Companies named and shamed

2008-10-31 00:00

Disgruntled consumers are naming and shaming large companies on the Internet after direct complaints about poor service were either dealt with badly or even completely ignored.

In October, hundreds of dissatisfied consumers flocked to

www.saasucks.com, a website created by an infuriated flyer who received no help from the national carrier.

For four years, www.hellkom.co.za has haunted Telkom, which was forced to halt a R5 million defamation suit in 2005. But there are no signs of a stop to unrelenting criticism of its products, services and tariffs.

www.my4x4, the site that chronicles a disastrous clash between the owner of an Isuzu bakkie (labelled the worst4x4xfar) and Delta Motor Corporation, which resulted in criminal action in 2002, remains popular.

According to Richard Wright, the sales and operations manager for online complaints management and consumer affairs portal getclosure!, and Peter Cheales, author and originator of www.hellopeter.com, more and more consumers are abandoning infuriating and ineffectual customer call centres.

For years, marketers have acknowledged the destructive power of word of mouth — every dissatisfied customer tells an average of 11 others about their experience — but the power of the Internet could multiply this way beyond any businessman’s worst nightmares.

Already, those who google Telkom end up with hellcom as the second or third option. Google Woolworths and up pops hellopeter and all customer complaints about the retail giant over the past five days.

“Suppliers must realise that we are moving rapidly into the social media era and that they cannot control how their customers complain. They need to go where their customers are talking about them and engage with them,” said Wright.

But online complaints don’t mean the customer is always right. For example, someone complained to getclosure! after using a heavy-duty oven cleaner on his car, which stripped the paint, but Internet users could judge both the complaint and the company’s response and make up their own minds.

Wright said that over the past month there has been a 30% increase in the number of people using getclosure!. Eighty percent of them had already complained directly to the supplier and were either dissatisfied with the response or received no response at all.

The site receives an average of 1 000 complaints a month, a number that is expected to grow considerably.

According to Wright and Cheales, the number of complaints usually corresponds to the sectors with the most customers.

Financial services, cellphone service providers, retailers and the motor industry score the highest, while the financial services sector also comes up trumps for customer service.

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