ad info




Asiaweek
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek technology

FEBRUARY 18, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 6

Gripe, Gripe, Gripe
Asia's silent consumers get a chance to vent
By MARIA CHENG




Robert Chua is sick of complaining. After enduring years of bad service from restaurants and businesses alike - and watching his entreaties for improvement go ignored - the Asian media entrepreneur will soon guarantee that his voice is finally heard, loud and clear. With the launch of a new website, ComplainAsia.com, Chua is promising that irate consumers across Asia will have a forum to ensure that they are given more than just the cold shoulder. "There are a lot of people out there who have a complaint, but think either that there is no avenue for that, or that saying anything won't do any good," Chua says. "Now they won't have that excuse anymore."

Set to launch in March as the first pan-Asia site dedicated to consumer affairs, ComplainAsia.com will serve as an independent forum for consumers to communicate - both negatively and positively - with businesses throughout the region. Free for users, ComplainAsia.com will feature consumer polls, topical discussion groups and, of course, a section for venting wrath, all segmented into 17 country-specific sites. Companies interested in accessing this repository of consumer feedback can pay a monthly membership fee of $32, which also entitles them to the appealing prospect of deleting complaints once they have been replied to online.

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Gripe, Gripe, Gripe
Asia's silent consumers get a chance to vent

Cellphone Headsets Go Truly Hands-Free
By mid-year Ericsson will debut a headset that uses radio waves to transmit signals wirelessly to and from a plug-in for your phone

  RELATED STORIES
New Medium, New Rules
China takes a hard line on Internet discourse

Cellphones That Know the Score
SK Telecom, one of Korea's largest mobile carriers, is joining up with Japan's NTT DoCoMo in an attempt to bring broadband Internet access to your cellphone

The Secret of Success
A hush-hush U.S. firm shows off its new chip

Thinking Smaller
Hong Kong and Japan converge in a Net investment bloc

Cutting Edge
Getting Snap Happy With Free Film Processing

Assif Online: In Debt?
Just make yourself a dotcom

Asiaweek Technology Home

Although the chance to gripe in public is the site's big draw, Chua is quick to add that generating bad publicity for businesses is not the sole purpose. "It's meant to open a channel of communication between consumers and companies," Chua says. "There's also room for compliments. It's a democratic forum, so if the complaints win out, that should tell you something."

The timing of the launch seems auspicious. Asia's emerging middle classes - never particularly activist on consumer issues - appear to be growing less tolerant of shoddy goods and services. For example, Hong Kong's Consumer Council estimates that in the last two years, the number of complaints in four key sectors (telecommunications, travel, finance and food) has more than doubled. In a society that traditionally frowns upon outright confrontation, the practice of lodging complaints and seeking redress for grievances is slowly gaining currency. "It's a very Asian way to just stay silent and be resigned to the situation," says Suberna Shringla, ComplainAsia.com's development consultant. "I do think, though, that people really do have something to say. If you provide a place to do that, then they will certainly start the lines of communication," he says.

Just ask AKKY-san, the nom de guerre for a very unsatisfied Japanese customer whose online showdown with the Toshiba Corp. last year led to a personal apology from a high-ranking executive. After purchasing defective VCRs, AKKY-san complained to the company, was insulted in return, and so took his case to the Web, creating a Japanese-language site that chronicled his tale of abuse at the hands of callous customer-relations representatives. The episode illuminated for millions of polite Japanese the power of the Internet as a consumer-friendly tool. Where tradition might have dictated that speaking out demeaned one's image, going online allows an impersonality that is both liberating and satisfying.

"By making complaining a little less personal, ComplainAsia.com will make it easier for people who might otherwise have had second thoughts about expressing themselves," says Shringla. The site is committed to decorum, however; no foul language will be allowed, and users will be required to register to cut down on anonymous flaming and crank complaints.

"The web is changing the culture of how businesses interact with their customers," Shringla says. Indeed, many company websites these days encourage customer contact. In the U.S., popular e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com and eBay afford shoppers a chance to browse customer feedback on products and sellers before buying. Just check out U.S.-based www.epinions.com, which has essentially the same goals as ComplainAsia.com and pitches itself as an unbiased consumer guide.

ComplainAsia's founders hope some of that "mad-as-hell-and-won't-take-it-anymore" attitude prevalent in the West will catch on. Consumers such as AKKY-san and Julius Moltgen lead the way. After Moltgen, a 37-year-old Internet strategist, celebrated his wedding banquet at a Hong Kong hotel last summer, 16 of his guests came down with food poisoning. When Moltgen requested compensation, the hotel's attorneys accused him of attempted extortion. "They knew they could completely get away with it," he says, "and they never even apologized." Moltgen has since started his own web site to combat corporate indifference, www.get tingeven.net. But his site so far has attracted no other Asia postings save his own. He is convinced most consumers continue to feel resigned to, rather than riled by, rough trade. "If people in Asia get treated badly by a business, they just think it's bad luck and forget about it," he says.

In the past, consumers may not have wanted to complain because it was culturally unacceptable, agrees Christina Wong, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong's Consumer Council. But she is equally convinced that attitudes are changing, at least in Hong Kong. "Consumer awareness is increasingly high, and people are more likely to complain these days, since they understand that this may solve the problem." Adds Shringla: "Asians have been putting up with substandard service for a long time now," he says. "ComplainAsia means they don't have to be quiet about it anymore." So long, silent majority.

Technology Home | Asiaweek Home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories and related stories
Asiaweek Newsmap: Get the week's leading news stories, by region, from Newsmap


   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.