Do we need an Angieslist in India?

I was reading Ashish Sinha’s experience using various online classified/listing services (you can read it here) and have to confess I had a similar bad experience over the past 10 days. I will share the story and the learnings below. But, this whole experience has reiterated my firm belief that we need something like an Angieslist.com in India. As a consumer in the US, I used to heavily rely on this paid service to identify quality service providers (doctors, dentists, plumbers, baby sitters and the list goes on) with reviews from real customers. Here’s more info on Angieslist from Wikipedia.

Ok, here’s the story. My wife and I have been trying to find a good babysitter for our two daughters over the past year. We have gone through probably a dozen but still have not landed a good one. Most of the babysitters have come through referrals in our apartment complex and have not worked out for many reasons, which I don’t want to bore you with. But, about 10 days back, I decided to find a professional agency to help me with this and was willing to pay for their services as well as pay more for the babysitter if need be.

I asked around a few friends but none new of any good agencies. I was always a skeptic to find a service through the web without personal reviews but desperation drove me to it. I went to google and searched for relevant key terms and came up with listings from the usual suspects: Justdial, AskLaila, Quikr, Sulekha, Click.in, Locanto, etc. to name a few. I noticed that some of these sites had reviews for the services and read up reviews wherever available and picked the best one as per reviews in 3 different sites and browsing the company’s website. To summarize the experience with this agency we picked – it was horrible. The only thing they did right (for themselves) was cash a cheque we were stupid enough to give for their services and they were smart enough to collect upfront. You can skip next two paragraphs if you are not interested in the details

Baby s(h)itter experience

As tempted as I am, to mention the agency’s name, I will avoid and say that this agency was extremely professional and did show up at our house with a babysitter the same day I called them. We (my wife and I) interviewed both the agency and the babysitter and were extremely happy with the answers. We paid the agency the commission (steep one at that) and signed up for the service with the promise of three replacements of the babysitter in a year if not satisfied. Alas, that’s where the misery started.

Next day, the babysitter did not show up as promised. When we called the “agent” the agency provided she made some silly excuse and said that she would send a new babysitter the same day – the bait-and-switch trick! We were sent a new babysitter without any background info on her and after a cursory interview decided to try her – after all she was certified by the agency we thought. This person showed up late everyday for a week and finally didn’t show up one day. During this week, we kept calling the agency and “our assigned customer service agent was always traveling and would call us back” trick was pulled out of the bag. At this point we decided to stop the babysitter and tried contacting for a replacement and again “agent” will call back. Finally we pulled the plug and went back to an apartment referral babysitter.

What did I learn?

I went back and tried to figure out what are all the lessons from this experience. Here are a few:

  • Always search for a service name followed by scam (or similar words) in Google before you sign up for it. For example: “XYZ services scam”. This was eye-opening since I found a handful of experiences very similar to ours. If I had read this before, I would have never called the agency.
  • Of the various listings/classifieds site, only a few allow for reviews. I went back and tried leaving a review with as many of the ones as possible (to pay it forward). Even if it meant being forced to sign-up for an account with these sites.
  • And, for the few like me who didn’t know this, the listing sites take down bad reviews on “listing owners” request as per a customer service agent at one of these listing sites I spoke to (to figure out why my review was removed). Obviously there is a revenue opportunity for them here and see why they are doing this. 
  • But, as a consumer, when you see a review on any of these sites you need to be aware that you are not paying for it and hence you cannot expect to get honest reviews from real customers on both good and bad experiences. You will find only “good” experiences that the “listing owners” like. Sad but true.

That brings me back to my point. I had alluded to this in a previous post “Whats On(line) in India?”. I would very much like an angieslist.in where the consumer pays but gets a trustworthy review. Anybody out there?

 

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9 thoughts on “Do we need an Angieslist in India?

