There’s little question customer satisfaction and loyalty are inextricably intertwined. In our value-conscious, post-recession world, maintaining good relationships with existing customers is a business imperative for companies which hope to hold a measure of protection against price-driven competitive strategies.

We consumers may have high expectations, but we readily reward companies which hit the mark. Conversely, we often revile those which miss it.  And why not?  We’re talking about our hard-earned money here.

Get Your Groubal On

There’s a relatively new way for customers to get their injured voices heard loud and clear.  Groubal, a free “complaint as a petition” platform, acts as a repository for customer grievances against any company, large or small.  Groubal may also facilitate dialogue between the customer and the company against which the petition is lodged.  It’s a sort-of cousin to the local review site Yelp and the social support site Get Satisfaction.customer satisfaction

How Groubal Works:

  • A complainant lodges a petition on Groubal, then shares it via social media to solicit his/her network support.
  • Groubal vets the petition; verified petitions become live and indexable via search engines.
  • After petition signatures begin stacking up, Groubal notifies the company a petition has been lodged.  Seeks answers to petitioner’s allegations.
  • Reps from companies which wish to respond to petitions are verified (must hold a position with compensatory capacity).  No CSRs, only persons in authority roles can respond.
  • Representatives may respond in the comment stream with official statements and/or offers of restitution.
  • The petition remains open/idexable in order to maintain a historical accounting of events.
  • The Groubal can be re-activated if others add themselves to the petition later down the line (think chronic incidences).

The average citizen is disadvantaged in many ways by big business,” said Groubal CEO Robert Donner during our recent interview.  “They can’t cut through the red tape and the apathy.  Groubal helps level the playing field.”  Since its launch in June of last year, Groubal has received over 1,500 petitions.  Of those, 552 are live.

Looking For Satisfaction In All The Wrong Places

In the past, aggrieved customers may have looked for recourse through the Better Business Bureau or made an attempt to claw up the chain of command alone.  These inherently slow-moving avenues keep customers feeling isolated and even ineffectual, without much influence over outcomes.  It’s David against Goliath, and often times the big guy wins, further adding insult to our injury.

Social media and platforms like Groubal change things.  Customers can project their voices online and be heard across the four corners of the universe through Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, blogs and other outposts.  We’ve all experienced/committed Random Acts of Rant within our streams.  Cathartic as it may feel, those outbursts are a little like shouting into the wind.  Few people – maybe not even the right people – hear them.

There’s a chance that Groubal may help redirect the wind to get customer voices unified and flowing in the right direction.  While the success of any single petition relies in part upon the groundswell of support it receives through signatures and comments (more voices = more pressure), larger implications emerge when you consider how Groubal centralizes customer sentiment and brings visibility to the issues.

What Groubal Means For Business

If Groubal gains enough attention to become a widespread vehicle for lodging complaints, businesses with frequent manufacturing issues, apathetic staff or unfriendly operational policies (to name a few issues) may find themselves in deep image doo-doo. GroubalRemember, the petition stays searchable on the Groubal site and indexable by the search engines regardless of how the business responds.  Offer up a pathetic reply like this social media manager from Lenovo and your business may feel it for some time to come.

Instead of the random online rant creating limited brand exposure to target audiences (in the big scheme), a Groubal petition has the potential to gain real traction as people stand up to say “That happened to me, too!  I just didn’t know what to do about it.”

What Groubal Gets When You Suffer

Groubal is a for-profit enterprise comprised of the petition site and a CSI site.  Their model doesn’t involve PPC or site sponsorships. Instead, they plan to license sentiment intelligence gathered through their customer satisfaction index and broker group buying alliances between customers and businesses. They’re working to make Groubal a single repository (destination site) for lodging complaints and facilitating resolutions in an effort to narrow the consumer search process.   Looking for a new camera, laptop, satellite provider or more? Don’t scour pages of SERPs.  Hit up Groubal to learn what real customers are saying about Brand X.  In version 3.0 (due out in February), Donner says the software will populate petitions with data culled from Facebook updates, Twitter, blogs, and the ‘net at large.  Groubal is aiming for a 360 degree view of businesses and claims its CSI can derive sentiment from a tweet/status update/etc. within 90% of accuracy.

