Gripe Sites: Are They 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. 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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Dec 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Gripe Sites: Are They Noble or Nasty? (Posted: 9 Dec 2019)
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