As the English poet John Milton once said, "When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for."
For Krista Vessell, having her complaint freely heard and considered by people who can resolve her problem has proven to be a difficult and frustrating process. Vessell tried to purchase a toy during a special "Cyber Monday" online promotion at the Toys "R" Us website and says when the site responded slowly and she was unable to make a payment, she called her local brick-and-mortar store. When they refused to honor the online sale price ($16.99) and instead insisted on charging her full price ($19), she tried to lodge a complaint.
Since then, her complaints have grown to include ToysRUs' response to her complaints and what she calls misleading coupons, stocking deficiencies and its policy of offering items for sale both on and outside of eBay, which she says violates eBay's seller policy.
Turning to Social Media
After complaining to the company, to eBay (which allows ToysRUs to sell in its marketplace), filing reports with the FTC and New York Attorney General's office, and contacting various media outlets, she got no resolution. That's when she turned to social media, creating a Facebook page called Boycott Toys "R" Us to solicit comments from other disgruntled customers. The page has 318 Likes and comments from others who have their own issues with the toy retailer.
I asked ToysRUs what they thought of Vessell's complaint and about the trend in which consumers complain on
social networking sites. Jennifer Albano, Director of Corporate Communications for Toys"R"Us Inc., responded with the following statement:
"We value all customer feedback, good and bad, and regularly review comments from social media and other consumer touch points in order to improve our service and processes. Regarding Ms. Vessell's specific complaint you reference below, the item she was attempting to purchase was discounted as part of our Cyber Monday sale on Toysrus.com. As such, this was a special online-only price, which was not available in our stores. Also, at that time of the year, we have a policy based on individual product demand, not to hold items at the store for customers (except where Buy Online, Pickup In-Store is involved)."
Wacktrap.com: Online Complaint Desk
As a way of gathering multiple complaints, Vessell suggests social media. "Tell friends about the experience, post on groups like "stay at home mom" pages, anywhere that gets a lot of traffic."
Two former ecommerce sellers based in California have created a website that, they hope, will fit Vessell's description: A place where consumers with issues can share their complaints - it might be called a social complaining site - called Wacktrap. Wacktrap's founders Shannon Miller and Suzanne Ziesche see the site as a sort of online complaint desk, one where those who have a gripe can talk to one another and hopefully share advice so they can get their problem resolved.
I first met Ziesche and Miller when I interviewed them for a book when they were selling high-end bedding on eBay. "Then, foreseeing a shift about 4-5 years ago, we entered the realm of tech where we've been since building/coding a very different social network," explains Ziesche.
"We believe the social experience is the most crucial connector in resolving customer problems with companies," she adds. "We believe it's the only thing that will work."
Wacktrap's founders say no one has tied social networking to consumer complaints on such a large scale before. By voicing their complaints (otherwise known as "Wacks") online, customers avoid long phone hold times and frustrations like different or conflicting responses from the same company's representatives. It also removes a burden from the companies themselves, Ziesche adds.
"Companies often don't respond to customers online, or don't respond in a way that actually addresses the problem referenced," she says. "Whether the lack of response is because companies are directly ignoring customers, don't know how to utilize social media, don't have representatives tasked with or able to do so, or a multitude of reasons, the end result is the same: Customers don't get responses to complaints or problems." By going online, consumers can often provide answers to one another, which takes some pressure off of businesses.
Some sites purport to forward complaints to "decision makers" but don't make it clear that only businesses that pay the site will end up addressing complaints, she says. In contrast, Wacktrap is totally free. "We believe the only route in success is pairing customers with customers, the people whom know the products and brands best - truly, often, more than many employees," says Ziesche.
Mass complaints are more effective than those from individual voices, adds Krista Vessell. "I absolutely advise everyone with a consumer complaint to file with the FTC, because that's the only way to show that your one complaint isn't an isolated incident."
"The FTC collects complaints and looks for a pattern," Vessell says. "With enough complaints showing a pattern of an unethical business practice, they will investigate." She advises those with their own consumer complaints to approach the FTC, the Better Business Bureau, as well as sites like ConsumerAffairs.com, CustomerServiceScoreBoard.com, Complaints.com, RipOffReport.com.