Though it may feel good to vent, complaining can frequently be futile. The Arizona State University Rage Study found that the number of Americans who think that complaining is worthwhile fell to 50 percent, from 61 percent, since 2011.
But consumers aren't helpless. Shoppers have new tools to express themselves. Internet forums can turn one person's headache into a corporate migraine. Many companies actively monitor the sites to intercept problems before they go viral and do greater damage, so you're likely to get a quick response Bad news travels fast. According to the ASU study, each dissatisfied complainant spreads the word to an average of about 18 people.
"Twitter has become the go-to brand for customer support," said Marsha Collier, author of "The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide" (Wiley, 2011). "I had a question about OnStar, tweeted it out, and got the answer within the hour. Some brands will respond within seconds."
Many companies use social-media monitoring software to scan Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and blogs constantly for brand references. Some even have customer-service agents dedicated to those sites, says Jeff Brady, a public-relations expert who works with Working Solutions, a Dallas company that trains service representatives.
Some businesses are giving consumers a wider range of ways to reach them. L.L.Bean, for example, posts its toll-free phone number on all of its Web pages (a convenience few companies offer) and allows e-mail queries and live chat with agents. You can even leave a message for an agent who will call you back.
User communities are another way to catch a company's eye. Verizon Wireless, for example, encourages customers to post questions and comments and air grievances about its products and services. Verizon representatives frequently join the discussions.
Dedicated websites like Yelp, which let customers rate businesses and sound off about experiences (and invite companies to respond), are another option. Here are more ways to solve a problem.