Consumer watchdog to investigate ServiceSeeking’s review function that lets tradies “rate themselves”

SmartCompany, March 7, 2018

The consumer watchdog says it will look into a reviewing function on tradesperson services platform ServiceSeeking that allows tradies to review themselves for the jobs they complete.

ServiceSeeking is one a growing number of online marketplaces for trades. Since it was founded in 2007, the marketplace says it has registered 140,000 businesses and transacted $3.2 billion worth of jobs.

On Monday, Fairfax reported it had raised the company’s “Fast Feedback” function with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and ACCC chairman Rod Sims responded by saying “we will certainly escalate the matter for further consideration”.

The “Fast Feedback” function was introduced by ServiceSeeking in 2016 “so businesses could rate themselves”, according to a blog post on the ServiceSeeking site that explains the idea.

The tool allows tradespeople to enter information about a job once they have completed it, by selecting pre-formatted comments about whether the service was performed on time and within budget.

“This feature does not allow yourself to ‘write your own review’ but rather it asks you to select what you think you did well from a pre-defined set of options,” ServiceSeeking advises tradespeople.

This information is then sent to the customer and is published online unless the client objects to this within three days. ServiceSeeking advises that the customer can still object to the review after it has been published and it will be taken down.

“’Fast Feedback’ certainly makes it easier for you to beef up your profile,” the company says on its blog.

The issue of consumer reviews has been in the spotlight in recent times, with the watchdog keeping a close eye on businesses that seek to control what customers say about them online. In 2017, the ACCC successfully pursued court action against hotel business Meriton after alleging it had a practice of discouraging negative reviews by not emailing customers feedback forms in cases where a negative rating might be anticipated.

In its guidelines for businesses, the watchdog says customers expect online reviews to be “independent and genuine” and businesses that do not remove reviews they know to be fake may be in breach of the Competition Act.

When contacted by SmartCompany, a ServiceSeeking spokesperson said 27% of all feedback on its site last year came from the Fast Feedback function.

The company said it had developed the functionality after businesses on the website raised frustrations that they only received a rating from a small number of customers, even when they had done a good job.

The business said it chose to establish a set of pre-written statements to allow “customers that do not want to spend time writing their own statement to leave a faster feedback response”, but this does not mean a tradesperson is reviewing itself, because the customer is asked to weigh in on the tradie’s answers.

“If a customer doesn’t agree with the rating, it won’t be published. If they comment, it will be published,” the company said.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the idea of tradies rating themselves “raised different concerns”, but this situation was different to other cases the watchdog had recently looked at involving online reviews.

However, he said the ACCC would be looking into the practice further.

Speed of reviews makes businesses consider alternatives

The speed and increased take-up of online reviewing by customers means businesses are trying to come up with new ways to manage and control what clients say about their services, says director of CP Communications, Catriona Pollard.

“The issue of having a business review itself, it can be problematic,” she says.

However, the idea of having both a customer and a business both contribute to a feedback form is an interesting idea, she says.

“That is interesting, because it’s kind of like the ‘360 view’ we tend to have [when doing feedback] within businesses,” says Pollard.

While it’s understandable that businesses want to adopt measures to either encourage more customers to review their services, or limit negative reviews, Pollard says that overall, the quality of your service will generate business, with or without online reviews.

“If you’ve got a really robust business, then that’s where the energy should be. If customers are having an amazing experience, then it’s not really about the reviews,” she says.

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