The process of acquiring new customers for a small or medium sized service business is a lot different than it was just a decade or so ago. Back then, you likely could pick up ample potential business opportunities with good word-of-mouth references or when someone sees your signage on the block, on the road or through direct mailers. But not so much anymore.
This always-on generation of customers more and more relies on online reviews to search out neighborhood service providers whenever service is needed. A company’s online reputation matters.
Welcoming or even requesting customer input on user-generated review sites can be a good way to boost credibility and let potential customers know you are comfortable with online evaluation. In addition to posting reviews, some sites rate contractors on opinion-based intangibles such as professionalism, quality of work and responsiveness as well as more matter-of-fact determinations, such as price and punctuality.
According to several common industry assessments, about 80 percent to 90 percent of consumers use (and presumably) trust online customer reviews from sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and Google Places as much as they trust personal recommendations. And, some industry experts believe negative reviews seem to carry a lot more clout than positive ones.Breezeworks, a mobile service automation platform with cloud-integrated mobile and web apps for service businesses, www.breezeworks.com, recently conducted a study of Yelp key trends and best practices relating to independent tradespeople by analyzing 600 negative reviews evenly divided across four mobile trades — plumbing, HVAC, electricians, general contractors. The study, which excluded reviews without detail, petty reviews, and possibly retaliatory reviews, identified several key findings, broken down by verticals and and/or five geographic regions.
Only about 20 percent of negative Yelp reviews were about poor quality of work or perceived lack of expertise.
Vertical segment and regionally focused findings include:
- Scheduling is the No. 1 complaint for small companies, but almost non-existent for larger companies, with 78 percent of scheduling problems resulting in lost business for home repair professionals. The Breezeworks study delved further into details and found that solopreneurs and small businesses are most affected by scheduling problems due to limited business management tools, smaller team sizes, and busy schedules. Companies located in New York City and Los Angeles have the highest number of negative reviews related to scheduling, perhaps, Breezeworks suggested, due to prevalence of traffic delays.
- About 57 percent of complaints about pricing estimates resulted in lost business, with plumbers accounting for 34.5 percent of price complaints overall and HVAC accounting for 25.9 percent of price complaints. (Electricians account for 24.1 percent of complaints while general contractors garnered the least percentage on this – 15.5 percent of the complaints.) Respondents in the South were the most price sensitive. One third of their negative Yelp reviews were about pricing issues.
- About 48 percent of complaints about HVAC service companies directly resulted in lost business with customers either cancelling the appointment in question or taking follow-up business elsewhere. For plumbers, that loss was not as dramatic, though 28 percent of unhappy customers switched their business to a competitor.
- Only about 20 percent of negative Yelp reviews were about poor quality of work or perceived lack of expertise, with the trades more or less even on that perception.
- Businesses in the southeast United States average the lowest reviews in the country about 3.8 stars out of 5 stars, followed by the Northwest (4.1 stars) and Midwest (4.5 stars), with the Southwest giving the highest average star rating (4.6+ stars).
- 99.2 percent of businesses are hidden when Yelp users sort by “40-highest rated” or “most reviewed.”
It is good policy to be responsible to customer complaints and actively try to resolve the issue, eliminating or minimizing the risk of a customer posting a negative online review.
Increasingly, contractors are taking advantage of integrated desktop software and mobile apps, like Breezeworks, to improve the customer experience by giving the service business better control of scheduling, enabling quicker estimating and more efficient billing, and affording a more professional appearance.
As for improving online reputation — minimizing or mitigating negativity in the first place and maximizing the likelihood of positive reviews, there is software for that, as well.
For example, ReviewBuzz, www.reviewbuzz.com, is software built specifically for contractors and designed to help a company get more online reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook and more than 170 customer review sites. The onsite service tech asks the customer, in person by handing out a card or by email, to post a review to Yelp, Google, Facebook or other review sites using the ReviewBuzz.com portal.
Each review is connected to the individual service tech who earns points in the ReviewBuzz software and who redeems points for rewards provided by the contractor. The intent, notes the developer, is to create a virtuous cycle of service excellence where the service tech, the contractor, and the customer all benefit. Customers are also offered the opportunity to fill out customer satisfaction surveys, which the company can use to evaluate the performance of individual techs.
Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at [email protected].