Customer Service Goes Social With Groubal

by Heather Rast |

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 the Author

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.