Gripe Sites: Noble or Nasty?
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.
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.
Have you posted a complaint online? Tell me about your experience by posting your comment below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 10 Jun 2013
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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved