Houston’s GripeO Markets Online Customer Service Platform

5/6/14Follow @angelashah

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business might be receiving. In the most expensive package, GripeO will also provide services such as automated responses, multiple user accounts, and native submission forms where customers complain through a portal on a business’s site but GripeO manages the form and receives the complaints.

Essentially, Klanac says businesses will be able to outsource their customer service platform to GripeO. The startup, which is jointly based in Houston and Buffalo, NY, is composed of Klanac and five other co-founders. GripeO has raised $350,000 of a $530,000 seed round it hopes to close this month.

So far, GripeO has attracted about 1,000 users since it debuted in March. Klanac says he realizes that most people right now are used to turning to social media sites first. He hopes to use part of the new funding to boost marketing efforts. “We want them to think, ‘when you’re frustrated, go to GripeO,’ ” he says.

Klanac had previously helped to found startups such as Profilefly, a social networking aggregator, and Simple Apply, which makes enrollment software, with former co-workers in New York. He moved to Houston five years ago, just as social media was taking off.

It was that year when one of the most high-profile complaints via social media was posted, the “United Breaks Guitars” song on Youtube by Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician. The airline, he said, damaged his guitar but denied responsibility. The catchy country tune, which, as of today, has racked up nearly 14 million views, got the airline’s attention and United offered Carroll compensation.

But even Carroll realized that not all social media-enabled complaints would have a similar outcome. So, in 2012, he co-founded Gripevine, which also offers a web-based platform for managing customer complaints.

Klanac says the popularity of social media sites has, in some ways, made them into “echo chambers for negative feedback,” making it difficult for businesses to know how to respond. Also, people may simply not know how to properly compose the complaints in order for them to reach the businesses. For example, if a person does not use a company’s official Twitter name, the complaint won’t be seen, Klanac says.

Klanac became interested in a better customer service platform a couple of Christmases ago, when he and his wife received a set of expensive steak knives. “I was cutting pizza when the knife snaps in half horizontally,” he says. “I thought what kind of engineering or steel is this?”

His wife encouraged him to follow up with a complaint, starting a months-long odyssey of voice mail mazes and unreturned e-mails. “It was a terrible experience,” he says. “I thought there had to be a better way.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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