From "Ears Burning? Cranky consumers crank up online buzz.", May Remodeling.

It used to be that when a business ripped you off or otherwise treated you badly, you had to contact the Better Business Bureau or call all your neighbors to get satisfaction of some kind. Now getting a potentially global audience for your complaints is as easy as point, click, and type.

As reported in the New York Times, "The Internet is rife with sounding boards for the disgruntled, who have their choice of blogs, sound-off sites like Yelp and Epinions, and dedicated customer service sites like Get Satisfaction, PlanetFeedback and"

And yes, remodelers, some of these grievances might be about your business. As seen recently online:

  • From "The remodel had numerous troubles from the start . . .cabinets, wrong granite, window installation problems, rude employees . . ."
  • From Judysbook: "The business practices of this company are a total joke. . . .High pressure sales techniques; phony discounts; rude salespeople. . ."
  • From Yelp!: "I learned an expensive lesson: get multiple estimates and check references!"
  • From a neighborhood listserv (a free email list; thousands exist in communities around the country): "Avoid XYZ Stonemasons. Their work is shoddy and subpar . . . Beware."
  • From Angie's List: "I felt the work wasn't worth the price I paid. I paid by the hour and it was a four-hour project."

Keeping Vigil

Online complaints are often justified and can give companies valuable insights into providing better service, products, and quality. Quite often, online posts are glowing; many remodelers say their best form of marketing is first-hand recommendations posted on local listservs and the like.

At the same time, the ease of posting anonymously ? and often with impunity ? can also result in complaints that are neither honest nor fair. Especially if the company being complained about has no clue its name is being smeared all over cyberspace.

Advice? Be proactive to the extent possible, and respond quickly and professionally.

You can, for instance, monitor and/or advertise on sites such as Angie's List and Yelp!, in each case encouraging your satisfied clients to share their good experience. If such sites are active in your area, make sure the sites have your email address, so they can notify you when you've been rated.

As thank-you gifts, some remodelers even give clients memberships to Angie's List (only members can post their experiences).

You can also join your neighborhood listserv or have your employees do so in other neighborhoods where you work. If a neighbor asks for recommendations for a local remodeling contractor, or asks what permits are necessary to remodel a bathroom, introduce yourself as a member of the community, and invite him or her to give you a call or visit your Web site. Don't be overly commercial; many listservs have rules about soliciting business. Do be helpful.

Or create a Google Alert for yourself or your business. This way, you'll be notified of some (though not all) mentions of your name online.

How One Remodeler Does It

Above all, be prepared to respond to critical posts and to encourage satisfied clients to be as vocal about their positive experiences as venters can be about their negative experiences.

With $50 million in revenues and 300 employees, the headquarters branch of Case Design/Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md., tries to be vigilant about online chatter.

"Overall, we see the growth of these venues as an opportunity for us," says Michelle Doischen, senior assistant vice president of marketing. "We find that the good outweighs the bad," especially since so many posts about the company are positive.

And when they're not? "Make sure you respond quickly," Doischen says. Thank the customer for the feedback, express your concern, and make it clear that you realize that the issue is important to the customer.

If the claim is justified, state what you did to resolve the problem. Even if the claim is unjustified or inaccurate, express that you're sorry the customer was unhappy, and you want to do whatever you can to provide good service.

For example, here's how Case responded to one comment that the work wasn't worth the price:

"As always, we appreciate hearing feedback from our clients. We contacted the client as soon as we saw the comment so as to dig a little deeper. In speaking with the client, she mentioned that there was one small area of tile that had not been grouted to her satisfaction. We scheduled a Home Repair Specialist to go back out to re-grout that particular area. The client was ultimately very pleased with the work and appreciated the quick and positive response."

What's been your experience with online reviews? Send your story -- and your lessons learned -- to Remodeling senior editor Leah Thayer at