If a company offers you a refund after you post a negative online review of your transaction, does that make your original comment any less valid? According to Angie Hicks of crowdsourced review site Angie’s List, once your dispute with a company is resolved, you should only be allowed to say nice things about the company.
Put yourself in this situation: You’re new to town and need to hire a landscaper because your lawn is in shambles. So you hire a company that looks okay based on the reviews you see on Angie’s List.
When they mess up the job, you post a negative review on the site. You also take advantage of a supposed perk of your Angie’s List premium membership to try to get a refund from the landscaper. The refund comes through, but with a huge string attached: the negative review you posted is taken down, and you’re forbidden from posting anything bad about the company again.
The situation is resolved, so that means your beef with the company is over, right? That’s the idea behind Angie’s List’s complaint resolution policy.
But if a site censors ratings by removing negative remarks just because a customer received a refund, doesn’t that negate the purpose of a crowdsourced review site — at the very least, doesn’t this policy inflate ratings for poor service providers?
Those are the questions that Consumerist reader Jerry proposed after a recent experience with Angie’s List.
Jerry says he was contacted by Angie’s List after he posted an “F” rating for a company he hired through the review site. When the finished product didn’t meet his expectations, he felt it was his duty to let others know of the poor experience.
After posting the review, Jerry decided to seek a refund from the service provider through Angie’s List’s Complaint Resolution Process, available only to Premium subscribers.
Shortly after starting that process, Jerry received a full refund, but he also received notice that his “F” rating for the business would be deleted.
When he tried to write a new, equally negative review for the company, his received an e-mail from Angie’s List notifying him that he could only bestow a positive rating on the company since he successfully received a refund:
Not entirely comfortable with the Angie’s List’s response, Jerry reached out to the company for further clarification on the deleted review. The site’s reply confirmed that using the complaint resolution process is effectively the same as waiving your right to post a negative review.
“I don’t know about you, but not knowing how many negative reviews were deleted from a business’s overall rating or how many positive reviews were the result of solicitation doesn’t make me trust their reviews anymore,” Jerry tells Consumerist.
Let’s Talk To Angie
While Jerry might question Angie’s List’s policy of deleting negative reviews after complaints have been resolved, Angie Hicks, the company’s founder, claims it’s a useful, successful system that’s been in place for many years.
“If the company gives the outcome the customer has asked for, then you don’t have a complaint anymore”
The complaint resolution process, which is only available to the top tier of Angie’s List subscribers, serves as a sort of last resort, Hicks tells Consumerist, explaining that Angie’s List encourages customers to try to reach a compromise with the service provider independently.
“It’s been an effective tool for us for 20 years,” Hicks says. “If you think about Angie’s List, consumers come to us to find the name of a good company. So odds of a good experience are higher. We’re not a complaint site, most reviews are positive. This is a safety net.”
Hicks says that customers who choose to go though the complaint resolution system are informed that their negative review will be removed from the businesses’ listing should a resolution be met.
The company does mention in the Complaint Resolution Process portion of its “Membership Agreement” that, “If the Service Provider agrees to your desired resolution or supplies a counteroffer that you find acceptable, the case is considered resolved, your review regarding the Service Provider will be removed, and you will have the opportunity to submit updated feedback about your experience.” [NOTE: bolded for emphasis]
While that agreement doesn’t specify at that point that the new review must be positive, a separate affirmative check box to start the resolution process does address the new review: “I understand that if the service provider resolves the issue to my satisfaction, the review will be deleted, and I will have the opportunity to update my review with a positive one.”“This is not a mediation, the consumer gets the say. Our view is, in exchange for that, if the company gives the outcome the customer has asked for, then you don’t have a complaint anymore,” Hicks says. “If you think about the process, we ask the customer to articulate the best outcome, if we resolve that, then you are therefore happy, so the review should reflect that. That’s fair and transparent.”
Hicks says that the new review, while it must be positive in rating form, can include an explanation of the situation, expressing the customer’s frustration, but that in the end it worked out.
“Honestly, it shows the system at work, it shows the power of the consumer,” she says.
Hicks tells Consumerist that customers like Jerry shouldn’t be concerned that the removal of negative reviews would artificially inflate a business’ rating, because the company monitors each review posted to the site.
“We’ve had a strong view of the integrity of the reviews, we believe that more information is better,” she contends. “We’ve been building an algorithm for 20 years around the review process and human beings. Anything we catch that seems out of sorts, we have a team that investigates.”
If Angie’s List sees a business that has several negative reviews and has been through the complaint resolution process several times, Hicks says they’ll investigate the issues.
“We’ll look to see if they’re a bad apple in disguise,” she says. “That’s more the anomaly than the rule. Most of the time, these companies are doing fine, but had a one-off.”
Hicks also says the review site undergoes a yearly external audit, “to make sure the business follows the process that’s communicated to consumers.”
It Pays To Be Nice
Still, the company gives companies incentive to resolve negative reviews and complaints. Companies rated as “A” or “B” are eligible to advertise with Angie’s List; an option that can place their profile higher on the search results page. If a company drops below the “A” or “B” rating, their ads will be pulled, the company says.
Overall, Hicks stands behind the company’s complaint resolution process, and the deletion of negative reviews once the issue has been settled.
“The goal here is to help them get resolution,” she tells Consumerist. “We want them to be aware that we do keep track, if we see trends, we keep track. If you feel passionately about the complaint, that you want your voice heard, we encourage [customers] to resolve the issues directly. I don’t like to hear when people go away from the experience unsatisfied.”
Know Before You Click
When asked about the discrepancy between the new positive review policy stated on Angie’s membership agreement and that posted before executing the resolution process, Hicks says the company would look into the differing description to ensure it’s clearly stated.
As for Jerry, he’s still concerned about Angie’s policy and the fact that customers may not be aware that negative reviews can be deleted from the site.
“People need to be aware of this before they agree to pay money to be a member,” he says.
In the end, Jerry expressed his concerns with the company, which he says offered him a free year of subscription. But after a few other, less-than-favorable-experiences, he turned down the offer.
He says that he’s trying to come to an independent resolution with another poor-performing service provider, so that his negative review isn’t taken down.