Consumer reviews are a two-way street

06/13/2014 12:00 AM

06/12/2014 5:57 PM

Online sites that allow consumers to describe or rate their experiences with contractors and other service providers are a fact of modern life.

But there are those who try to prevent people from putting reviews on sites such as Angie’s List. I bristle when I hear about consumers being asked to sign a contract that includes what’s legally known as a “non-disparagement clause.” I would call it a gag order, pure and simple.

I believe service providers should never ask customers to surrender the right to free speech. This became an issue for me a few years ago, when my team learned that a few doctors were asking patients to waive the right to post online reviews about them.

Since then, we’ve learned of the occasional company including non-disparagement clauses in contracts for a wide range of services.

Negative reviews are a legitimate concern for companies. But a reputable contractor shouldn’t fear hearing the truth about a customer’s experience. On the other hand, I don’t think customers should consider a company’s periodic negative review to be a deal-breaker. Nobody’s perfect, and what matters most, in my opinion, is how a company responds to customer feedback.

It’s also important that people play fair when posting comments. Here are my cardinal rules: Be honest, objective and polite.

If you’re describing a negative experience, provide constructive criticism when possible. Don’t label someone. It’s one thing to say that someone showed up late and did sloppy work. It’s another to call him a crook.

Keep in mind that review sites are not equal. Many allow anonymous reviews; ours does not. In addition, we allow service providers to respond to reviews.

If my team learns that a company is requesting speech restrictions, we contact the owner. If restrictions continue, we won’t allow the company to remain available to searches of our site.

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