This is the part of winter I dread most – dirty, melting snow atop muddy, dinted grass.  It’s truly gray and dreary, and ugly.  Everything looks as if it needs to be dusted, swept, hosed down, bleached.  It weighs heavily on the soul and dents the spirit.  The solution?  Snow, and I hear we may have some on the way.  Even a light dusting would make things appear cleaner, softer, and kinder, but as always, I digress.

Consumer referral sites are everywhere, from Angie’s List, to Home Advisor (previously Service Magic), to Yelp, etc.  They are powerful and carry a significant amount of weight.  It has become second nature for consumers to vet companies or products via these sites, and most on-line retailers offer customer reviews on the products they sell.  They can be immensely helpful in the decision-making process, or at least, they make you feel that way.

I think we can all agree that when reading reviews and vetting a company or product, we tend to take an average – tossing out the best and worst and looking for patterns.  In other words, we take people’s words with a grain of salt, or at least, for the most part, we should.  The entire idea of making an educated decision on a product or service makes perfect and total sense.  It’s an excellent tool on the surface, but some consumers yield this tool as a weapon.  Most sites, including the BBB (Better Business Bureau), allow contractors the ability to refute a negative review, but it can be time-consuming, and the negative review can cause untold and undue damage to a company’s reputation in the meantime.  Consumers know this and count on this.  The power, essentially, is in their hands, and with the advent of social media outlets, reviews can spread like wildfire.  This is dangerous.  Many companies are now reporting that consumers are using the power of referrals and reviews as a blackmailing tool, threatening the company if they do not meet their unscrupulous demands, like a discount, additional services not agreed to, or erasing a past due bill.  Yes, the contractor does have some recourse, but in the meantime, the negative press can be irreversible.  The scales have tipped drastically, and somewhat unjustly.  We’ve even experienced a negative review from an individual we never contracted with.  In fact, the individual lived out-of-state.  We were of course able to refute the review and have it taken down, but by the time we stated our case and provided the necessary paperwork, the individual’s words hung out on the web like a prepared noose.  I don’t believe this was the initial intent of these sites, and they seldom ever discuss the other side.  Angie’s List, for example, sells consumer’s information to willing contractors.  It seems they are playing both sides, and treading a dangerous line.  Contractors too have the ability to post false, negative reviews against competitors by setting up bogus profiles and email addresses.  Further still, by the same means, contractors can inflate their own ratings by posting their own, glowing reviews.  It’s become a risky game, and both the consumer and contractor may be set up for a fall.

As a consumer, it’s always wise to do your homework, and I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise.  I am merely suggesting that you consider people’s words carefully and cautiously.  To me, the best, most trustworthy referrals come from friends, families, and neighbors.  Besides, they’re free.  As always, we welcome your feedback and value your referrals.

“Your most unhappy customers are you greatest source of learning.”

-Bill Gates

Best wishes,

Kim Sweeney