Online Reviews and the Impact They Have on a Service Company

Twenty years ago, when I started Magic Touch Mechanical, an air conditioning, heating, and energy auditing company in Mesa, AZ., online reviews weren’t even heard of. In those days, if a homeowner wanted to see what past clients had to say about an air conditioning company’s service they would request a few references, pick up the phone, and reach out to people that had agreed to give a testimonial.

As we grew, we started to receive too many of these requests to comfortably ask our loyal clients to do this time and time again, no matter how much they insisted it was okay. So, we, like many other service companies, carried “brag books” full of handwritten letters from happy customers. Remember when people actually wrote letters and put them in the mail?

The First Online Magic Touch Mechanical Review

I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw an “online” review for Magic Touch Mechanical, but I would estimate it was probably fifteen years ago or so. It’s hard to keep count because there are so many online review sites out there now, but I would estimate Magic Touch Mechanical reviews on the internet have to be approaching close to 2,000. Our average rating across all platforms is somewhere between 4.6 and 4.7 out of 5-stars.

In our case, more than half of those reviews are on Angie’s List (about 600), Kudzu (about 250), Recommend-Me (about 350), and the rest are all over the place on sites like Google, Yahoo, Yelp, BBB, Houzz, and dozens of others.

In my opinion the most trustworthy of all the review sites are Angie’s List and Recommend-Me aka Nearby-Now. Mainly because there is no anonymity, we (or any service company) know the reviewers name and address so can verify they are actual customers.

Which reminds me: For those that write fake reviews about your competitors or past employers, or those stacking the deck with good reviews about your own company, a word of caution – Keep in mind you are leaving a trail, and may just be outed one day…not to mention karma happens!

Not counting what I know to be false negative reviews written by unscrupulous competitors and disgruntled ex-employees (yes, it happens several times a year), the data tells us about 93% of the reviews we receive from real customers give us 5-stars, are extremely happy, and say they would refer Magic Touch Mechanical to a friend or family. I’m delighted that 9.3 out of 10 clients love us, and I feel blessed to work with such a great group of people who are the ones out there making our clients happy on a daily basis.

About 4% of our customers rate us between 3 and 4-stars and usually explain why in a detailed review. More often than not, I find we could’ve done better and deserve the lower rating we received from these customers. We do our best to reach back out to these customers to make things right whenever possible. None of us are perfect, and we know we are not above making an honest mistake, we’re humans too.

Doing the math, this means 0.4 out of every 10 times we provide service, we are going to unintentionally make a mistake that leads to a client not having a 5-star experience. We use this feedback as a learning opportunity to continually improve our service. I know it’s hard to please everyone, but often I find we did drop the ball somewhere along the line. It may have been a small thing to us but maybe not to our client. EX. Maybe we arrived late, maybe a technician failed to make the promised 30-minute call before reminder, maybe we didn’t diagnose the problem accurately, etc. No matter what happened, my promise to our clients is, and always has been, we will work with them to make things right, whenever hopefully given the opportunity to redeem ourselves!


3% of People Hate Us – and We Can’t Fix it!

The remaining 3% of online customer reviews are the 1 to 2-star reviews (usually 1), and often start by saying something along the lines of “I’d give them zero stars if I could”, we’ve all seen those reviews. Again, I can’t express enough that I know we make mistakes…I know because my wife reminds me whenever I do! However, as I personally read, research, and respond to every online review, I often find many of the 1-2-star reviewers embellish the facts, and sometimes even out-and-out lie, to make it sound like we are EvilCorp or something. But, the real kicker is the fact that the majority of these negative reviews have nothing to do with our service, or even anything we can control for that matter.

This has always puzzled me, because let’s face it, we as service providers make our living providing a service. If we aren’t constantly providing the best service we can, we wouldn’t stay in business…and Magic Touch has been in business for over two decades. If we screwed up, we want to know about it so we can fix it. All too often though, I find that’s not the case with the majority of the 1-star reviewers.

In our business, most of the time, the 1-star reviewer is upset because their HVAC equipment suffered some type of component failure that was out of the parts or labor warranty, so they lash out at the company they bought the product from…when really their gripe is with the manufacturer if anyone. Even that puzzles me though; the fact that someone is mad at the manufacturer of a mechanical product, that runs in extreme temperatures, almost around the clock, all year long, when one component fails is hard for me to wrap my head around. Mechanical and electronic parts fail, it’s a fact of life. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. It sucks, but it does happen.

I know this is the case because I can count on one hand the number of bad reviews we’ve ever gotten for any of the other services we provide like; insulation, energy audits, window shade screens, etc., as these items don’t break down.

Every time we are accused of being the epitome of all that is wrong with the world it has to do with someone needing to spend money on a repair, and it almost always starts with “I paid XX dollars for a new unit”, or “It’s only XX years old, and shouldn’t break down”. Both of those numbers are always exaggerated for some reason too. From someone who has been in working in the HVAC industry for so long, I can attest to the fact that the failure rate of new HVAC equipment is pretty low, but it does happen. If you really want to play it safe, extended warranties are available on all brands of equipment…sometimes these warranties pay for themselves, sometimes they are never needed. I’ve never understood why people want to blame the installing contractor when they gamble without one and something happens…but they are the 3%.

Personally, I rarely buy the extended warranty on any product, but I understand the risk and don’t blame Best Buy, Walmart, or my Ford Dealer if the product breaks.


When Reviews Misrepresent the Facts

When someone starts manipulating the facts in a public review, it naturally changes my desire to help them out (if I even can), which is a difficult position to be in. I want to help everyone…my product is customer service after all. But when someone starts lying thinking they are going to get something for nothing by threatening us with bad reviews, they chose the wrong guy…our reputation speaks for itself, and we can take the hit. I like to help people who are fair, and nice to me…especially when I’m not the cause of their frustration.

An analogy that I use when discussing this subject is; when your car breaks down, do you go online and trash the dealership you bought it at? Granted, if your issue is related to the service you received from the dealership that’s one thing, but if you have engine problems after the warranty expires and the dealership tells you it’s going to require a $XX repair…is it fair to rate them 1-star?

Case in point, a recent online 1-star review we received:

Four years prior, this customer purchased two new air conditioning & heating systems, 3,600 sq. ft. of insulation installed in the crawl space under her home, 4,600 sq. ft. of radiant barrier installed in her attic and on the gable-ends of their home, air duct sealing, ductwork, and a list of other home improvements. The total project cost was $24,500 for everything (equipment, materials, labor, and tax).

In reviewing this clients file, I found the Customer Satisfaction Survey she had completed 4-years prior. It seemed she and her husband were very happy with the installation, the equipment, our staff, etc., and said they “Definitely Would” refer us to a friend. So, from what I read, we hit another one out of the park, right? Let’s see…

We cleaned and serviced the new AC equipment for the first year as part of the included maintenance that came with purchase. On year two, we heard from the customer one time when the landscaper had damaged one of the new AC units. We dispatched a service technician, made the repair, and all was well.

We did not hear from the client again for 2-1/2 years (the day of the review). Apparently, per the customer, they had been using another company for maintenance and cleanings…but now they had a failure, and wanted us to check out both units and diagnose the problem. It’s curious, that she didn’t call the company she said had been maintaining the unit for the last few years, but okay…we’d love the opportunity to be that company.

Our service technician determined that one of the units had a failed compressor, and both units had capacitors out of manufacturer spec. (possibly even contributing to the compressor failure, which we may have caught before the compressor failed – had we been called for maintenance). He informed the customer that the compressor was covered under parts warranty, however the labor warranty had expired, and what the manufacturer did not cover for this repair.

The customer was very angry (and we get it, it sucks), but she was not angry with the manufacturer, or the “alleged” company who had been servicing the equipment for the last few years…but with us, the company that installed the equipment 4-years ago and then not even seen if for 2-1/2. The reviewer could not explain why she was upset with us, when our General Manager followed up with a phone call (prior to the bad review), only that she had “paid so much for this equipment and had been changing her filters.”

Fast forward a few hours, and the same person who gave us high marks in every category after we finished the project, gave us a 1-star review online…four years later…because of an internal component failure…in a product we did not manufacture…or have an opportunity to maintain.

I’m making a long story short with regards to the threats the customer made and how she “couldn’t wait to get on social media and blast us”, etc. I’m only using this review as an example because it’s a good case of the “embellishing” and not very complicated to follow.

