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PublikDemand Knows When Your Competitors' Customers Are Unhappy

Social Media Means Complaining at Internet Scale. Can Brands Cope?

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We've all had experiences -- at airport or restaurants, with our cable provider or mobile carrier -- where, as consumers, we feel like we're being treated unfairly. So we vent into the social ether -- on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe some friends like the post or retweet it, maybe we add a warning on Yelp or Foursquare, but that 's typically the end of it.

From left: Richard McClellan, Courtney Powell, A.T. Fouty, Jim England
From left: Richard McClellan, Courtney Powell, A.T. Fouty, Jim England

PublikDemand, a venture backed by 500 Startups, is aiming to change all that by empowering the dissatisfied customer while making a profit in the process. At a recent demo, CEO Courtney Powell called it a "social Better Business Bureau" designed to help marketers keep existing customers happy and take advantage of the times when their competitors stumble.

Essentially, the platform is designed to allow users to garner support from those who experience similar issues and rally friends and other consumers around their complaint. Once a gripe (not to be confused with, another social-complaint platform), gains enough traction, PublikDemand reaches out to the brand in question to try to resolve the situation. And here's where things get interesting -- if the company refuses to help, PublikDemand then reaches out to competitors to broker a deal that will appease the unhappy group of consumers and convert them.

Currently, the site is pre-populated with nine companies, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, PayPal, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, Time Warner Cable, and Wells Fargo, a list based on research into those with the most unresolved complaints, according to Ms. Powell. The site is seeing around 60 new complaints posted each day and they are beginning a slow rollout to expand the list to more than 2000 companies.

If you notice a theme here, you're not the only one. Mobile carriers, financial institutions, and cable providers -- "they all have broad customer bases," notes Ms. Powell, and "built into their model is an accepted level of churn, so they're just OK with losing unhappy customers. I think that 's a shame and it's torturous for the customers."

The biggest success thus far may be the case against AT&T's unlimited data throttling, for which they've already lined up a major telecom competitor that will be offering a deal to the unhappy consumers to switch.

But conversion is only one form of success for Publikdemand, the other is better customer service. "There was in issue this past week in which a lady had a problem with Bank of America and she couldn't get the rep to fix it. She posted on the site and we picked her story to feature in our newsletter. She got tons of support and then two days later, the bank called her and resolved the problem."

PublikDemand makes it a point to try to fix the situation with the user's current service provider, before going to competitors.

One interesting note, according to Ms. Powell, is that the companies that have reached out to them are primarily the ones that already have great customer service and are looking to build on it.

At the moment, Ms. Powell and her team at PublikDemand are more focused on consumer side of things, raising awareness for the service as a place to find other people with same issue. This means mining Twitter for complaints, looking for people who are talking to representatives like @comcastcares and reaching out to see if their needs are being met -- and offering assistance if they aren't.

Courtney told me they are looking to create a pilot program with larger brands to solve their consumers' problems, which could roll out in about eight weeks. "I tell the brands, 'our end users are your end users and we should both be focused on keeping them happy.'"

PublikDemand is an early-stage startup that recently closed its seed round with soon-to-be-announced investors.

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