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Customer Service Victim Turned Entrepreneur

Remember the guy who created the "United breaks guitars" YouTube video? Now he's turned his experience into a start-up.
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It took a broken guitar, a disgruntled customer, and a viral YouTube video to create the perfect entrepreneurial storm now responsible for Gripevine.com—a new site that lets consumers air complaints against companies, and the companies in question make amends.

Unlike other CRM solutions that force businesses to react in public spaces to accusations from unhappy consumers, Gripevine lets businesses have a dialogue with customers privately.

And for people with a problem, the platform offers space to explain how they were wronged, the ability to upload photos to visualize their chagrin, and post to Facebook just to make sure everybody else feels their pain too.

The backstory

Gripevine, which has already logged more than 800 gripes since launching in February, is the brainchild of Dave Carroll, the musician who found his expensive guitar ruined after United Airlines handled it in 2009. After unsuccessfully negotiating with a myriad of United Airlines employees for months about reparations, Carroll decided to take his grievance to YouTube, where he uploaded the first of three videos that intoned his experience.

"My goal was to get a million views with all three videos combined. On YouTube at the time a lot of really poorly made videos had way more than a million hits so I thought if I could control the video and make something that looked good and sounded good and made people want to tell their friends about it that I would be able to at least get a million," he says.

He did, and then some. His "United Breaks Guitars" video is approaching 12 million views and has garnered more than 29,000 comments from viewers, proving that social media plays an undisputed and integral role in public relations and brand management.

"In the first few weeks of the video going viral I received over 10,000 emails from people who were [supportive] but a lot of times they were saying 'This is what happened to me and if only I could sing a song or I wish I had talent in some area.' So it occurred to me that there were a lot of people besides me who had been through a customer service maze and felt like they were disempowered," Carroll says.

But is it a business?

Knowing that he had an opportunity to do something with so many people watching his video, he soon launched a website called Right Side of Right as a place where consumers could air their frustrations and companies could respond.

"It was well intentioned but I didn't have the right team together or the financing and all the things that you need to make that work. So it never really did anything. But my passion for that was still there," he says.

Then about a year ago venture capitalist Richard Hue reached out to Carroll and together with programmer Chris Caple the three formed Gripevine.

Today companies big and small are signing up at Gripevine and it's no wonder—for the next four months using the Gripevine platform is free. After that Carroll says the company will roll out paid plans that start at $100 a month.

The right way to handle gripes

Regardless of which side of the cash register you're on, the site is worth checking out for several reasons.

First, it's interesting to see what kinds of issues are ticking people off. For any business serious about customer service Gripevine can serve as a good primer on what not to do.

In addition, the site is well-built and slick to use. The search technology that locates businesses with customer complaints works in a snap. And to streamline the resolution process Gripevine asks complainers to clearly elucidate how an offending company can make amends whether it takes an apology, compensation, improvement, policy change, refund, replacement, or repair.

And just like the YouTube videos that served as the site's genesis, Gripevine has a refreshingly courteous ethos and even gives people tips on etiquette.

"We're not there to create a platform where people bash a brand," Carroll says.  "It can be a place where people can politely let companies know that they've got a problem with a product or service."

Last updated: Apr 24, 2012

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS

Christina DesMarais is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. On Google+, add her to one of your circles. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.




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