HOW TO: Fight Companies Online And Win

The Consumerist’s step-by-step guide to posting your complaint against a company online and getting results.

Those results can be money, an apology, a new device, or a hug, but you can tap into the power of the magical internet to get you some serious traction.

After blogging about customer complaints for nearly a year, and even ending up on TV a few times ourself, we’ve got what we think is a pretty good idea of what works.

STEP ONE: GET SCREWED

This is the easy part…


START A BLOG

For ease and speed, Blogger.com is pretty good. Give the blog a catchy title, like “Verizon Is Eating My Face.”

POST YOUR INITIAL COMPLAINT

Type the letters, one after another. Be sure to include Who, What, Where, When, and How. It’s fine to be all emo but at least get the facts in there before you start slicing your wrists all over the screen.

INCLUDE CONTACT INFORMATION

A valid email address should do. If you don’t feel like dealing with this blog for the rest of your life, set up a new email address like verizoniseatingmyface@gmail.com.

ENABLE COMMENTS

People will need to offer you advice and solace, as well as throw text-based poop in your direction. Leave these playground gates open. Respond to questions when appropriate.

STOCK SMOKING GUNS

Include pictures, audio, video, phone call recordings, scanned copies of letters, and conversation transcripts. YouTube is good for uploading video. You can even get away with uploading pure audio there too. The key idea here is to publicly publish evidence to bolster your case. The more and the more irrefutable it is, the better your chances are of getting that money or hug you want.

Some of the following involve using HTML code. Don’t worry if you don’t know much about it. These services offer code you can drag and drop into your blog. Their sites also include instructions on doing so, in case you get stuck. Everything is learned through trial and error, so if it doesn’t look right, tweak until it does!

INCLUDE CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE COMPANY

If people hear your cry and are sympathetic, they may take it upon themselves to call or write the company on your behalf. Boom! Instant protest campaign.

EMBED A SITEMETER

Insert sitemeter code into your site. This will keep track of the traffic your blog receives. Images from its graph also makes for an easy post, “Look, traffic is up 300%!”

INSERT GOOGLE ADS

Apply for and insert Google AdSense. Might as well make some money while you’re waiting for the company to pay up.

SET UP GOOGLE ALERTS

Set up some google alerts for your name, blog URL and blog name. This will help notify you if your story starts breaking bigger and will make you feel good.

SUBMIT TO CLEARING HOUSES

This is almost your most important step, second only to posting the complaint in the first place. If your tale makes it to these site’s front page, it can drive some serious traffic to your blog. Submit your story to them.

Digg (requires registration)
BoingBoing (submit via form)
The Consumerist (send email)
Fark (requires registration)
Metafilter (requires registration, donation and other hoops. Basically need to be an active member already).

ACTIVELY PURSUE AND POST

Enter into an active correspondence with the company and post the results. Write letters. Post them. Receive letters from the company. Post them. Make and record phone calls and post them. Make YouTubes about how things are going. Post them. Make a funny picture. Post it. The key here is to do something and then post about it. Keep the story moving.

IGNORE THE HATERS

Since most people on the internet can’t read, anywhere up to 60% of the feedback you receive will be negative. If you’re reading Digg comments, this can be up to 90%. Hopefully you’re in that special demographic that’s able to be offended by companies but not by faceless strangers. If your story gets posted to The Consumerist, 70% of the feedback will appear positive, but 50% of that is actually ankle-biters trying to downplay a complaint’s validity by honing in on tangential details. As with anything, it’s necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff.

BE PREPARED FOR THE PRESS

If your story does break from the internet and start hitting mainstream news outlets, be happy. Most of the time, the mass press will pressure a company to help you out. Accept the interview requests. Answer their questions. Media appearances can be a hassle, but hey, at the very least they will drive traffic to your site, cranking up the google ad dollars.

Remember, while being interviewed, be friendly and stick to the facts. Don’t be too suspicious and cagey, these journalists are going to be on your side. They may throw some oddball question at you at the end. Fret not, this is your cue to frame the discussion within a greater perspective, like morality and justice.

…AND THE REST IS UP TO YOU. GODSPEED.

— BEN POPKEN

REFERENCES:
InsignificantThoughts
VerizonMath
SnakesOnABlog
United Airlines takes advantage of helpless elderly couple, extorting nearly $3000

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Gunn says:

    Oh the wheat! It chafes!

  2. hattawayd says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, I’ve been having trouble getting Koss to actually honor their lifetime warranty on my headphones. I’ve started my complaint here: http://kosswarranty.blogspot.com/

  3. talkingplant says:

    There’s something you might want to point out about recording phone calls.

    It’s my understanding that you can’t record a phone conversation legally without having consent from the callee. That’s why all these companies have those “this call may be recorded for quality purposes” announcements that you have to listen to in order to get a real person.

    So if your going record at least mention to the person who answers that you, too are recording the call. And you might want to get that part on the tape.

  4. but 50% of that is actually ankle-biters trying to downplay a complaint’s validity by honing in on tangential details

    I have to agree with this statement wholeheartedly Ben. Dont forget that if there is an image of a cat that 10 percent of the posts will be ‘im in yur‘ comments.

  5. s5 says:

    You really nailed it with the “set up Google Ads” suggestion. All your time and money spent undoing the mistakes of giant corporations will never be repaid to you. Just flushed down the toilet forever. So, you might as well skim off the top of your sob story.

