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You Have a Voice - Online

Millions of consumers are taking advantage of "word of mouse" to voice their opinions on experiences with products, companies and government agencies.

America Online Adviser Regina Lewis tells The Saturday Early Show why the Internet is a great way to reach a company or government agency.

"On the most basic level, it gives people a voice. It's also a logical alternative to ranting to yourself or trying in vain to reach someone by phone and getting an answering machine," says Lewis. "Also, there are some indications, that much like applying for a job online, getting in touch with big companies and organizations online can be much more effective. … If, for instance, you have a valid complaint that requires a response and/or may affect other consumers, it can be routed around at the company or organization much more quickly than copies of a written letter or a phone call."

According to Lewis, there are effective ways of voicing your comments online:

  • Find the company Web site.

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    Many major companies will have an online area for people to voice their concerns. Sometimes the area is a little buried because they don't necessarily want to prompt negative responses. A good place to find a list of companies and organizations with direct links to the company sites is Government Guide: Complaint Center Main, AOL Keyword: Consumer Complaints or by doing a search on a major search engine like Google Search: Consumer Complaints.
  • Use a site that will help walk you through the process.

    WWW.PLANETFEEDBACK.COM allows consumers to write a letter of complaint, offer praise, or make a suggestion to a company. The site then forwards the letter to a customer service representative from one of the 23,000 companies covered in their database. Their letter writing templates provide useful advice on issuing an effective complaint, compliment, suggestion or question.

    Planetfeedback generates market research reports from customer feedback, then sells the reports to companies. The site generates about 10,000 letters per week - 55 percent of the letters complain, 25-30 percent compliment, and 15-20 percentoffer constructive criticism.

  • Take action.

    An familiar name with a new twist. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is now online. BBBOnLine, Inc. - Promoting Trust and Confidence on the Internet. The BBB works to facilitate communication between the company and the consumer, to help both sides come to a satisfactory resolution to the complaint. When you file a complaint with the site, if it falls under the complaint criteria, it will be assigned to a special mediator who works out a resolution with the company in question. After sending the complaint to the appropriate BBB office, it then gets sent to the company at issue.

    The bureau will contact you to see if the issue has been resolved. The bureau says the goal is to resolve the dispute within 40 working days. The organization estimates it resolves about 65 percent of the disputes submitted to it. That rate jumps to about 87 percent for its member companies.

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