Canadian Contractor

Alec Caldwell   

Negative online reviews: fair or unfair, you can’t ignore them

Business Professional risk Service

Online contractor referral companies will generally NOT remove negative online reviews, even if they may be unfair. So what can you do if your reputation has been trashed?

Back on March 27 I looked at how online referral companies can be a great way for renovation contractors to get new business. However, I went on to mention that obtaining business through this method can still cause headaches for contractors!

Since that article we’ve received a lot of feedback. One contractor told me that many of the comments posted against him by homeowners were/are unfair, unfounded and untrue. This is obviously every contractor’s worst nightmare. If the magic “10” rating becomes the coveted badge of quality, if your business relies heavily on your online reputation (and this is true for most businesses these days), you can still see that number plummet with even one bad review. A bad review that could even be unfounded. Reviews like this can quickly reduce the flow of business to that contractor from anywhere between 30 to 50 per cent or more. This is a huge problem!

And what about those unscrupulous homeowners who want to hold back money from contractors by threatening to trash them online?

Have you received a bad online review lately? It’s tough, because usually even if you complain to the website’s president or CEO most online referral sites will let those pleas fall on deaf ears. And, on the one hand, I can understand why that happens. If online referral companies start manipulating the reviews by removing unwanted posts (unless, perhaps, in the case of clear libel or defamation) where does it all end? The organization would risk losing its credibility. Every Tom, Dick and Harry contractor would be on the phone, crying foul.

On the other hand, I believe there should be safeguards in place when it comes to online contractor referral sites . Yes, homeowners need to be protected and know that the site has credibility.  But contractors and home service companies pay these online referral sites a lot of money, and legitimate, professional, well-organized contracting firms should be receiving value for this investment, but they certainly won’t if they get unfairly slammed online. It’s not really acceptable if they have absolutely no recourse or protection if an unscrupulous homeowner just wants to hold them to ransom, or avoid paying them, by posting maliciously online.

I believe it’s time that online referral firms should get involved when complaints arrive from contractors and home service providers. I believe that online referral companies need some sort of independent body or department to look into these complaints. They should be unbiased and should work with both parties to help resolve the problems.

We at CARAHS investigate complaints from homeowners about our members. We try to bring both parties together, give guidance and see if we can find common ground between the contractor and the homeowner, hopefully arriving at a settlement to suit everyone. We have found some homeowners to be unreasonable and in those cases we have sided with our members. We have also found, historically, member contractors who have not followed our code of ethics, contractors who have failed to uphold the standard they agreed to abide by. Recently, we suspended a member for this very reason, removing their company from our CARAHS website membership list. We lost that member revenue, of course, but as a non-profit organization we upheld our integrity. Maybe it’s time all online contractor referral companies followed suit and upheld fairness for everyone.  

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11 Comments » for Negative online reviews: fair or unfair, you can’t ignore them
  1. James Ponsford says:

    My colleagues and I are currently developing an online referral site. This has been a problem I have been thinking about for sometime – if anybody has any idea’s they believe are fair and unbiased, I would love to hear from them.

  2. Brian says:

    Hey Alec,
    Is that some kind of off-hand criticism of our site? You definitely perform a different role in the market than we do. We’re not an intermediary, but a social media site where people share their experiences. We know that it’s a valuable tool for homeowners who love what we do, and we know many companies who do a good job really like what we do. (and even many that know that having the criticism keeps them to higher standard)
    A quite surprising post.
    Brian Sharwood
    President, Homestars.

    • Rob Koci says:

      Hey Brian:
      Unlike your site, Alec didn’t name you, so I can only believe that you wanted to be named. In that case, I commend you. At least you play by the rules you force on contractors who end up on your site. Even those never asked to be on your site.

      You and I had a recent email conversation about how your site operates and I don’t think I made a secret of my reservations about some of your policies. This is an important debate that is worth having in the contractor community.

  3. Hi Brian,
    I appreciate your feed back and my article was not intended to name or criticize any one particular online referral company. In fact I know many contractors who survive 100% on the business they obtain through HomeStars and I applaud that and encourage many towards online service companies, as they help to grow businesses.