  6. infmom says:

    This might work if the company in question actually gives a crap about its reputation. There are quite a few that don’t.

    Check out Fry’s Electronics Experiences for multiple examples of what happens when the company’s attitude generally boils down to “eat my shorts.”

  7. Apopheniac says:

    Excellent approach. You have to decide if your issue is worth the time and effort and if it is, press on. I might suggest including the full names and locations of the people you speak with in your documentation. After you have their name and location you can inform them that the conversation is being recorded and will be posted on the internet.

  8. radiofree says:

    A question, though (and a reveal of my internet ignorance): If an unresolved complaint of mine is put out there for public comment/consumption, and I should be so lucky that it is Dugg thousands of times and traffic flow to my make-shift blog huge, do I not have to pay someone for the increased bandwidth such traffic would generate? This is in no way asked to dissuade anyone from doing this, but I do want to know.

    Anyone?

  9. Ben Popken says:

    Radiofree, not if you use a free blogging service like Blogger, as we suggest. If you’re hosting on a server you’re renting, yes, you will probably have to pay for the increased traffic.

  10. radiofree says:

    Thanks.

  11. codazoda says:

    Careful, this could be “defamation of character” or “libel”. Especially if you ad Google Ad Words and your “rant” is suddenly a business.

    As I understand it a consumer can complain all they want, even in public. But, if a business says anything that is NOT factual (you WILL do this in your rant), you might find yourself on the wrong end of a law suit. You might even win, but it will cost you thousands to defend yourself.

    So, “Are you sure?”

  12. Ben Popken says:

    Just because you add google AdSense doesn’t mean you’re a business subject to these same concerns you speak of.

  13. HWgeek says:

    Talkingplant – Actually recording conversations are subject to state laws. So in some states both parties need to be made aware of the recording of a conversation, and in others only one party needs to know. So if you know that you are recording the conversation you are all set!

  14. wildcat76 says:

    I would suggest that the first order of business is to exhaust all avenues of communication with the company representatives and also get your facts straight.

    There are 2 sides to a complaint. The problem I see is that the vindictive, unreasonable consumer can use the blog method to launch a smear campaign. There are honorable companies (believe it or not). The burden to the company is to then prove that the complaint was invalid. Having knowledge of some internet users’ unchecked verocity via posts on the internet, it is not unreasonable to believe that some people would use this method unethically or to garner their own 15 minutes of fame.

    Free speech is a privilege that should not be abused.

  15. pestie says:

    That mention of Fark should say: (registration required, wipe hands on pants)

  16. guroth says:

    If you call technical support and you get the message that says “this call may be recorded blah blah” then that means the tech on the other end knows it is a possibility that the company is recording the conversation.
    Does that in turn allow you to record the conversation? After all the tech on the other end knows the conversation is being recorded, just not by you.

  17. doubled says:

    I’d just interpret “this call may be recorded blah blah” as permission to record. Isn’t that precisely what they just said? This call may be recorded? Great, I’ll go ahead and do that then.

    Regarding the libel / lawsuit angle, if you were the lawyer for the company, what would you expect to happen when you send a cease and desist letter or whatever? Wouldn’t it be pretty obvious that it would be posted along with the rest, and you’d be creating (worsening?) a public relations nightmare?

  18. seren says:

    As HWgeek mentioned, recording phone calls is subject to state laws. You can find a comprehensive summary on the AAPS website: http://www.aapsonline.org/judicial/telephone.htm

  19. grouse says:

    MetaFilter is not for things of this nature. If you submit a story about something that happened to yourself to MetaFilter, you will be banned, and lose your $5 membership fee.

  20. MissPinkKate says:

    No way, post that shit to Metafilter! We need some fresh n00b blood.

    Seriously, what grouse said.

  21. jeblis says:
  22. countrickter says:

    i guess people are not really as intelligent as i thought. this passage is wonderful…and very funny.
    its amazing how serious people take what was written. i just wanted to ..ride the writers nuts a tad bit..and i am becoming chafed…i must leave now.

  23. tombassett says:

    I tried to follow this method with a free online storage company – they’d had serious issues for a year or so and lost a lot of people’s files, yet continued to charge premium users and deny there were any problems.

    So, when I heard they were starting a new startup called “Nirvanix”, I did a little “Citizen journalism” and wrote an article on the things they’d put their customers through, and posted it on Newsvine.com. I didn’t allow comments, however – I was afraid the company, MediaMax.com, would send over people to spam the comments section.

    Newsvine wrote me back and said the company complained and that I’d either better open up comments so the “injured parties” could reply, or they’d delete the article. I did so, but updated the article to include this information – that the company had basically bullied Newsvine into the right of reply. But it turned out for the best – a bunch of other people who’d had terrible experiences with the company registered for Newsvine and posted their complaints to the comments section. I wish I’d followed your advice about this to begin with!

    Unfortunately, the company complained again, and Newsvine promptly deleted my article.

    Lesson: Create your own account somewhere, either on Blogger.com or your own hosting space, somewhere that isn’t likely to shut you down and buckle to the pressure. Seriously, third party blogs and forums will cave at even one official looking email from anyone – you’re better to DIY.

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  25. Delphine Zhu says:

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