Gripe Sites: Are They 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. 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. Scambook has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau, and according to quite a few online reviews, 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, 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.

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.

PissedConsumer.com bills itself as "a leading consumer advocacy and review platform by the people and for the people." The site helps consumers with an axe to grind by amplifying their complaints via Youtube and other social media channels. But gripes can fly in both directions. Often, the companies being targetted by allegedly aggrieved consumers believe that they have been falsely accused. Unfortunately, all gripe sites are prone to complaints posted by competitors pretending to be a customer. So PissedConsumer does have a process called the Legitimacy Verification Program, in which a neutral third-party will review a consumer complaint (on behalf of a business) and remove a posting if it is deemed to be without merit. But it costs $1200 to initiate the process -- ouch. TrustPilot rates PissedConsumer as "Poor" with an 83% negative rating.

The Ripoff Report is another 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. Ripoff Report allows anyone to post any type of complaint, and does not proactively verify any claims. They do allow a business to post a reponse or rebuttal, but will not remove complaints. To have false complaints removed, a VIP Arbitration option is available, with costs starting at $2000.

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.

Some companies have online chat facilities where you can explain your problem and get a resolution. I recently had a problem with a delivery from Amazon, and this channel proved useful. My shop light came without the chains to hang it, so I logged into my Amazon account and contacted a rep via chat. The rep suggested that I return the product for a refund, and re-order it. "That's a hassle," I said, and asked how the rep could assure me that the replacement wouldn't have the same problem. After a bit of back and forth, I was offered a $5 credit, which I accepted. I'm sure I can find a bit of chain and 2 hooks at the hardware store for less.

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...

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

Posted by:

pdsterling
09 Dec 2019

fwiw, I pay no attention to "ratings" and other people's gripes. I maintain that if Jesus Himself were operating an auto repair/doughnut shop/moving service, there would be *someone* who was dissatisfied and would like to tell the world.


Posted by:

bill
09 Dec 2019

Heard it through the gripevine.

Sorry, it stuck in my head as soon as I saw the name.


Posted by:

Deb E
09 Dec 2019

For problems, I try to talk to a person to give the company a fair shake. These days it is almost impossible. This is one reason I have gone back to shopping at brick and mortar stores. However, even they have made it harder and harder to reach a person who can assist, between low staffing levels and phone mazes. It can take weeks to find a solution to a simple problem that should have taken an hour, tops.


Posted by:

Likeparty
09 Dec 2019

You can also win by communicating directly, clearly, and with limited negative emotion to companies. "Win" means get your issue resolved, get some kind of fair restitution, or keep others from having the same problem (misapplication of product or shared blame!).
So huMAN up and contact the company.


Posted by:

bill
09 Dec 2019

pdsterling: I take any gripe site with a big grain of salt. You can usually tell from the tone if the person is ranting or reasonable.

Same with review sites. Real reviews have reasons for the review.


Posted by:

Len
09 Dec 2019

Sure. Hasn't everyone? Anyways, had a product defect with an item I bought on the amaz site which was 6 days past the 1yr warranty period.

Some previously posted 1/2 star "complaints" were poor cust service. I contacted them and one week later I had a replacement part in my hands.

Honey gets good results, vitriol gets vinegar.


Posted by:

Mark
09 Dec 2019

"Most merchants want to do the right thing, because it's good business to do so."

The above from the current article is not correct. The comma is unnecessary. The following is an example of dependent clause first, with comma used correctly:

"Because it's good business to do so, most merchants want to do the right thing."


Posted by:

Joanne
09 Dec 2019

A friend (and wonderful doctor) has some very negative posts on ratemds.com - amid many glowing ones. We both think they were written by a competing colleague. He knows there will always be the odd patient who gripes, but these specific complaints were totally baseless and all written in the same style. So unfair! Because of this, I don't trust posts on ratemds.com.


Posted by:

JonS
09 Dec 2019

Largely for traveler problems, but other problems are included, is www.chriselliotts.com. The operator, Chris Elliott, has columns in several magazines and newspapers. His web site has useful info such as contact phone numbers and addresses. I've found them helpful and accurate. He encourages working with the source of the problem (but to not go to the top as a first step) and to not threaten. He and support staff have regular successes. I've read his online column for a couple of years and have found him to be rational and resourceful. His main advice is to keep records and to make reasonable requests for resolution.


Posted by:

BaliRob
10 Dec 2019

Hahaha try making a complaint in Indonesia - no consumer protect at all !!


Posted by:

Henning
10 Dec 2019

Few years ago bought a powered arm chair from the Brick. 11 months after the chair would not lay back or move at all. Checked and found problem with the gear driven shaft, small plastic part on gear had broken off and drive quit. Complained to Brick locally and they offered a new chair right away, but had none similar colour or style. I asked if they would order repair part and I would replace myself. They reluctantly agreed to order part. It took about 4 months but eventually I got it. The new part electronics did not work properly, so I switched electronics to the new gear shaft and worked fine. I wondered why part was sent out without being tested, but I guess nobody bothers with parts anymore and just order new chairs as it so much simpler to do in this day and age.


Posted by:

BobD
10 Dec 2019

So... Should I call Microsoft to complain that my attempt to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 bricked my motherboard? And I want $500 to pay for the replacement?


Posted by:

DesC
10 Dec 2019

Hi Mark!
One lousy superfluous comma - is that really all you got from Bob Rankin's latest attempt to explain whether or not a "gripe site" helps consumers?


Posted by:

thenudehamster
10 Dec 2019

The advice to raise a complaint through PayPal, to me, is a waste of time. I did just that, when I ordered a printer (for £30) and received a child's camera (worth about £5). PayPal would give me a refund - but only if I paid the return shipping (about £10), leaving me out of pocket through the supplier's fault. That is unacceptable.

As for the various 'gripe sites' I wouldn't touch them with a barge-pole; they're as bad as the commendation sites. It's been proven time and again that many of the complaints are spurious in the hope of getting compensation for something that never happened.

Oh - and as for Mark's superfluous comma - it isn't. That comma introduces a slight pause in the sentence, improving the reading. It let's you draw breath, if you like. Dependent clauses do NOT always follow without pause.


Posted by:

Emily Booth
11 Dec 2019

My landline bill continued to go up and up and up due to local taxes and fees. I contacted AT&T. Last year, I got a significant discount. This year, the answer was no. I was also given info about their landline service that contradicted what I was told by our local utility consumer advocacy group. I reported what I was told to the advocacy group. They contacted AT&T. I was then contacted by a caseworker at AT&T who worked in the chairman's office. They were very responsive. I was contacted by email and phone and encouraged to follow up if I was unhappy. I was given a discount on U-Verse but only for a year. They clarified the erroneous info I was given. I terminated my landline and went to Magic Jack. It was a win-win for now.

I have looked at complaint sites. I think the best one is the BBB. They are legitimate. I have used them in the past in resolving issues with public data marketing companies in getting my personal info removed. I use them to check on local businesses.

When I researched mattresses, it was useful to read about people's personal experiences, documented on their blogs, about one brand that led me to decide it would be a bad buy.


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