It is not always easy to find a good tradesperson who is available to do the work you need done at the time you need it doing. Guidance on how to can be found here.
One thing Trading Standards officers advise is to avoid placing too much reliance on is the ratings of – apparently – previous customers. It is not always genuine and, to employ their favourite phrase, if it appears too good to be true, it probably is. The fact is that unscrupulous and rogue traders will often manipulate feedback to boost their ratings to be the first named on ratings websites – an updated method of getting underserved custom similar to that used in years past by the likes of AA Aadvark Plumbing (not a real company) to ensure they were near the top of Yellow Pages’ alphabetical listings.
How, then, can you distinguish a genuine rating from a result that has been manipulated? You probably can’t always, and you can’t necessarily rely on the website owner** to do thorough checks, but there are certain things to consider and to look for:
- Timescale of feedback. It is common for rogue traders to open a company, trade for a short while and then to close it, only to start another, often with a similar name. If the trader is a limited company check their start (incorporation) date on Companies House records and compare the date of the first reviews. You may find that the company is recently formed, but has garnered a surprising number of 5-star reviews in the first few weeks they existed – or even before they did!
- All good feedback. It is the nature of many people to be quick to complain, but somewhat slower to praise. If a company has uniformly glowing reviews, but there is nothing else about them that suggests they may be a fantastic firm (maybe, for instance, a long-established record of trading in one area), you may well wonder if the feedback could possibly be genuine.
- Good, bad, but never ‘OK’ feedback. Another human trait is to give ‘middling’ responses – the reason many satisfaction surveys have four options, rather than five is to discourage this. In terms of feedback, a 4-star rating may be more reliable than a 5-star rating, as so many people will be reluctant to assess someone as ‘perfect’. If you see reviews that seem to consist entirely of a mix of 5-star and 1-star reviews, you should be very wary of the possibility that the former are manipulated and the latter genuine.
- Is the wording used odd? Examples may be a consistent use of the same words or phrases, or a seemingly odd insistence on naming individuals or traits – for instance, repeated variations of “Pat and his crew were always punctual, polite and clean” may be designed to personalise the trader and associate them with the sort of traits you’d want in a tradesperson.
- Does the website give names? Some just give initials, but others give names. If names are shown and they all seem to be common names – such as the ones that someone submitting a false review may make up – is this suspicious? Maybe. Certainly, the trader that had apparently worked for and received positive feedback from the likes of “David Bowie” and “Elton John” (truly seen in feedback for a now defunct trader) was probably relying on future customers not looking too closely!
Word of mouth recommendations (from a trusted friend or family member) or approaching members of a reputable approved trader schemes are the best way of finding reliable traders, but if you do look at ratings websites, be aware that all may not be as it seems. Don’t be too trusting.
LTS has published further information on-line here: Doorstep Crime – London Trading Standards; and a booklet, ‘Don’t Deal at the Door’ (with a ‘no uninvited traders’ notice on the back), which is available from your local Trading Standards team (details will be found on the council website).