Companies need to understand and manage the rising threat of online public complaining. There is ample incentive, because the best ways to respond, and to prevent complaints from recurring, apply not just to the Internet.
After finding his guitar badly damaged through United Air Lines’ baggage handling, and after enduring
nine months of fruitless attempts to secure restitution from the company, an exhausted customer retaliated by posting a YouTube video about his misadventure. A year later, the video has become viral and generated more than 9 million hits. This musician’s course of action is but one example of a bona fide
movement; and not only is online public complaining becoming more prevalent, this form of customer
response could also be very costly for companies. So what can companies do to deal with online complainers? Based on their eight years of research, the authors summarize their understanding of this phenomenon and provide actionable recommendations. They organize their conclusions into a two-bytwo
matrix. First, the matrix’s rows differentiate between (1) understanding complainers’ motives and
behaviors and (2) recommendations whereby offending companies may change those behaviors. Second,
the matrix’s columns distinguish between the before and after of the online complaints, as motives and
behaviors change over time. The authors’ recommendations highlight how companies can prevent, or at
least reduce, online complaining, and how companies should respond after an online complaint happens
anyway. In particular, they show that the best way to avoid the triggers of online complaining is to
develop fair processes and a triage system for initial non-online complaints. Also, they show that companies should respond to online complaints as quickly as possible–in any case, no later than four
weeks after the online complaint posting–and that the nature of the apology should depend on the
type of customer involved.