Friday, January 18, 2008

Solving "The Plumber Problem"

I went to a really interesting event last night about local digital media, organised by Mashup.

It featured a panel of experts from different sites, including Qype and WeLoveLocal. It was a really good discussion - check out the Mashup site, and sign up to go to future events. It only costs £35 to attend.

Anyway... One of the best bits for me came in a discussion of why local sites are good for somethings but not others, and one of the panelist brought up 'the plumber problem'. It's easy to find good local restaurants, because thousands of people will eat in them every year, so even with low conversion rates you are likely to get a few reviews. Plumbers (& other tradesmen) will only have a couple of hundred customers a year, and so it is unlikely that they will rate them. If there are any reviews the small sample sizes mean that you can't really see if they are real or fake. So local sites will not find you a reliable local plumber.

This got me thinking. Yes, ok, it's all word of mouth and also the best tradesmen are always busy and don't actually want more business in many cases. But there must still be good plumbers just starting out, or ones who are looking to expand. & it must be possible to use social media (or digital media) to find some sort of answer.

My answer is to use Delicious. Delicious is a site that allows users to bookmark their favourite things online, and then lets other people search these. If something is popular then a lot of people will have bookmarked them. I use this when I'm travelling to get local recommendations for restaurants etc.

So here are the results for 'plumber london' in Delcious. Not perfect, by any means, and there are lots of irrelevant links, but a pretty good starting point for investigation.

For example -

4c's - bookmarked by 90 people

0800Handyman - bookmarked by 19 people

Permanex - bookmarked by 2 people

All worth investigating - and of course you can see who recommended them in each case.

Anyone else got any possible solutions to 'the plumber problem'?


Simon Grice said...

Great post. I'm planning a more indepth session on local services.

Would you be interested in participating?

I've started blogging Belocal here -

Ryan said...

How about using Buildersite?
I came across the same problem while I was working as a stonemason, and decided to try to solve it. It works, too: transactional feedback and competitive quotes.

Tony Strong said...

I think you've highlighted something interesting there. I work for a company that provides plumbing services around London. - thought I'd get that in!

Of course, we think we do an excellent job and we provide services to all areas of London.

I think for recommendations, the social networks are the way to go.

For one thing, you can get a good idea of the person giving the endorsement or complaining about the service they've received.

The problem with review sites is that they are generally anonymous and therefore open to abuse from competitors or used as a sounding board from the occasional nutcase.

Generally, people stop and think before writing a review if they know other people can see who they are. The feedback tends to be more accurate and honest. And that is better for everyone. Even the business owner and even if it's negative feedback.

This is a good article on negative feedback.

I do sometimes wonder why everyone always gets so hung up on finding a local person. Especially for services. I can see why you want a local restaurant because it's near your home and you actually go to the restaurant. So, it needs to be near to you.

But when you need a service - like a plumber - they come to you. So, as long as they cover that area, it doesn't matter to you whether they are local or not.

Also, I'm sorry to say that tradespeople in general can be very unreliable. The small one man bands are constantly juggling jobs. They're worried about getting the next job and keeping their workflow going, so they often take on too many jobs.

That's why they are sometimes late, never turn up at all or fail to finish the job.

Don't get me wrong, there are some very good tradespeople. But, everyone is well aware that this is the stereotype. And it's not wrong often enough.

The larger companies spend lots of money on marketing and therefore they don't need to juggle jobs. By and large they can manage the workflow for their plumbers and ideally everyone gets their plumber on time and their job finished.

That's the theory anyway. But if it doesn't work out at least you've got someone to complain to and not just a mobile phone number!

So, how do you find the best plumbing companies? Well, my theory (and it's not perfect) is natural selection. Type in the search term in Google and generally speaking you will find the best plumbing company or whichever service you are looking for. So search for terms like 'plumber clapham' or 'plumber whichever area you are in'.

My argument is that you need to spend a relatively large amount of money to get to the top of the searches in Google and it's very competitive - especially for services. And that only successful companies, who are managing their businesses properly and therefore have to care about customers and their feedback, manage to get to the top and stay there long enough for anyone to call them.

Call it 'Google Selection' if you like.

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