If Donner and his team are successful, consumers will go to Groubal to complain and research companies.  Businesses will go to Groubal to avert crisis and generate civility. It’s possible Groubal could own the virtual meeting ground.

Ways Groubal Can Improve

The petition platform hasn’t been out of beta very long.  It’s gotten some coverage in Mashable and TechCrunch, but user numbers still aren’t large.  Browsing the site in search of petitions to review, I think they’d benefit from improvements like these:

  • A “search by category” or “search by brand name” function would improve usability.
  • The signature section of petitions could use a date/time stamp.
  • Separate private signatures (no comments, only a thumbs up) from public signatures which provide comments.  Maybe just quantify the private ones somewhere else on the page to ease the flow of the comments.
  • Petition titles lack a unified naming method.  Appears to pull first few words from the body of a petition, or something equally confusing.  Needs information design improvements to aid readability and filter out subjective (non-additive) text.
  • The company could do a better job at communicating what it hopes to accomplish for each petitioner.
  • Some use of design thinking:  petition–>signators–>response–>resolution.

In my opinion, both the CSI site and the petition site use less-than-neutral language.  The copy doesn’t encourage dispassionate, fact-based recitation of grievances.  The impartiality plus the “socialized” nature of an online petition may make the grievance easy for some businesses to dismiss as having little merit. That determination may be hasty and at the businesses’ own peril, but Groubal and its petitioners would be better served if more depth of purpose and desired outcomes were clearer.

Can A Social Complaint Platform Solve Anything?

Have you heard of Groubal?  Do you think it will do a good job of connecting businesses with customers who have legitimate complaints but are frustrated by using the often ineffective, traditional channels to solve issues?  Can it help facilitate resolutions faster, easier and to a greater degree of satisfaction (the public eye sometimes has that effect)?  Could being seen giving customer voices real attention potentially lead to higher levels of loyalty?

Or is Groubal muddying the waters – adding little value to an imperfect process yet attempting to gain financially?

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Erik Y

    Disclaimer: I work on Lenovo's Social Media team and was participatory to the issue stated in the article. As such my opinions here are of my personal volition and are not an indication of company policy.

    Curious, though, as to what qualifications and standards you assume a company's response to be “pathetic”. I would challenge that no response is a far worse condition than at attempt to reach out to customer issues. Furthermore, we certainly discovered a point of failure in Groubal's model (and I do hope someone there can attend to such issues in the future) that being the inability or architecturally confusing function to continuously update petition issues (from a brand perspective) in the official response over time. A soft response of “we were actively looking into the issue” seemingly got mis-interpreted as an inability to act while we reached out directly to the affected customers; as we could not update the Groubal petition directly after first response.

    You are correct in that such CSR-originating content does become evergreen in the new landscape of the social web. Of course, so does the civility of discourse in opinions of how business and individuals manage customer issues. As a brand management partner I should hope you recognize that and defer opinions such as “pathetic response” until you've gathered all of the facts.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Hi, Erik. It's good of you to add more to the story. It's important to realize that the focus of this blog post is a review of the Groubal tool and the implications tools of this type may have in the marketplace of increasingly socialized business. What do consumers expect for their purchasing dollar? Can Groubal help businesses bridge gaps in service and experience? I have my opinions – and share some here – but readers can and should explore the topic and decide for themselves.

      I understand you may not care for my characterization of Lenovo's public reply to the Groubal petition. That's fair, you have an entirely different view than me. But don't mistake this as a rant. I wrote this piece wearing both my marketing communications hat on my head and my consumer purse strapped around my shoulder. In context with the entire post -one thread of which is the rampant feeling among consumers that we have little true effectual recourse with many companies – I found the recurring theme and sentiment (see Billy Woods's comment) significant. Consumers were, in effect, invited to purchase a product at a set price. Many accepted the offer and committed their funds. When their orders were involuntarily cancelled, they took issue with the thin explanation of stock shortages due to overwhelming interest. Whether or not Lenovo could add to the comment thread following the on response (and I invite you to tell us more about that, I'd want to know if that's a flaw in their system), it stands to reason that if the company reached out to affected parties and offered a reasonable solution that some of those people would add more comments to the thread, alerting others about how Lenovo worked to make things right. I see suggestions to buy model x or y as an alternative, but that must leave a bitter taste in a buyers mouth when it doesn't also come with a discount code to cover the inconvenience. Also, the language “…apologize to those wanting to buy a computer but ran into problems.” shifts ownership of the core issue away from Lenovo. The company had ready, interested publics who were significantly affected as far as anyone can ascertain from the Groubal petition. The soft, sanitized corporate response held little water with those people.

