Why haven't consumer review sites for home services worked very well in the UK? Remember back in the dot-com boom there were two big-ish players, HomePro and Improveline.com. Improveline is now a fairly ordinary maintenance company, doing mainly insurance-repair work, and seems to have dispensed entirely with their tradesman-rating service. And HomePro is still around, but I don't hear anyone talking about it. Alexa gives them a rank of 1.2m, well lower than our own 800k rank, so doesn't look like that many people are visiting them either. And a quick browse through some of their listings show that each company only has a handful of ratings, i.e. only a handful of their customers have taken the trouble to log on and rate them.
You'd think this sort of thing would work. Home maintenance services (plumbers, electricians, roofers, handymen, etc.) are notoriously hard to source. By far the best source is a recommendation, so you'd think that a website devoted to recommendations would work really well in this industry. Yet for some reason they have all found it very hard to reach critical mass (of both tradespeople and consumers to do the reviewing). Here are some others;
Ask4Quote (gone bust)
Quote4Me (gone bust)
Check-a-trade has probably done the best in this sector, but they are still relatively tiny and rely heavily (I think) on a printed flyer listing tradesmen, rather than on people visiting the website. So they do best in areas where they have been distributing that flyer for several years - hard to roll that out nationally. But this should work as an internet-only service, you shouldn't have to be printing hundreds of thousands of advertising cards to get noticed.
Lots of these guys are trying to do two things: allow potential customers to post "projects" for tradespeople to bid on, and also provide a rating system for those customers to rate the tradesman who did the project. But I think the whole bidding on projects thing just adds too much complexity, for both the customer and the tradesman. If the project is complex enough to "bid" on, it needs a visit first, so not much point using the web to manage the "bid", just give the customer a written quote. And if it is not that big / complex, then there is not point "bidding" on it (I mean, we are hardly going to bid on "fix my leaking tap").
So what you need is just a listing of tradesmen, with a really simple feedback system, just like eBay. I suppose the huge difference with eBay is that, on eBay, both buyers and sellers want feedback, so they give it in the hope that their opposite party reciprocates. Buyers want feedback to show credibility (some auctions are restricted to buyers with certain ratings), and of course buyers are also sometimes sellers. Not the same for tradesmen/householders. The tradesman needs feedback, but there is not a huge incentive for the householder to give it. They probably only use a tradesman once a year or so, so it is not a big part of their life.
If a householder was a regular consumer of maintenance services, it would be in their interest to get feedback from tradesmen ("This customer keeps appointments, listens to my advice, and pays promptly"), but, as I say, most householders would only need a tradesman once a year or so, so don't really need to build up a good reputation as a purchaser of maintenance services. And therefore the incentive that exists on eBay (of offering feedback in the expectation of receiving valuable feedback in return) doesn't really exist with the tradesman / householder relationship.
So how do you encourage householders to offer feedback?
You can ask them nicely, of course, which is pretty effective - about 20% of our customers return our feedback cards, and we are very grateful that they do. We give a monthly prize to the handyman with the best overall feedback score, to encourage the handymen to ask their customers fill out the card. But to get our customers to report to some kind of centralised feedback website would be harder, especially as the majority of our customers would not have heard of check-a-trade or whatever.
What might work would be this: offer some kind of "feedback module" which any company could tag onto their website. That company's customers use it to offer feedback about their experience with that company. All white-labelled, so it integrates nicely with the existing website. Company gets to display and publicise that information on their website (pretty much as we do now, except a bit more sophisticated).
But if you have a load of companies using the same, standard, feedback module, you can then aggregate and share the information on a central website.
Big advantage of this is that you can much more quickly compile critical mass of feedback data, and that is the key to getting people to come to the central website, listing your approved tradespeople.
The drawback of, say, Check-a-Trade's model is that you are only really going to gather feedback from customers who found us via Check-a-trade, and even then only a proportion of those customers will take the time to offer feedback. Which is why you'll only find a handful of ratings for each company listed. But thousands and thousands of our own customers have fed back directly to us. Imagine if we, and other like-minded companies, submitted that data to a central website. That's exactly what we could do if we were all using a standardised set of questions and a standard method of collecting the data (and, of course, we'd have to tell the feedersback that their responses would appear on the central website as well as our own).
Needs a bit more thought, but there could be something in this.