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The Freedom of speech free for all

Feb. 8, 2013
It all started with, “Hello, I’m calling from Angie’s List. Would you be the person responsible for your business listing information? Are you Dave Yates?”

It all started with, “Hello, I’m calling from Angie’s List. Would you be the person responsible for your business listing information? Are you Dave Yates?”

“Yes, what do you need?”

And so began the review of details Angie’s List has on file for our company. He peppered me with the normal spate of questions regarding insurances, licensing, address and years in business.

He asked an odd one, “What hospital are you affiliated with?”

“Hospital?” None other than the ones our health insurance company recognizes.

He then asked, “Do all of your customers come to your location for your services?

“Seriously?” Thinking he was being a bit loopy I added, “I doubt you’ll see our customers bringing their problems to our office!”

He asked, “So, you still make house calls?”

“Heck yes, it’s a basic necessity in our line of work.”

“I wanted to let you know you have a very good review on Angie’s List from one of your customers,” said the caller.

“Great! Who from?”

“Mrs. (real name witheld) wrote a review and had this to say, ‘My husband’s emergency maxillofacial surgery went very well...’ ”

“Whoa, hold on a second! We do plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and solar —not dental surgery.”

There was as a moment of stunned silence. (Imagine that!)

The caller asked, “You’re not a doctor?”

“No.”

“We have you listed as a dental practice that specializes in maxillofacial surgery,” he told me.  

Funny, but what really makes this stranger than fiction is the go-around we had with AL (Angie’s List) a few months prior. Once again, it was a phone call from AL, alerting me to a negative review. No one likes having their reputation bludgeoned on any public forum and naturally we immediately reviewed the review with the AL representative. It was a blistering negative review by a lady who claimed we had been to her home more than two years prior to clean a sink drain and had told her it had to be replaced, gave her a very high price, and that she called a second plumber who then cleaned the drain for a very reasonable price. We maintain very good records that track each service call along with the corresponding time records. An exhaustive search of both computer and paper files revealed we were not at her home for a clogged drain —not ever —and that no one had taken a call from her on the  more than two-year-old date specified (or anywhere near that date), much less been dispatched to work on anything in her home.

Naturally, we called AL back to express our concerns regarding their practices. Allowing someone to reach back in time beyond two years to dredge up some percieved issue?

“We don’t limit the time frame for reviews,” is what we were told.

We had attempted to call the person who posted the negative review, but she wouldn’t answer her phone or return a call for the messages we left. Our records indicated we were not the plumber in question. Can I get the review deleted?

We were told, “No, only the original reviewer can do that. You can have a lawyer contact her to see if she’ll remove it or you can sue her.”

And what if she passes on? AL told us that in this case there’s nothing you can do.  

And that’s when the sales pitch began: to join-up and start advertising with AL. I’ll give Angie credit for being a smart business person. No wonder her ads blanket the media —she’s created a real cash cow. A pay-to-play forum for axe-grinders and for contractors to set up ads.  To be fair, there are good reviews listed too because we had one of those from a customer we had helped during tropical storm Irene. AL encouraged me to build a larger base by soliciting good reviews — to boost my rating. So, it appears that ratings can be manipulated if you're willing to invest the time. I imagine an unethical person could find a way to get positive reviews posted or negative ones to slam their competitors. There are also numerous reputation-protection companies vying for cash to restore tarnished reputations.  

Bear in mind that Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and all the “reliable, honest, and truthful” review sites are for-profit-businesses where anyone, customer or not, can give you rave reviews or do their best to turn you into hamburger by ruining your hard-earned reputation. We live in a digital hide-behind-a-keyboard impersonal world of communication. Me too, so I filed a complaint with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) regarding the review sites.

Google any of the review sites and add “complaints” to the search and you’ll find lots of folks who have suffered from the freedom of speech free for all. The best defense is a strong offense? You can choose to wade into the deep end of the pool and pay-to-play or go after the offenders who post bad reviews. One contractor has done just that and the courts awarded him a $700,000 judgment that’s under appeal. Go to http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505363_162-57557469/contractor-suing-homeowner-over-negative-yelp-angies-list-reviews/to read about the judgment and appeal.

AL itself isn’t immune to being sued. Go to http://www.ibj.com/members-sue-consumer-ratings-site-angies-list-over-fees/PARAMS/article/37153to read about this recent lawsuit.

Best course of action from where I sit: participate in social media that permits some level of control —like your own website, Facebook, Twitter and reputable bulletin boards where the host maintains honesty and civility. A letter to the lady who refused to return our phone calls resulted in the negative review being voluntarilly withdrawn. We provided her (and AL too) with copies of our records to clearly illustrate we had no involvement with her clogged drain.

As for me? I’ll be in the OR performing dental surgery!   

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Website is protected by Copyright 2013. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].

About the Author

Dave Yates

Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor’s Website is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine.

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