      As far as a tools review of Groubal, I'm sure your company can add items to the “Ways Groubal can improve” list I started above. I sincerely hope the company is receptive to feedback and continual improvement as a means to better serve both companies like Lenovo and the consumers who may use Groubal as a resource. Thanks.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    Take care of the people who buy from you once..then they will most likely buy from you again.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      For all the money invested in acquiring (for some smart co's, it's “attracting”) new customers, I'm continually surprised by the opportunities they miss for retaining those customers. New thinking on conversion suggests that post-sale is prime time to solidify relationships and lay a foundation for positive word of mouth and (eventually) advocacy: https://www.mckinseyquarterly….

  • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

    Heather, this is very interesting. I just happen to have a complaint about a large retail chain that I got solved for myself but I know this is an ongoing problem with this chain and people are getting taken in every day. So, I added a petition and I look forward to seeing what happens with it. It will be an interesting experiment. This looks like a unique method of customers banding together to get heard on widespread issues and it looks simple for companies to state their side of the story. Thanks for introducing us to Groubal. It's in the early stages and I'll be interested to see how it develops.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Like you, I've experienced similar service issues. While personally I feel good about persisting my way to satisfactory recourse, many people just don't. They get tangled up in the multiple toll-free numbers or robot responses to emails. I even once had a credit card company sign me up for a premium service without my consent, as part of their policy due to a relationship with a vendor of theirs, and the only way I could cancel was with a written letter including a social security number. What?! I think Groubal hopes to bridge the gap between companies (admittedly with internal periscopes turned on) and their customers (external periscopes). But from what I saw (and noted), Groubal needs to kick up their usability and interface. Lack of standard information design leaves too much to subjectivity of users. This affects what could be a more impactful aggregate.

  • http://twitter.com/lauracoggins Laura Coggins

    Heather, thanks for the excellent overview of this new site. I'm interested to see what types of complaints are lodged here and how useful it is for people who are simply looking for peer reviews. I hope it doesn't become a sounding board for angry customers making unfair claims. I also wonder how long it might take for organizations to start planting complaints about their competitors. Perhaps that's a pessimistic view, but I recently had a conversation about the illegitimate use of these sites, so my mind automatically jumped there.

    Thanks for the introduction to Groubal!

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Laura, I think you have a very legitimate concern, sadly enough. Whether a Groubal petition, product review on a retail site or a rating on Amazon, there will be people serving their own personal interests with no regard to fair practice. Where Groubal may be different, given the information provided to me by their CEO, is that the team reviews any petition before its made live and indexable on the web site. You can lodge your petition and share a link via social media tools to rally the support of those within your network (some of whom may have experienced a similar incident), but the petition isn't live until Groubal checks into the claim and determines it legit. Now I assume that they're limited by the documentation the complaintant can provide along with whatever info may be living out in random corners of the interwebs. This may be the first step in keeping claims aboveboard. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Patricia

    You know what I'm finding especially atrocious about social media? It's the way people seem so desperate to get followers that they will risk almost anything. Cool Gear sent an email to me earlier this afternoon. Before today, I'd never heard of them. They sent the email to TWELVE PAGES of addressees. Now how did I just end up on that list of supposed customers? A slip up? Doubt it. I was so mad that I not only faxed and FedEx'd a letter to them, I also shared the link with my Twitter and Facebook followers. If that's how they expect to gain loyalty and followings, they're so sadly mistaken.

    Stay social but don't exploit in order to do so. Here's the proof of the failure. I do appreciate your comments. The link to the actual PDF'd email is within. http://www.nixonvs.com/blog/in… I didn't shorten the link with bit.ly so as not to frighten anyone about where it leads.

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