You want to be a HomeStars contractor? All it takes to start is to sign up. And once you decide to go for the premium package and you can post video and pictures of your work, there is help to make sure your website and your HomeStars listing are doing what you want them to do.
I attended one of their regular workshops recently where a small group of contractors came together to get some one-on-one and small-group instruction on how to manage their HomeStars profiles.
The one challenge—that homeowners can post honest appraisals of your work—is something president Brian Sharwood says makes his job of selling you on using HomeStars a bit harder, but it also gives the site tremendous credibility with homeowners that use the site. And it’s not that hard to neutralize that kind of review, says HomeStars instructor Shannon Wong. “Reply to all of them,” she says. “If you get an eight from a homeowner, respond to them and ask how you can make that review a ten. What consumers want is a dialogue and they generally will improve their reviews of you if you will engage them.”
You can also write reviews on behalf of your customer. They still have to approve what you have written, but it gives you more control over what is being said about you and what you will score in the one-to-ten rating that every post has. It also gives you the chance to fend off potentially bad reviews. If you discover when you ask your customer that she is unhappy, you can deal with that before she posts a bad review unbidden.
HomeStars takes a lot of pride in the fact that they are diligent to make sure all reviews, good and bad, are honest. There is some cheating. “It happened that we had to place a banner on one of our contractor’s website saying, ‘This contractor has a habit of posting questionable reviews’,” says Wong. During the session I attended, one contractor said he was ranked top in his category until another contractor came along with incredibly strong reviews that looked suspicious. Without being asked, HomeStars investigated the situation and confirmed that the reviews were being generated falsely and restored him to his top ranking.
The most fun of the evening I attended was the back and forth among the contractors about the crazy bad reviews they have received. “When you get lemons, you need to make lemonade,” says one. “Too many tens is suspicious,” says another. “Customers actually don’t want to see them.” The key thing was, whenever any got a bad referral, they responded. One contractor claimed he made $7,000 when he responded to a bad review positively.
But here’s the irony of all things electronic: The conversation of the evening proved to me that all online information and services need a face-to-face component. The strongest participants in any online service, HomeStars included, are those who fight traffic, find lousy parking and sit around a table to gab about their lives with someone who understands exactly what they are talking about. After all the electronics, all the laptops, all the posting, we want to talk to human beings. Owner Sharwood says when things were tough at HomeStars and revenue was down, it was a box of beer and the willingness to invite contractors to come and talk face-to-face with them that saved the company and made them better.