Angie’s list: Friend or foe

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angies list

Consultant Jon Goldman’s organization submitted the following content. I hesitated for a bit before deciding to publish it, in part because of my wariness of third-party self-serving content submissions (for which I receive requests/proposals virtually every day, as various businesses try to exploit this site’s solid search engine rankings.)

However, in the end, I decided to publish it because the topic is undoubtedly relevant to the readership here. While I’m happy to provide Jon with source credit, the links are all “nofollow,” as is my general policy when I sense someone is trying to borrow the “SEO juice” here. An important exception to the rule, however, will be entries and reviews to the Construction Marketing Ideas Best Construction Blog competition, for which nominations have opened.  If the blog is genuine — and not primarily designed for gaming the search engines — the “nofollow” tags won’t be applied in the upcoming free reviews.

By Jon Goldman, CEO, Brand Launcher

When it comes to Angie’s List, opinions – and emotions – run high. Business owners have strong feelings about the popular website that allows customers to post reviews, grades, and feedback on service providers like construction companies.

From electricians to roofers, it’s all out there in the open for your customers (and prospective customers) to see. Is that a good thing… or not such a good thing?

Positive reviews can be a tremendous boost for you and your company. But negative reviews could do serious damage to your sales.

So, should you turn to Angie’s List? Yelp? Is it worth paying the money to join these and other sites?

The Influence of One Voice

A while back, the most powerful person on Broadway was not even on Broadway. He wasn’t a producer, director, nor a performer. Instead, Frank Rich was a critic for the famous New York Times. And his show reviews were awaited with fear and awe by everyone involved in a new show. His reviews could single-handedly catapult a show to success — or shut a show down, putting hundreds of people out of work. He even earned the nickname “Butcher of Broadway.”

Frank Rich
Frank Rich has left the New York Times and writes for The New Yorker now

That was the power of a single critic. And there are still influencers today who possess that kind of mega-sway. But for most businesses in the building industry, those players aren’t the ones you need to be concerned with.

The influence of “Many Voices”

Today, the power of influence has been handed over to the masses. Thanks to Angie’s List, Yelp, and other crowd-sourcing websites, grades and feedback are dished out by scores of actual customers who are ready to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly about their experiences with service providers.

Let’s look at how businesses fare based on the reviews.

Businesses that have garnered high grades benefit from what essentially amount to unbiased testimonials. One window contractor (let’s call him “Frank”) says that Angie’s List has been a great marketing tool for him. Having people describe their experience, including the job price, and giving an “A” or a “B,” has served him well. For Frank and others with positive reviews, Angie’s List, or Yelp, can be a real friend.   

On the other side, low grades can be harmful to the reputation of a business. In fact, several business owners have sued over bad reviews.  One concrete company in Chicago sued a customer for $10,000 claiming that her “F” on Angie’s List damaged their reputation. Another contractor filed a $750,000 lawsuit against a Virginia customer over her 1-star review. For these businesses and others with negative reviews, Angie’s List, or Yelp, can be a foe.

What to do with a bad review

While lawsuits may be a heavy-handed way to respond to critics, the bottom line is that business owners are petrified of getting slammed by bad reviews. Companies with scads of negative reviews all over the web should indeed be concerned. They’re doing something wrong — and the review sites are making their undoing come faster. But most builders and contractors with solid work, good crews, and a reliable track record can rest assured that a few bad reviews shouldn’t topple the house. 

In fact, it can sometimes be a valuable lesson to discover what needs to be fixed. Frank says: “Knowing that people are grading you keeps you at the top of your game.” He tries to take a proactive approach to negative reviews, speaking with customers about their concerns and trying to maintain good relationships all along. And isn’t that something all of us should be doing?

 Tips and tactics: What you need to know

  • Don’t ignore bad reviews. Respond directly to the customer who wrote the review to show that you care about satisfying your customers. 
  • Do ignore reviews that are inflammatory or are trying to bait you. You will only lose if you get into an online fight. Flag obviously unacceptable posts.
  • Do considergiving customers who wrote negative reviews a small incentive to try you again. If someone was upset, it’s in your best interest to try to appease them.
  • Don’t give a large incentive or others may be encouraged to take advantage of your offer… “write a nasty review, get a free gift card”. This is about good customer service, not encouraging complaints.
  • Do encourage your happy customers (and almost all of your customers are happy, right?) to leave positive reviews. Be tactful. You don’t want to force or bribe anyone.
  • Don’t try to “fake the system,” with false good reviews. It’s unethical and the review sites are programmed to prevent this, so it’s unlikely to work in any case.
  • Do reviewthe feedback on these sitesreviews regularly and take them to heart. No, not every whiner needs to be addressed. But if you see a pattern coming out, then you need to address what’s happening within your company. Is there a quality issue? Are you missing deadlines? Is jobsite cleanliness sliding? Keeping your “ear to the ground” is a wise business move. Instead of being defensive, use the opportunity to learn and to see opportunities for growth and positive change.

So, Angie’s List, friend or foe?

At the end of the day, any site that lists builders and showcases customer reviews can be a benefit if your construction business is one you can be proud of. But you need to review the grades and feedback you’re getting, take steps to respond, and recognize that you can’t control what gets said on these sites.

It takes time to build and maintain a good reputation, and that’s all the more so when everyone’s is a critic. Customer review sites can be the friend of your construction business – but you’ve got to be prepared. You can do it.

Jon Goldman is the CEO of Brand Launcher, a strategic business firm helping small-to-midsized companies boost sales, improve their systems, and enhance their bottom line. Get a free copy of Jon’s e-book, The Secret of the Watermelon, at www.watermelonsecret.com.  

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