Author: Michael Tkaczevski
GripeO, a tech company the started in Buffalo in February 2014, is preparing to launch its new “complaint marketplace” feature and target a wider national and international audience.
GripeO is an app that streamlines the customer complaint process by focusing customer complaints and getting faster responses. Unlike Yelp, which publishes complaints publically, GripeO keeps the conversation private between the customer and the company in question.
Jim Proulx, the Creative Director said keeping the conversation private prevents people from “airing dirty laundry,” and instead makes the purpose of GripeO finding a quick solution. Proulx said there’s a tense balance between showing that customers are having complaints about a company and potentially damaging a new business’s reputation too aggressively.
One of the new features that will make GripeO stand out is its complaint marketplace feature. If a company ignores or fails to respond to a complaint, that complaint will be auctioned off to other businesses. The business that purchases the complaint can provide the customer with a solution to their complaint and possibly attract more business with that and other customers. In this way, Proulx said smaller companies could compete with larger ones by offering superior customer service.
It all started when Michael Klanac, Jr., who would later become the CEO, bought a box of defective knives and wanted to complain. After months of demanding compensation from the company, Klanac had nothing to show for it — except a new idea. Klanac saw an untapped market for streamlining customer complaint systems.
At the time, Klanac was working at Liquid Matrix, a Buffalo tech startup purchased by Datatel (now Ellucian). He brought along six co-workers as partners and founded GripeO. Read about their early days and investment partners here.
The app is not limited to a Buffalo audience. Timbuk2, a San Francisco-based messenger bag company, made the first response to a complaint filed via GripeO on day one of GripeO’s launch, Proulx said. Most of the marketing was centralized in Buffalo for the first few months in order to test the waters and keep bandwidth issues manageable, he said.
To earn revenue, GripeO sells subscriptions to a toolkit of features that provide meta-data for GripeO. The toolkit provides subscribers with data analysis of complaint trends; updates on what customers are saying about the company’s products and services on social media; automated responses to use on GripeO; and a chat system that organizes the complaints and responses between customers and companies. The toolkit offers more features based on how much the subscriber pays, ranging from free, to $19, to $99, to $199.
GripeO also makes money by creating customized customer complaint systems that integrate with the client company’s website. Once it launches, the complaint marketplace will be GripeO’s third source of revenue. GripeO will extract a service fee when an unresolved complaint is taken from the auction.
The feedback that Buffalo customers have given GripeO has been rewarding and overwhelming, said Proulx. GripeO has also gained traction with national companies, such as Dell, ConAgra Foods, and with large companies in Buffalo, such as Tops Friendly Markets and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
GripeO already has more than 1,000 likes on Facebook and more than 4,000 followers on Twitter. Proulx said GripeO will expand its advertising to reach a wider national and international market using social media, and he said he expects to hear more stories of companies saving the day for customers by using GripeO once the complaint marketplace goes online.