I recently featured a background piece on Dave Carroll, creator of the 2009 viral video titled ‘United Breaks Guitars‘. The saga of his guitar-crushing trip and ensuing (successful) struggle to get satisfaction from United Airlines, have become a case study, par excellence, of consumer power in the age of social media. Here is Part 2 of the interview with a focus on Gripevine.com, the start-up platform that grew out of Dave’s one man crusade.
Dave’s Carroll’s intensive experience as a consumer activist led him, quite naturally, to explore how he could help others circumvent the endless runaround of customer service phone lines and get serious attention for their problems. Haven’t we all had, at some time or another, a major @#&* issue with a service provider that ate up hours of our time? Haven’t we all wished we had some weapon at our disposal with which we could expose the company for their egregious behavior and shame them till they were good and sorry? Well, Dave is counting on it and Gripevine, he believes, is the answer.
As the name would suggest, Gripevine.com is a place where average consumers can sound off on bad experiences they have had with a service provider. Have a look for yourself and browse some of the ‘gripes’ here. As this site gathers attention, companies are stepping up and getting active by responding to complainants. Indeed, some big names, including Coca Cola, Hewlett Packard, Sprint and Verizon have already come on board, as the client list attests.
Dave Carroll on Gripevine.com:
In a recent interview, founder Dave Carroll, gave some more color and detail to the Gripevine project:
Me: After getting satisfaction for your personal beef with United, what then motivated you to start Gripevine.com?
Dave Carroll: I received 10,000 emails from people in those first few weeks and many of then expressed support to me but added that they felt that they had no platform to be heard (they weren’t singers or songwriters and so felt powerless). From the start I wanted to do something to help other people who felt that way and when I met my partner Richard Hue, who had started the framework for Gripevine, I knew that together we could build it into something relevant and lasting. Richard and both both believe that simply complaining or bashing brands does little to resolve problems and so the fundamental difference between Gripevine and other sites is that we bring both sides together to solve problems and incentives to both sides. Consumers get access to decision makers, a public forum integrated with Facebook and Twitter to give gripes traction on social media, and the ability to rate and review companies. Companies benefit by being notified in real time about what consumers are saying about their brand, the ability to communicate with them offline, and the power to manage their own reputation. It’s a win-win.
Me: Can you speak a bit to the numbers around adoption of your platform from a consumer and business side?
Dave Carroll: We are still a fairly new business but we have around 7000 consumers signed up and well over 100 companies using our platform, many of which are Fortune 1000 companies like Coca Cola and Verizon. The next year will see us scale up our efforts to raise awareness and proactively engage companies to try our platform. The service will always be free for consumers so, as a business model, we will rely on advertising and companies engaging with Gripevine through our powerful enterprise dashboard. That dashboard is powered by our sister company Resolution1 and revenues for that feedback management system will come from subscriptions from business. We believe we’re all connected and our business model supports that.
Me: What one message do you want to deliver to those working in Corporate Communications and Public Relations today?
The research is supporting what we believe to be true; that businesses no longer control their brand exclusively. Today brands are co-created by the companies and their consumers so it follows that companies must engage with their customers on social media. Gone are the days of PR departments crafting one message for the masses. Today the smart businesses realize they are in a two way conversation and understand the need to know what customers are saying and what they want. All of that feedback, good or bad, needs to be gathered and processed in efficient ways by companies wishing to be relevant tomorrow and that is what we are offering with Resolution1, through not just the Gripevine portal but via sources of customer feedback.
As Dave says it so well himself, the future of customer relations is a two way street. But it has always been so, in principle, of course. The company gave you a product or service and, if you had a problem with it, you could, if you had dozens of hours to spare, make your way through a telephone labyrinth until you could register your beef with the appropriate person. What has changed is the balance of power. Now that the average consumer may have access to a network (via social media) that can do major damage to a service company’s reputation, they will be treated with more and more respect and have their issues addressed more rapidly. This is, for sure, a pain in the ass for the service company but good news for consumers. To end on a positive note, have a look at the list of ‘resolved’ gripes on Gripevine.