Review sites are more popular than ever. While painting contractors of yesterday relied almost entirely on print advertising and word of mouth, the landscape has changed. Today’s consumers, especially millennials, are drawn to the web to make purchasing decisions, including selecting a painting contractor.
While personal recommendations will always be valuable and reliable, online reviews are catching up. They can also bring far more exposure to a small business than word of mouth alone. According to BrightLocal, 91% of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. And overall, 86% of consumers in all age groups read reviews for local businesses [x]. It’s easy to see how online reviews can make or break a small business’s success.
Does this level of trust reflect the overall legitimacy of online reviews? Perhaps, but consumers should maintain a healthy level of skepticism. It is more common than consumers might think for unscrupulous businesses to post or even offer cash for fake positive reviews. This issue has gained quite a bit of publicity in the realm of online shopping, with some outlets purporting that, in certain categories, over 50% of Amazon reviews are fake. Amazon, however, disputes this claim [x]. It seems unlikely that the problem has come anywhere close to this level in the home services sector, but it’s difficult to say without any studies. The good news is that there are common sense ways to spot fake reviews. However, it does require more than a cursory glance at a business’s overall star rating or number of reviews.
A healthy level of skepticism is useful —
here’s what to look for
For a home services business, most of their reviews should come from locals
On websites like Yelp, a user’s location is public. There are certainly legitimate reasons why a reviewer’s profile may not match the location of the business they are reviewing. When it comes to a painting contractor or other home services business, the most obvious reason is that the person relocated. However, if a reviewer for a particular business has not written any other reviews within that locale, and appears to be based somewhere else, this is cause for suspicion. If there is a pattern of nearly all of the reviews coming from outside of the business’s service area, this is a major red flag.
Reviews should sound natural and should not display strange patterns or awkward language
A pattern of repeated words or phrases in various reviews may be cause for concern, as it may indicate that the users were instructed on how to write their reviews. Of course, some repeated phrases are to be expected. However, if you notice the same keywords stuffed into reviews multiple times in a way that sounds unnatural, awkward, or just plain “off”, this could be an indication of fake reviews.
A business should usually have a mix of both positive and negative reviews
Like the humans who run them, no business is perfect. It is nearly inevitable that a business will experience a negative review at some point in its existence. However, businesses that are proactive at handling customer complaints can easily experience a low volume of negative reviews. Therefore, a lack of negative reviews is certainly not a sure-fire indication of dishonesty. This is especially true in contracting where the volume of overall reviews tends to be lower than, say, a restaurant, which can easily do over 100 transactions per day. Nevertheless, this is something to keep in mind.
How consumers can help keep review sites reliable
Most review sites allow users to report abuse of their service, such as soliciting reviews for cash. Yelp, for example, designed its “consumer alert program” to warn customers about businesses who participate in such dishonest practices. Here’s an example of a Seattle painting contractor that Yelp caught purchasing reviews (screenshots from yelp.com). As you can see from the image, their strategy closely mirrors the red flags mentioned above.
Do your due diligence
Another caution to consumers is that review websites typically do not regulate who can have a presence on their sites. While some platforms, notably HomeAdvisor, require verification of a business’s license and a background check on the owner, this is not true of more popular review websites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook. On these sites, any business can have a profile, even if they are operating without the required licenses and insurance. Even when a license is verified on one of these websites, it is possible that it has lapsed between the time of verification and the time that a consumer looks up the business. While this type of feature can be useful, it is still up to consumers to do their own verification.
When researching a painting contractor or other home services provider, first verify that the business is licensed, bonded, and insured. In Washington state, you can easily do this at lni.wa.gov. You should also view photos of the contractor’s past work, to get an idea of their expertise. Finally, it is also a good idea to ask the contractor to provide references for similar jobs they have performed.
Other important factors in selecting a contractor may not always be apparent based on reviews alone. For example, does the company use their own employees, or subcontractors? Subcontractors are typically paid a flat rate and are therefore often inclined to complete the job as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this may be at the expense of quality. Subcontracting can also lead to inconsistent results, because the general contractor does not have direct control over them.
If a company does have employees, there are other items to consider. Does the company perform background checks? Do they pay fair wages and offer benefits? These inner workings do not always influence the customer experience, but often, they do. The reasoning behind background checks is obvious. Beyond that, well-compensated employees tend to be happier and therefore more invested in the company and the work. These factors may also play into some customers’ hiring decisions simply because they align with their values.
Ultimately, online reviews are incredibly useful to consumers – but take them with a grain of salt
With a reasonable level of skepticism, reviews are a great way to gauge the quality of a company’s service. However, they are only one component of the due diligence process when hiring a home services business.
How should small businesses proceed?
Review websites like Yelp are notorious for being a thorn in a small business’s side. On the other hand, they also give businesses an opportunity to shine with the happy customers they have served.
If you are a painting contractor or another type of small business, your best course of action is simple — prioritize excellent service at all times. When problems do arise, make every effort to make it right.
Encourage clients to check out your review sites and leave a review if they feel so inclined, but never offer any type of monetary incentive to do so. Even seemingly innocuous actions, like offering a bonus to employees in exchange for a published review, can lead to dishonest behavior, and may even be against the terms of service of many of the previously mentioned review sites.
Sound Painting Solutions, LLC is a painting contractor based in and serving Seattle, WA.
We provide interior & exterior painting services as well as carpentry services for residential and commercial clients. Learn more about us here.
You can also contact us today for a free quote on your project.