Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Smart Buying

Reliable Advice About Services

Angie's List is a virtual backyard fence -- with talk about the dry cleaner, the drywaller and everything in-between.

Harvard B-school grad Angie Hicks launched the List in 1995. The consumer-referral Web site (www.angieslist.com, $7.50 to $8.75 a month) and call center (888-944-5478) rates businesses in 124 cities.

What's the best way for consumers to get satisfaction if they have a gripe? Keep your cool. That's hard, which is one of the reasons we've had success going to bat for consumers. We're not emotionally involved.

Complain in person -- it's more effective.

Be understanding of people you talk to. If they can't help you, they'll be more likely to refer you to the person who can.

Be reasonable. If the roofer messes up five shingles on your roof, expecting him to replace the whole roof isn't realistic.

Advertisement

And finally, the more you can document what's expected on the front end, the better.

What's changed -- and what hasn't -- as the list has evolved? At first, we focused on home improvement, and those services are still the big things people think of us for. But we've also noticed the development of a lot of convenience services. We call it the pooper-scooper category -- errand services, meal prep and so forth. People are strapped for time, and they want help managing their home. They want meals in the freezer to heat and serve later. They want people to sit and wait for the service company to come to their house.

Which categories get people talking the most? People are most pleased with more-personal services, in which they have closer relationships -- home organizing and massage therapy score very high. Services that people have complained about most in recent years include snow removal, home-warranty companies and auto sales. Solar panels were at the top of the complaint list last year. Sometimes you get bizarre stories -- like the animal-removal company in Pittsburgh that went into a bathroom and found a bat with a 3-foot wingspan stuck in the tub drain.