It begins defiantly. “This will be the proverbial first shot fired in the American debtor’s revolt," says Ann Minch in a wildly popular online video on YouTube posted three weeks ago. The four-and-a-half-minute-long video, that has now clocked over 300,000 views, has Minch talking about how Bank of America suddenly jacked up the annualized interest rate on one of her credit cards to 30%. This, she says, despite her good credit ratings.

Enraged, and frustrated by attempts to approach Bank of America for clarifications, Minch decided to take her grouse to YouTube. Her video quickly became a rallying call for similarly minded Americans who all left comments or videos themselves.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

Minch’s video has let loose several threads of debate on many websites. While many people have voiced support and sympathy, others have taken the opportunity to talk about the inherent perils in America’s credit culture.

But the larger message, for companies in particular, is how the Internet, and tools such as YouTube and Twitter, are making it increasingly difficult to manage irate customers.

Closer home a prominent Indian blogger was recently the toast of the Web when he twittered about how an online travel website got his airline ticket bookings wrong. The website immediately responded to the tweet in what ended up being a public relations coup for the company.

All it takes for an Ann Minch to get her grouse out to millions is a few moments with her computer, perhaps with a webcam. For companies, by contrast, such a video or blog post can be the equivalent of someone standing outside every single branch office shooing away customers.

How do companies respond? After all, complaints and irate customers are unavoidable.

The answers may lie in these very online tools. Service providers need to look at how they can engage with customers through these content platforms. And not just reactively, but proactively too.

Take computer maker Dell, for instance. Dell has a committed presence on Twitter that has helped the company to not only talk to customers, but also make sales. In June, Dell announced that it had made over $2 million in sales through its Twitter channel alone.

Companies must brace for the worst, though. Whatever be their efforts online, they must remember that some things never change.

Like everywhere else, bad news travels much faster on the Internet than the good stuff. Ask Bank of America.

How can companies use the Web to manage customers? Tell us at