    Yet by doing business in this way it also comes at a cost and my articles are about drawing attention to the negative side of contractors using online companies to obtain business. Once negative reviews are posted against them, like the spoken word, they cannot be taken back and while homeowners might see online referral sites as a valuable tool, along with many contractors using them, unfortunately the system does not catch unreasonable homeowners making unjust posting or more importantly, are held accountable on the comments they make.

    I believe its about everyone sharing responsibility and being accountable, no matter what part of the online relationship they play. While you say “We’re not an intermediary, but a social media site where people share their experiences” I believe the facts are that it’s homeowners who mainly share their experiences, good and bad and its contractors or home service companies that have to take it on the chin or whatever else is thrown at them.

    While criticism can be positive if handled correctly, it can also be destructive to some contractors if what’s said against them is untrue. On my article at the Canadian Contractor on March 27, 2013 called “Deadbeat homeowners who refuse to pay ” I said “It seems that some homeowners hiring contractors from online web sites have an end game plan hidden up their sleeve called: I’m not paying you!” This is another danger I pointed out facing contractors.

    Alec Caldwell
    CARAHS Founder – CARAHS is a not for profit association

  4. I think that’s a good point. But I think it’s worth it to remember that this kind of thing is not unique to contractors. Restaurants face many truths and untruths about them on Yelp and other restaurant review sites. Twitter, facebook, Google Plus are venues for people to share their experiences on about every brand in the world. Companies with big brands such as Rogers, McDonalds, Apple etc all face similar problems with people writing on social media sites. Much of what is written about them may be completely untrue, but they have to learn how to manage it – either by reaching out to the customer and correcting the situation (which has happened to me a number of times) or just managing the message so they can be seen as listening, responsive and aware.

  5. Comment posted by Patrick Balfour at Canadian Home Improvement Industry-Retailers & Supplier LinkedIn

    “One thing the referral companies can do to help is to not let a bad posting go up but redirect it to the contractor first and give him 48 hours to send a rebuttal, than post both. This will allow the said contractor time to speak with their client and try to work things out. If the contractor does not respond in that time. than go ahead and post.

    Better, the referral companies can do is redirected all postings first for 48 hours, allowing a contractor to respond good or bad, their choice. I for one would love the opportunity of responding directly to the client and thank them”

    Read full article at Canadian Home Improvement Industry-Retailers & Supplier LinkedIn

  6. How about Patrick’s idea of a 48 hour complaint posting delay, so both parties can hopefully sort things out? Anyone got thought on this?

  7. Alec,
    It’s certainly not something we would do. We already have a delay to do a fraud check on reviews. How would you feel if Facebook decided to have a 48 hold on what you posted there, just to make sure everyone was happy with what you posted? I’m not sure that would make me happy.

    • Rob Koci says:

      I tried to go on your site to answer the criticism of a contractor I know well. When I tried to comment, I was asked for my email address and name. Fair enough. But when I was done, the only option I had to continue was to “JOIN HOMESTARS.” Can I comment on your site without “joining” you? What if I don’t want to “join” you but I do want to counter a comment?

  8. Hi Brian,
    You might change your mind if someone went out of their way to post items online to try and damaged your reputation. Maybe its only then you might like the 48 hour idea!

    Lets now look at the recent online damage school kids caused with another classmate and what happened to this unfortunate young woman. Its time this online cavalier approach was reeled in and controlled more.

    For Facebook delaying anyone’s posts that Facebook deems inflammatory, is ok by me, especially when I know they are diligently working behind the scenes and being a great corporate and responsible citizen.

    • Alec,
      I you search the internet you’ll find literally hundreds of untrue allegations about our company – some inflammatory, some pretty tame. I respond to what I think is worth responding to. Sometimes our community responds and straightens people out. I would never expect the many, many sites that host these type of things to deal with that unless it was something personally libelous. (and personally libelous comments are filtered by our comment team)

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