immediately after. By then, it was too late.


Posted by:

LindaSView
24 Jun 2013

Here's one. Trying to post an issue, may get you threatenned-dedicated forums related to the various issues, security issues, etc.For example,in the header of an alleged American Express email I received, it was asked that certain groups-like "abuse hotmail" among others would comply with the request that the IP was being tracked for spoofing. If anyone took the time to look at "View Source" and the Mime Header, the header request explicity stated websites and people to notify so perhaps the spoofers could be tracked, besides American Express security. Now, the email did not pass the hotmail "sniffers"(filters for legitimacy), but even when it's known these emails are spoofed or fraud, hotmail still allows them in to users Junk Mail boxes when a user has an exclusive inbox rule.Why do they even allow that through is beyond me-for another day. Anyhow, the link in the alleged American Express email, when moused over had an address in Russia. Following the request in the Mime Header I did report to security MS Hotmail with all the header info as well as the other places involved in trying to track who was spoofing the ip. "ABUSE HOTMAIL was listed, so I sent it. I received a reply it was not an MS HOTMAIL issue so I wrote American Express, sending the mime header a long with the hotmail security teams response to me and also sent it to hotmail asking why it did say in the header to notify them, to get clarification on what I did wrong. I also posted it all on a Security Forum. Next thing I know, I get a veiled threat with a link to read the hotmail "terms of conduct". So I got threatened by MS Hotmail I guess for doing the right thing as far as what the request in the header said and asked people to do. I don't know how many people use their own time to do this sort of thing, but I get sick of the email abuses, so I'll often do it. I never heard from the hotmail team over what I did wrong when the header asked hotmail abuse be notified-did I misunderstand? Plus, shouldn't it really be their job to do this when it fails their filters "sniff test" and again, even better, would be to not allow it in to inboxes or Junk Mail. How many people don't realize it's fraud, may have clicked a link and ended up with someone in Russia learning their American Express account info. Yes, people need to better educate themselves, but it sure would help if we could all work together to help lessen the load of those who have been spammed, scammed, and or given great "critters" mining info off their computers. I just don't get it when you try to do the right thing and get a veiled threat, suggesting what you did does not make you a good Internet Citized? Go figure.. LindaSView


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