< Tim Pollard | 26.01.2017

Peer pressure

Peer pressure

Customers are increasingly turning to online reviews to source a reliable tradesperson. But does anyone actually know what they’re talking about?

The vast majority of us are inexpert buyers of lots of the stuff that we purchase. How can we judge the quality of the goods and services that we buy when we have little or no knowledge of the market?

Often we are led by brand names, but this is not a foolproof strategy. Over the summer, I was considering the purchase of a lawn mower and, as an inexpert buyer, I was drawn to a model from one of the most respected manufacturers. However, I then came across customer reviews stating the product was a disaster and should be avoided at all costs.

This raises a second issue. How much can we rely on reviews? There has been a lot of publicity about false reviews being made, criticising competitive products and services. Market research shows that the most trusted form of recommendation comes from our friends and relations. A personal recommendation is valued because it apparently has ‘no strings attached’.

I’m not sure that this is true, since most of us have only experienced a limited number of options, and what we may think is good may be totally eclipsed by something that we have not yet tried. Nonetheless, a personal recommendation is by far the most trusted source of information.

For those of us without the benefit of a personal recommendation, the next point of reference is the internet. A proliferating number of websites provide references for products and services, and this is certainly the case for plumbers and heating installers. The question for users and stakeholders is: what criteria are used to merit inclusion  on these sites?

For some, the only criterion is the payment of a fee; there is no measure of quality, reliability or value for money. Some sites provide references given by customers. The best sites require some sort of proof of quality, which may include qualifications, recommendations or codes of conduct. Services run by manufacturers usually require product training to have been completed and often include extended product guarantees. Trade associations usually have minimum service standards and may provide a degree of financial security.

However comprehensive the package may be, it is only effective if the consumer can find the details among the galaxy of information on the internet. Thus it may be that it is not the best service that is most visible, but instead the ability of an organisation to promote its offering on internet search engines.

In addition, many of us cannot judge the quality of work – other than that of basic service elements – because we are inexpert buyers. I know that the frustration of many installers is a result of reviews that say they left the job ‘very tidy’: an admirable quality but a small point, especially in the case of hugely complex and difficult installations.

The world of social media has been powerful in enabling installers to highlight some of the reckless and dangerous practices going on out there. These are often, but not always, the result of work being completed by non-qualified individuals. Equally, I see lots of pictures of fantastic installations showing the pride and diligence of the vast majority of installers. To see complex pipe work beautifully completed in difficult-to-access areas is astonishing, uplifting and sometimes a work of art.

Perhaps the best review would be one given by a fellow installer? The academic world uses a process called ‘peer review’, whereby pieces of work are blindly reviewed by other professionals.

Now that really would be a review that consumers could take seriously.

‘It may be that it is not the best service that is most visible, but instead the ability of an organisation to promote its offering on internet search engines’


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