But there are those who try to prevent consumers from putting reviews on sites like Angie's List. You can imagine that, as founder, I bristle when I hear about members and other 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 their experiences with the physician.
Negative reviews are a legitimate concern for companies. But a reputable contractor shouldn't fear hearing the truth about what customers' 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 consumers play fair when posting reviews or comments. Here are my cardinal rules:
- Keep it honest.
- Keep it objective.
- Keep it polite.
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.
I take seriously the right of consumers to freely communicate about their service experiences. If my team learns that a company is requesting speech restrictions, we contact them. If the behavior continues, we won't allow the company to remain available to searches of our site.
Online reviews can play a part in improving the overall experience that consumers have with their local service providers. Positive reviews tell a business what's working. Negative ones give them a chance to make things better.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews at www.angieslist.com.
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