IT'S a human habit that has been officially in practice for at least 3,750 years, but we are now more empowered than ever before to do it thanks to a Brisbane start-up.

Inscriptions on an ancient Mesopotamian stone housed in the British Museum reveal that customer complaints have been hounding businesses for nearly four millennia - and the rate of complaint doesn't seem to be declining with figures showing that we are whinging more due to a growing disconnect between brand and customer.

As brands scale up, sometimes unconsciously through the internet, their relationship with their customer often weakens. Greater reach through social media also means brands are more exposed for customers to attack. 

In response, civil engineer turned flight attendant and now start-up founder, Jo Ucukalo, has taken matters into her own hands.

Ucukalo is the creator of first-of-their-kind complaint handling start-ups Handle My Complaint and Two Hoots, which are based at Brisbane co-working community River City Labs.

"Nothing like this exists globally," says Ucukalo.

"It's important because when organisations stuff up nowadays, it has the potential to go viral immediately and damage them significantly compared to 10 to 15 years ago.

"Gone are the days when the guy with a fly in his soup couldn't deliver proof; we are saying it's okay to have a complaint and the organisation must respond - they can't get around it by deleting your comment or locking down their social media account."

Ucukalo draws on statistics that 81 per cent of people aged between 25 and 34 in the Australian Consumer Survey 2011 reported they recently had a complaint. This was higher than any other age group, despite this demographic being least inclined to lodge their complaint.

"Not to say they are our sole focus, rather we give them their ideal service through a streamlined tech platform," she says. 

Ucukalo also says the independence of her start-ups, to which organisations are by definition unknowingly outsourcing their complaints, means people have more confidence in her.

"Being outside the organisation also means people have confidence in us - customers and organisations have lost their way with communication over time, so customers have lost faith in them," she says. 

"In two minutes, you can report your problem with an organisation in any industry or submit on behalf of someone else through Two Hoots and the organisation will come back to you in whatever way you nominate.

"It's great for organisations because they get to look at what their customers are complaining about in mass - and obviously it's great for the customer because it saves time and stress."

Two Hoots complements Handle My Complaint, which Ucukalo launched first to handle more intricate complaints. 

"Handle My Complaint is a little different as you outsource the problem completely to us," says Ucukalo.

"If you have a $1000 phone bill and don't know whether you can pay it, and also don't know how to go about it, we review and resolve the problem for you for a small fee.

"Because we are independent, we actually ask the customer if the complaint is resolved so we can close the case, as we know all too well that feeling in IT where it seems they want to close the ticket before the complaint is actually finished."

Ucukalo says she unintentionally steered herself towards this career path.

Her process-driven engineer brain has proved formative to her current profession, while working as a flight attendant meant dealing with all types of people to deliver her "biggest personal growth".

"It was never a business I intended launching, my family and friends just noticed I was skilled at handling complaints," says Ucukalo.

"I would take on complaints for others and I would be escalated to senior operations managers, not because I was argumentative, but because I would always approach the problem logically through an engineer mindset.

"I could talk at their level and pinpoint whether contracts, marketing information or staff communication were wrong due to keeping good records."

Ucukalo says her vision is to empower organisations and consumers, subsequently turning them into prosumers, while maintaining a quality service. 

"What costs the consumer time also costs the organisation time," she says.

"We want to handle stress for others so they can focus on more important parts of their lives.

"Obviously, being a complaint handling business, we pride ourselves on getting positive feedback and are determined to make things better for everyone."

How are we handling our complaints?

  • 73 per cent of Australians have had at least one complaint in the past two years. Of those, 74 per cent took some form of action to try and resolve the problem.
  • It costs Australian consumers $14.2 billion a year to deal with consumer problems.
  • It costs Australian businesses $6.6 billion a year to deal with problems where they have a legal obligation to provide a remedy for the consumer. This figure does not account for the costs incurred by businesses to replace or repair products.
  • A quarter of consumer problems raised with businesses remain unresolved.
  • Number of customers that report having to contact their provider on multiple occasions to resolve their issues is increasing. In 2011, 33 per cent of people reported multiple contacts and in 2013 the number had increased to 41 per cent of people.
  • The Energy and Water Ombudsman Queensland (EWOQ) reported in 2011 that communication with them through communication and email was at an all-time high.
All statistics unless otherwise stated attributed to the Australian Consumer Survey 2011.
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