Almost every product or service imaginable these days has a website where anyone with an opinion can rate or comment on the product they purchased or service they received.

And thanks to the smartphone, this can be done instantaneously.

A movie-goer can tell anyone interested if a flick is a dud or a must-see before they’ve even finished watching it. My wife and I love how we can check a restaurant’s rating while sitting in the carpark trying to determine if we should dare venture into a new place to eat.

This has put a lot of power into the hands of consumers, which I’m very much in favor of. My question, however, is how are rating sites going to affect field service companies, and should these companies be worried?

Accolades from industry appraisers

Many field service companies love to advertise how they’re ‘#1 in Customer Satisfaction’ or how they have the ‘Best First-Time-Fix Rate in the Industry’.

These claims are typically backed by an outside industry expert and come with a plaque or trophy to hang on the company’s lobby wall.

But what if these claims don’t match up with the majority of what’s said about the company on online rating sites?

Will award programs become obsolete or will they turn away from the criteria they use to give said awards? My bet and hope is on the latter.

The problem with award programs

Many companies attempt to decipher what is referred to as ‘big data’: the gathering of information collected from consumers’ preferences and habits to spot market trends or uncover areas that can make their businesses more effective and profitable.

In many ways, field service companies have the upper hand when it comes to measuring and analyzing efficiency.

Because the typical service tech has to document everything they do, service companies have an exhaustive list of key performance indicators (also known as metrics) at hand to analyze for their effectiveness and profitability.

With this information, field service companies can qualify for outside awards programs if qualifying criteria is met.

What many outside the field service world may not know is that the metrics these accolades are based on can be easily manipulated.

Creative reporting can win the prize

Let’s say Managing Director Bob has a meeting with his field service managers in which he expresses his concern over the team’s first-time-fix numbers.

It seems an award they have qualified for won’t be won if things aren’t turned around – quickly.

The managers in turn call team meetings to stress that it’s imperative the first-time-fix goal is met at the end of the year. The solution? Techs stop documenting the follow-up service calls.

If response time is the goal that’s suffering, techs may feel the need to skip maintenance, use a quick repair, or show up and leave the call incomplete for a part (which they fail to report so first-time-fix isn’t impacted).

It becomes a game of which metric do you want me to manipulate this month? (This also applies to metrics used as part of reviews, rewards, or incentives.)

Awards versus high ratings

My opinion is that industry awards are becoming less and less important as internet rating sites continue to become more and more popular.

Even though a ‘#1 in First-Time-Fix’ award might be based on legitimate reporting, if a rating site has a majority of reviews complaining of shoddy repairs, the business will suffer.

The overabundance of exemplary advertising claims has made consumers jaded at best. Reading real opinions from real users of a product is a way to cut through the advertising jungle, which only sings a company’s praises.

Rating sites have their negatives too

The downside of internet reviews is that anyone with an axe to grind can be as negative as they want. Also, there’s plenty of opportunity for a company’s competitor to bombard a site with negative reviews.

On the flipside, companies can have their employees front-load reviews with positive comments.

The system is far from perfect. But most people who peruse review sites know that it’s the average that counts and the more reviews given, the more accurate the poll.

It’s also fairly obvious when someone is overly negative or much too flowery on a post. Experienced review users can spot the difference.

Of course not all service techs play with the numbers to manipulate metrics and not all managers put enormous amounts of pressure on the service force to make metric targets which encourage the practice.

Perhaps rating sites will work to shift a focus on award-winning metrics to what really matters most: retaining satisfied customers.