How an Incident in a Train Toilet Led to a Consumer Advocacy Startup?

Our story began from a train toilet. It was a stormy day and I was on a train that was running full speed. When I was entering the toilet, heavy wind swung the train. The mirror cabinet door above the sink wasn’t properly locked and the door smashed open. I was lucky I managed to dodge the door before it smashed against the wall. I surely would’ve gotten a nasty wound on my head had it hit my head.

I decided to send feedback to the railway company. But I got frustrated. I wasn’t able to find the feedback form on the website with my phone. Had I found it, it would have been a painfully complex form with multiple fields. I also realized the most likely scenario would be that I receive a faceless, copy+paste response filled with corporate jargon and nothing would change. So I gave up.

A couple of weeks later my cousin showed me Lahti blog. The Lahti blog curates negative content of the city of Lahti. The blog became so popular that local authorities requested it to be taken down.

The following morning I was again traveling on a train when it hit me. What if the complaints were public? Publicity would amplify my voice and draw more attention to the issue in question. Publicity would help to spark a reaction from the company and force them to react. And if the company really listened to me and other customers, and would actually change something based on feedback, that change would benefit both the customers and the company.

Founding a startup

When I dug deeper, I realized more counter-intuitive benefits to companies. Resolving issues publicly actually converts into marketing. Customers are able to see who they can trust even in problematic situations. A friend in need is a friend indeed. I also realized transparency increases trust. Increased trust means more committed relationships between customers and companies. Again, both sides win.

Then I thought of ratings. What if the users only rate the companies after the issue has been resolved? This model would give companies a fair opportunity to respond to their customers’ concerns before the ratings are issued, unlike in Yelp or TripAdvisor. Another benefit of this model is that it gives the customers a great way of saying a public thank you to the companies who really cared and put in an effort to resolve their customer’s issue.

Having a public record of companies’ issue resolution ratings also allows consumers to compare brands to make more informed purchase decisions.

From an idea to a vision

Having an idea is one thing but defining a north star is another thing. So I needed to think what our final vision is. Our vision is to create a platform where consumers can publicly report and resolve any issue about any company.

The platform has to be consumer oriented. It needs to be extremely simple and easy.

How it works is that consumers file a public complaint on nonono.io. We will deliver every complaint to the company in question and ask them to respond. Usually we deliver the complaints past the frontline customer service to the appropriate people with more authority.

Finland as a test lab

I pitched my idea to an angel investor and managed to get him behind my idea. Happy days. We decided to use Finland as a test lab.

I have been happily surprised by the positive reaction of the brands in Finland. More than two thirds of the big brands have responded to their customers’ concerns on our service, including Ikea and Sony.

These brands have realized every purchase decision begins from a search engine. Consumers trust their peers’ opinions more than ads.

Customer oriented philosophy

The winning brands join the conversation in the channels where their customers are interacting. This also gives an opportunity to talk to customers in scale instead of individual discussions. This not only decreases customer service costs but also educates customers about how issue resolution processes work.

Legacy companies put their customers to work. They demand that customers contact them only via their own channels. They make their customers fill contact forms with an endless amount of fields.

Genuinely customer oriented brands understand that it is their job to do the work and customers should have the freedom to choose the channel that suits them best.

Companies’ point of view

Some people ask isn’t there an element of blackmailing here? Some might say so but I see it differently. I was brought up in a very open family and openness is one of my top values. Secondly, in every job I’ve had in my adulthood, I have asked for a meeting with my supervisor and begged for brutally honest, constructive feedback. In my opinion listening to feedback is the best way to improve. So, this is not just an business idea, it is an extension of my DNA.

We want to do this with integrity with regards to the companies reported on our service. We want to be 100% resolution focused. Our aim is not to ruin anyone’s reputation. Our aim is to highlight the brands who treat their customers well and earn the best issue resolution ratings.

If your customers are not happy, they will be vocal and use whatever outlet they want. The key understanding here is that it is not relevant where your customers are vocal, it’s why they are vocal.

Your customers either advocate you or complain about you. Based on a study by American Express, social media users tell 42 people about good experiences and 53 people about bad experiences. How about costs? Based on a study it can cost up 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. Combine these two results and you understand why it is important to treat your existing customers well.

I also believe that customers who have encountered positive experiences resolving issues with a brand are more committed than those who’ve had only smooth sailing. Imagine what would happen if companies used 20% of their marketing budget on complaint resolution?

Group complaints

We have also tested the idea of group complaints. The idea came from a user. Mikko, a guy from Finland, was pissed off about minced meat packages that promise to ”open easily — peel from the corner” when in reality this never works. He wrote a complaint to all the major meat food industry companies in Finland. Many peers quickly showed support for Mikko’s cause and the story was then picked up by the Finnish media. Mikko’s complaint received a written response from all the food companies mentioned in the group complaint.

In the US, class action lawsuit is an option but it requires a lot of effort with lawyers and bureaucracy.

The purpose of the group complaint is to give consumers an easy way to join forces behind a cause and draw attention from the companies. How it works is that anyone can file a complaint on our platform and tag it as a group complaint. Those who want to show their support can do it with a single click which is Facebook like button. That helps to spread the word. Fast, easy and effective.

For companies, group complaints provide valuable, crowdsourced feedback about how to improve customer satisfaction. And again, it is cost efficient when companies can respond to large audiences in one go.

Our plan in the US

We want to start small and help a specific group of people. Based on our research and interviews, it seems airlines have many customers who feel they didn’t get what they paid for. Customers also feel airlines make big profits but don’t listen to their customers. So we will start there. If you have suggestions on where we should go next, you can let us know here.

Story behind the name Nonono

Many people have asked what’s the story behind the name Nonono (no, no, no)? The answer is simple. I was trying to think what a native English speaker would say when he/she is complaining at an airline counter while waving his/her finger. That’s the moment when we need to be on top of mind.

I hope consumers resonate with the name when they think: ”No, no, no — I didn’t get what I paid for.

The brands should resonate if they think: ”No, no, no — we are not happy if our customers are not happy.”

We need help

Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” I believe that. However, it is not going to be an easy task to get the brands to listen to us. We need your support, we need to create a movement. If you like what we are trying to do, please share your thoughts and post a comment or drop me an email: jaakko@nonono.io. Thanks in advance.