Gripevine To Civilize Angry Twitter Mobs With Its Customer Complaint Platform

By Erin Griffith , written on April 6, 2012

From The News Desk

We've seen what social media can do to a company's reputation. One little slip-up, like a PayPal Ruins Christmas rant, or a Chapstick social media death spiral, can damage years of precious brand building. More importantly, it can kill a company's stock price.

Take United Breaks Guitars, a YouTube video that musician Dave Carroll made after United Airlines refused to reimburse him for breaking the neck of his checked guitar. It's up for debate, but some have argued that the video, which has been viewed more than 11 million times, caused the company's stock price to drop 10% to the tune of $180 million.

That's enough to get a CEO's attention. It's enough to get a VC's attention, too.

Carroll of broken guitar fame has joined forces with Richard Hue, head of Harbour Capital Management Group and developer Chris Caple, to form Gripevine, a customer complaint platform that helps companies manage customer service to better serve their customers.

They've raised $1 million in seed funding from angel investors and Hue's contacts to build it.

You've no doubt come across Twitter-stream complaints to airlines, hotels, or cable companies. And then there's Yelp, where anyone with an Internet connection, money for a meal, and an engorged sense of entitlement can damage a small business's reputation with one-star reviews.

The point is not to empower overly entitled customers -- they're more than likely already capable of causing a shitstorm on Twitter or Facebook just fine on their own. The point is to solve customer problems. You can't post a gripe to Gripevine without including a desired outcome. The company actively deletes gripes that are just pointless rants that "Company X sucks."

"Yelp is for people to bash a company. What we're doing is more like, 'I had a bad experience eating here and I want a credit,'" Carroll said. That's a good idea, considering Yelp has been sued by small business owners multiple times. (Accusations of extorting small business owners to remove negative reviews have been dropped.) Meanwhile, Gripevine is better for customer service complaints than Twitter, Carroll argued to me, because the entire situation can be spelled out in one message rather than a back and forth.

Knowing the way the Internet works, I think it'll be extremely challenging for Gripevine to keep its complaints reasonable and out of the "Company X sucks" weeds. But I think it's an admirable goal. Gripevine is spending a lot of time educating companies that they won't be victimized by the angry masses on the site, Carroll said.

Gripevine sends the complaints to the company in question, prompting the company to claim its page on the site and resolve the dispute. Notably, Gripevine doesn't promise anyone's complaints will be solved, it just tries to improve the process.

The company side is where Gripevine's business model kicks in. Since CEOs know they have to monitor the social media-chattering masses, they pour thousands of dollars into CRM systems like those from Radian6 to ensure they handle customer complaints properly -- before they turn into PR disasters. Gripevine competes with Radian6, but it provides more than just listening tools, Carroll said.

For the 100 companies that have claimed their profiles, Gripevine provides them a dashboard, which they can use to manage their CRM systems. It's fully integrated with Twitter and Facebook, allowing CRM workers to communicate with each other, prioritize gripes, and follow up, which is helpful in the event of a shift change.

For six months, the enterprise product has been free for customers. It'll charge a subscription fee after that. Since launching two months ago, companies like HP, Sprint, Verizon, and Walgreens are already on board. More than 3500 users have signed up and more than 800 complaints have been lodged.