‘United Breaks Guitars’ dude starts Gripevine, will it work?


Remember Dave Carroll? The musician responsible for shaming United Air Lines with a simple but popular (approx. 11.5 million views to date) song “United Breaks Guitars” after getting no customer service from the airline after it destroyed his band’s instruments.

Since the success of that YouTube video Carroll has been invited to speak and headline many conferences about customer service, many of them by contact center technology vendors. For example, he was invited to the RightNow Customer Summit 2009:

He also showed up at Genesys GForce Melbourne:

Carroll is now a co-founder of Gripevine, a “customer service platform” startup hoping to better connect the customer with the company by automatically alerting the company about your online complaint.

Others will be able to comment on the gripe as well, and you can rate the customer service experience after a complaint’s been resolved.

Sounds like a pretty cool idea. However, the success of Gripevine seems to be in the hands of companies. Yes, although Gripevine gives the customer another channel to engage a company, it remains to be seen how likely a company will respond. Currently there doesn’t appear to be much activity on the site even when it’s received several high-profile media coverages (e.g. Mashable, Chicago Tribune) — the most commented gripe to date is one about H&R Block with just four comments. A search of the usual “complaint-prone” businesses such as major airlines, mobile carriers, and cable providers resulted in zero finds. I understand that the site is currently billed as a “beta” service, but still…

Of course, the success also depends on users — lots and lots of them. More users can definitely give Gripevine a greater voice which will garner the attention of companies. But it’s kind of a chicken and egg problem: why would companies spend the time and effort to respond to Gripevine complaints when hardly anyone uses it? Especially now when companies are already busy enough worrying about the existing social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) and review sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.)… Who can really blame them for feeling a bit overwhelmed and reluctant to jump on yet another channel of engagement? Plus, Gripevine For Business may cost the company money — yes, it makes perfect sense to dish out additional cash (on top of operating a contact center, paying for a social media monitor tool, and all the contact center infrastructure) to read more customer gripes, doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem with Gripevine… People will almost always prefer to contact a company directly, even if it’s going through an IVR, a web form, or on social networks if available. If no response is received, people will try again. Yes, as funny as that sounds, it is the behavior norm. But this time people will attempt to ask for a supervisor, manager, or for the bold, dig out the contact info for a VP or higher executive. Because when it comes to getting service, people will be proactive about it.

Besides, how do users know that Gripevine actually alerted “decision makers” in the company? From its “About” page:

…We’ll ensure that it gets to the right people – the decision makers at the company who have the power to set things right. Our automated response technology will notify the company and invite them to the site to review your gripe, giving you both a second opportunity to work towards a positive resolution.

If the company doesn’t respond right away, you can invite your social network friends and followers to provide support, which they can do by clicking the simple “support member” link on your public gripe. The more times your gripe is viewed and the more people you share it with, the more the company will be motivated to work with you to resolve your issue.

There’s no details on how a gripe may reach these “decision makers.” The FAQ offers no insight, either. So it’s an “automated response technology” but exactly what happens? Does the gripe get automatically printed on paper and a clerk mails it to the company address? Does the gripe generate an automatic email delivered to info@company.com? Does the gripe end up as a private message sent to the company’s Twitter account? Does the gripe generate an automated phone call to the CEO’s office? Does the gripe end up as a text message to the executive’s BlackBerry?

In other words, how can the user trust Gripevine to do its bidding as advertised? Do we really need another platform or engagement channel, if all it does is add another layer of potential runarounds with vague technology?

I’d rather see more focus and maturity in leveraging existing technologies and integrating existing channels. And I’m encouraged to see several companies already making or improving their products in this regard or making adjustments in their workforce to focus on the customer experience. I wish Carroll and Gripevine all the success in the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the site doesn’t reach the mass adoption it targets to be effective.

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