Friday 1 October 2021

How does professional review management help stop women being harassed by tradesmen?

 This article appeared in the Times...

..and the author mentions reviews on no less than five separate occasions.

So what advice can we add?

Let's first identify the issues...

  1. Now, in an age of online reviews and smartphone convenience culture, asking a neighbour to recommend a handyman seems quaint.
  2. ...there’s a beguiling illusion of security online, with star ratings, client testimonials, third-party platforms such as AirTasker or TaskRabbit and review sites like CheckATrade.
  3. But alone with a handyman, everyday sexism can quickly escalate into something darker. Even so, it was only when I shared my experience with female friends that I had any notion of how widespread it was.
  4. The stories I heard ran the gamut from mansplaining and aggressive overcharging, to threats of assault and ongoing harassment. Almost all the women chose not to report it, for fear of reprisal if the man found out. After all, there are few mechanisms to report an incident anonymously – plus, he knows where you live.
  5. Marie*, 30, was the only one who did leave a negative review of a tradesman. But the roofer — who she had “checked extensively” online before the job — found it. He came and sat outside the house she shared with her sister in southwest London until they took it down. Since then, she’s had another roofer “completely disappear” after receiving half the payment. “We’re both too scared to leave a review now,” she says. “Every single woman I know has a story of being threatened or harassed by a tradesman. Talk to your female friends, talk to their parents.”
  6. But the online sphere isn’t always to blame. Bella*, 39, based in Hertfordshire, describes a father-and-son team that simply turned up at their door, pointing out that they could clear the growth in the driveway and install stone decking. Her husband was at work, and she assumed she could pay via bank transfer or debit card. Instead, the father demanded payment in cash. “I think some part of him decided it was better to pressure me. It rang all sorts of alarm bells.”
  7. Hannah*, 29, locked herself out of her flat — unfortunately, not the first time, but she knew roughly what it should cost. When the locksmith arrived, he demanded almost three times as much as customary. “When I queried the cost, he began shouting at me and told me he knew where I lived. As a woman living on my own, already stressed from being locked out, I felt really intimidated and paid the money. But in hindsight I wish I’d stood my ground and called the police.”
  8. TaskRabbit explained that all complaints are thoroughly investigated, and that a tradesperson’s account may be “paused” depending on the severity until the investigation is over. “TaskRabbit has a number of policies in place and a process to support clients, including a process to ensure anonymity — this includes disclosing no details of the client who has complained to the alleged perpetrator. As standard, client addresses are no longer visible once a task has been completed, and Taskers cannot see client’s full names or their contact details.”

And these are just eight of the most salient points brought out in the article. Now: our advice. And it's not just limited to women - men are just as likely to be victims of most of the tactics outlined here, albeit they are far less likely to become victims of sexual harassment. But reports of overcharging and threats when disputes arise, especially amongst the elderly, are legion. And attempts to resolve issues once such behaviour has already taken place are invariably futile.

How should women - and consumers in general - choose tradespeople?
  1. Never, ever use a trade - be it plumber, roofer, electrician, builder, painter - that does not have a registered business address and, crucially, a listing on Google (see the example below). Far too many unscrupulous tradespeople work solely from mobile phones these days and guess what, when things go awry? The number is discontinued.
  2. Always, always read the previous Google reviews of that business/trade. They will rarely all be positive, but you should read the responses the business has posted, and quiz the business on them before agreeing to appoint them.
  3. Never use websites that promise 'vetted' tradespeople unless the recommended tradesperson also has Google reviews. These websites may look extraordinarily helpful for the consumer but, at the end of the day, they are lead generation mechanisms for tradespeople, paid for by those tradespeople that cannot find enough work by personal recommendation or their other marketing efforts. As more than one tradesperson we have spoken to over the years has said to us 'if we were so bad at the job that we needed to pay an intermediary a hefty slice of our fee just to attract business then we would shut up shop and find another way to make a living.'
  4. Never, ever, however persuasive - or, God forbid, threatening - the individual  employ a 'knocker': someone who simply turns up unsolicited on your doorstep offering to do work for you.
  5. A trustworthy tradesperson will welcome Google reviews. A good indicator is a tradesperson that actively promotes their Google reviews and mentions that they ask all their customers to post one once the job is completed.
Here's an example of a business that's got it right:

They have a website and a landline, they welcome reviews from their customers, to their own website and to Google, and they respond to each and every one. And given that the first Google review they received was over six years ago, they'll probably be around to finish any job a future customer has for them.

Oh! And by the way, please don't fall for the old 'I'm/we're too small for a website/landline/permanent address' excuse. The thriving business above was only a man with a van when it first became a client of ours (now five men and five vans, plus founder Adrian's wife Stacey looking after customers back at base in Storrington, West Sussex).

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