So, here’s the crux of the review:

Reviewer: “Spent $60,000 on two new units”

Reality: The total project was $24,500 and included far more than just two new units. The two new units were $11,100 for both (the one with the bad compressor was $6,400)

Review: “Follow directions change filters every month. Compressor went out”

Reality: Except for the customer’s statement that she has been using another company for service and cleaning, our last service visit was over two and half years prior…the second of two included with initial purchase. Based on the technician’s checklist on both units, there was no evidence of service in several years. Maintaining HVAC equipment goes far beyond changing air filters.

Review: “Glad I paid so much for cheap equipment”

Reality: After reviewing dozens of models and brands (we use “open book” pricing), the signed proposal was narrowed down to three options, from three manufacturers: Trane, Lennox, and Goodman. The customer chose the lowest price equipment, with the shortest warranty and also declined the extended warranty.

There were other false statements made in the review about quoted repair amounts and what was included, threats to our reputation “if [she] had to pay for this”, and so forth, however the point of using this review as the example is to explain the impact these types of reviews make on a business.

What About Negative Reviews?

Obviously, I’m a fan of positive online reviews, what business owner isn’t? We literally have thousands of them, and the overwhelming majority are fantastic, which only helps bring in more business and keeps our morale high. Everyone wants to be recognized for a job well done, right?

But the negative reviews hurt, right? Not necessarily. Well not this type anyway.

Take the example I used. The first sentence is “Spent $60,000 on two units”.

Who on earth is going to believe someone spent $30k on a new air conditioner?

The most expensive units on the market: 20+ SEER, fully-communicating, variable speed compressor, Wi-Fi thermostat, all the bells and whistles, premium Trane or Lennox system are 1/3 of that.

Heck, if someone wants to give me $30k to install a new air conditioning and heating system, I’ll throw in 20 years of maintenance and free babysitting, dog-walking, and car washes for life!

Yet the reviewer in this example felt it was necessary to exaggerate the cost of two units by 6 times the actual cost. It did not add any value to the review, so if the reviewer felt the need to make things sound worse than they really were, there must be some underlying reason, right? I believe these types of reviewers know what they are doing is wrong but feel the need to get people on their side by making it appear they were victims of some wrongdoing.

The problem with these types of reviews (for the reviewer) is most people know when they’re being lied to, and when someone is trying to “stack the deck”. If you run an honest, ethical, service business and really strive to deliver great service, the positive reviews will come. The real negative reviews will give you an opportunity to demonstrate how much you care about your customers and the opportunity to fix any mistakes you may have made.

The real negative reviews are the 3 to 4-star reviews in my opinion, because the reviewers are typically stating factual events as opposed to making outrageous claims. Those are the ones that give you the opportunity to demonstrate your company is all about providing great customer service, and your desire for complete customer satisfaction. Who doesn’t want to do business with a company that will make things right if they don’t go perfectly at first?

A small percentage of negative reviews won’t hurt a good company, extra emphasis on the word “good”. If you provide lousy service, or aren’t honest and ethical with your customers, the negative reviews from honest people will add up quickly, and you won’t last long.

The only other instance where negative reviews can do major damage to a company’s credibility is when they don’t have any. I always smell something fishy when I see products or companies with hundreds of 5-star reviews and no negative reviews. It’s impossible to please everyone so no negative reviews is always a red flag to me and I would guess most savvy consumers.

I know there are companies in my industry here in Phoenix that are stacking the deck in a different way, and posting reviews on themselves. If people dig a little deeper they find these same companies have dozens of complaints with the BBB, and plenty of bad reviews on sites like Angie’s List which can’t be manipulated. This is especially true of the ones with tons of great reviews on the “pay to play” review sites like Yelp. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, Google “Billion Dollar Bully” and prepare to be enlightened. Or, search our blog using the word Yelp to see our articles on the subject. I simply refuse to pay Yelp to stop hiding our good reviews in their “Not Recommended” black-hole, and I recommend other businesses don’t either. There’s a reason Google stopped using their reviews in company profiles and created their own review system.

The Bottom Line – Positive Reviews Are a Must Get

Online reviews have done wonders for Magic Touch Mechanical and they can for your service business too. Don’t be afraid of the fake or untrue negative reviews…people know better, but respond accordingly with the facts.

If a negative review is true, fix it with your customer! Even if they don’t go back and update their review, which happens frequently, other people will see your commitment to making the customer satisfied and feel comfortable they can trust you.

If the review is positive and true, good for you…go earn more!