Reclamos crowdsources consumer complaints to create and publish consumer satisfaction rates for Chilean companies and government agencies.
Posted by Claudio Ruiz on Feb 08, 2011
Reclamos.cl is a collaborative website that uses crowdsourced consumer complaints to create and publish consumer satisfaction rates for Chilean companies and government agencies. In practice, Reclamos (the Spanish word for “claim”) is a web platform that intelligently groups the negative opinions of users of certain services in order to achieve greater transparency in the consumer market and to exercise a kind of distributed control over commercial conditions and business practices in Chile.
Reclamos.cl receives complaints from users and keeps a database of each complaint’s origin, the identity of the user, and the type of claim. Random human oversight by a team of volunteers aims to prevent the publication of false claims and content not pertaining to the objectives of the website. The system is based on free software that tags companies with regular consumer problems.
While Reclamos.cl is configured as a collective system of claims, over time it has evolved into an important tool for consumer awareness in Chile. The project’s aggregate indices show trends with respect to consumers’ rights for both private companies and state enterprises, and these trends are often taken into account by companies who hope to improve their pro-consumer practices. In addition, Reclamos.cl has informal links with traditional media to support the distribution of the aggregated results. The platform has become an important point of reference for the implementation of consumer rights by government agencies that deal with these matters, such as the National Consumer Service.
My name is Rafael Bravo, and I am the founder of Reclamos. The initial goal was only to record. Then you start to find out about the difficulty of access to information and the lack of space for filing complaints. In addition, it allows you to find out about others experiences.
The platform is based on free software that allows the public to respond to a problem immediately and without a mediator. An important attribute is that it’s very simple, focused on people who do not always use the Internet. The system categorizes the experiences from one institution or field. That makes it a kind of collective discourse on a very special dynamic.
The first objective was to register cases of personal complaints with corporations, taking into account how difficult it is to access to certain commercial information, and to create a place to quickly publish these complaints. Later, we saw a need for greater participation on the part of both consumers and companies. For two years we’ve been building “products” to fill to this need. One objective is to build partnerships and to be a link between consumers and companies.
It was an important achievement in terms of volume and impact. We talk to the market in a fairly fluid way. Corporations are reluctant to join the conversation, but people are very involved, including consumers, initiatives, and legal action blogs in cases that have come to court. Consumers have become more organized, the press has participated, and there has been a lot of outreach by companies, but it has been difficult to reach compliance.
I think consumers now have more control in Chile, but indirectly. Companies have created products based on what they find out about their customers or competitors. I’ve had very impressive experiences of people and companies that address a claim that suddenly produces a relevant change. There may be no initial intention to change, but companies are constantly looking for better mechanisms to respond, an ability to be very responsive.
I think here in Chile there is an ideological issue, where the idea of a claim has a negative connotation. Business managers are very interested in listening, but the middle management creates more difficulties. Also it has been difficult to move from confrontation to opportunity because the change has been too quick for the public institutions. The private sector is more aware of this, but has not been much more supportive. The first difficulty is this: negative perceptions and a lack of openness. In the beginning, companies shunned the process. Now as more claims are registered, they’re more interested in fixing things.
We have not had a close relationship with SERNAC (Governmental National Consumer Service). It’s difficult to connect with them without any formal alliance, despite their proximity and good disposition.
We talked with people in Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador, supporting more technical than legal issues. In Ecuador we got the feeling that it was more of a future-term relationship. Similar sites like Get Satisfaction and others in the United States exist, but they are not connected to us.
Not really. When we started there was no expectation that what has happened with Reclamos would happen. In terms of consumption, there is lack of space for expression, and people wanted to express themselves. There was no advertising; just a natural phenomenon of people’s trust.
We have a close relationship with some traditional media that use our cases and in some way have helped to legitimize us, but everything has been completely informal.
Can you give a little more detail about how the system works, from entering the claim until it is processed?
In short, the focus is on an automated system. Usually, people find us via Google. We provide a form that they complete with personal data, permission to contact them, and the claim itself. Then there are algorithms that classify the content. If other people leave comments, the claim gets more prominence. Anyone can write to the author of a claim. The relationship with the press is more back-office, delivering data about people who have given us permission to contact them. The idea is that it is an extremely simple, horizontal, and transparent process involving only one or two steps.
Reclamos is primarily an online tool. What is the relationship with the traditional consumer complaint system?
Our users are generally older people affected by a purchase or service, not young people or people directly related in a day-by-day basis with technology. On the other hand, the help of the press has been valuable in several ways. The press helps publicize some cases, so there is great impact. Digital tools accelerate the process of change, but in the real world it takes longer. It costs to grow.