Reading Between the Lines on Customer Review Sites

Customer Review Sites

Photo: mint.com

Unhappy with the job your contractor did? Peeved at your local hardware store’s churlish service? Annoyed with the runaround you got from a real estate agent? Just use an online review site to gain a small measure of revenge and to satisfy yourself by warning others. Right?

Wrong! Businesses are biting back—even to the point of suing—when they judge a customer’s complaints to be unwarranted. And without missing a beat, some online review sites have added a ‘reputation management’ feature enabling businesses to veto undesirable customer reviews.

If you’re browsing customer review sites for info on contractors and other home improvement professionals, here’s how to read between the lines:

• Read the oldest comments first. Are negative comments immediately followed by an onslaught of glowing recommendations? It’s possible the business owner has tried to bury the negative comment by asking friends to post a flurry of positive feedback.

• Determine how a business owner has addressed complaints in the past. Did he or she apologize, correct the issue, or post an explanation? Savvy business owners see reviews as a conversation, not a contest.

• If you regularly rely on a particular review site, take the time to understand the business model and examine how the site markets to businesses. If you find that the site caters to businesses behind the scenes while positioning itself as a consumer advocate, you’ll be able to sharpen your dung detector.

Want to be sure that your review survives to be read by others? Be accurate and specific. Detail the amount of a cost overrun, for example, or cite the number of messages you had to leave in order to get that contractor’s attention. The more concrete your examples the less likely you are to slide into slanderous territory—and the more likely it is that others will take your comments seriously.

For more on managing construction, consider:

Working with an Architect
How To: Hire a General Contractor
2 Professionals Who Can Save You Thousands