  1. I pinged a friend of mine who is a co-founder of a listings/classified sites to see if what the customer service agent told me about taking down a listing based on "listing owners" request is true. Here’s what he has to say which is good for consumers:If a listing owner requests that comments be removed, we send a mail to the reviewer asking them to substantiate their review with facts ( ideally names, place, transaction details etc. ), we also give the reviewer 3 days to respond to our request.If the reviewer does not respond within 3 days, then we remove the comment. If reviewer responds with facts then we let the review stand, in cases where the reviewer response is unclear or we are unable to make a judgement call then then we send the details to our legal counsel for advice on next steps.We never ever share reviewer information at any time with the merchant, unless compelled by law.

  2. sorry to say but, these days in India, many people who work independently and many small business owners are want to make easy money, they don’t care about service, customer and ethics. Initially they promise a lot but aft getting payment they simply switch their words.

  3. Anand,I have 2 comments on this post.1) I believe that an average Indian internet user (me too) is still a consumer of information on internet. All of us like to extract as much information as possible from internet. But, we never do the ‘internet karma’. We don’t give back to the community. When someone visits a restaurant, I doubt if he updates his/her experience on Burrp.com. What about a pest control service provider – do we update Quikr, Sulekha or any other source from where we got the contact info?Unless there is a change in attitude on ‘internet karma’, we will have a lot of noise (vs signal) on anonymous, paid reviews.2) How many Indians are ready to use a service like ‘Angies List’? This is more of a self introspecting question than a comment. Do you think Indian internet user is ready to pay and use an online classified service.

  4. Thanks Mohan.@Satyapd: Good points. You are probably right. But still does not explain why most of the classified sites have many positive reviews and not negative ones. For example, Justdial did not even post my negative review but sent it directly to the "listings owner" for feedback. Do they do that for positive reviews you think? Regarding your point (2), I’m assuming there are a handful of Indians who will pay for quality reviews that are actionable (for hiring quality workers). How many people will fall in that paying category is anybody’s guess at this point.

  5. i agree with satya regarding updation of info by users. as users, we normally prefer to update on fb regarding the experience we had in a restaurant or what we are looking to buy, but probably not on sulekha, quikr, olx, clickindia, click.in, 99acres etc. i have had a tough experience finding a flat for rent too – all i got was brokers & more brokers. so, are individuals actually posting directly on these sites or they still prefer going to a broker & putting their flat on rent or car for sale because of which we find only brokers online looking for leads?

  6. @Satyapd, @Anand, @rahul — Honestly i feel, the problem is genuine but the solution is yet to be created or discovered. May be the way we are thinking to solve itself is flawed and is highly US-centric approach. Let me illustrate how i see the problem:1. Not being able to find trusted-service providers, businesses…Solution space:1. Solution 1: user generated reviews and ratings aggregated in a site… on these service providers, businesses 2. Solution 2: some company which has a few verified-trustable service-providers/businesses on their payroll, which others can trustSolution 2 is obviously not a scalable model and in a society like India, where the businesses/providers’ quality is questionable and changes over time, its even difficult to trust the intermediary company or agency who supplies these providers.Solution 1 – I agree with Satyapd that our ecosystem has not matured enough and we (majority) of us are only consumers of the content. But so was US in the 90s. It is with mass, with trust in the internet, with many many transactions that happen on internet, that could drive users to contribute back to the internet community and make it better. I feel it is happening now.. more driven by not altruism of making the community better but in the social/email/text space where users recommend to their friends what/whoever they think is better or worked for them. Hence i strongly feel, for indian ecosystem what can really work is faciliate people to share their recommendations when one of their friends are in need but make the system truly unbiased and customer oriented leading to aggregation of these recommendations and eventually resulting in simple discovery of right service providers, businesses…after all we as users dont need 100 choices and 50 reviews..we simply need that 1 or 2 provider or bsuiness or restaurant who made our firend happy..which kind of gurantees our preference match, our taste match and at the same time…gives us much better level of confidence ot make that quick decision. Sorry for the length… this space of Social-TRUSTED-Recommendations being exchanged to cut-down on information overload, to faciliate quick-decision making and fast discovery of right business/serviceprovider/movie/book or restaurant is very interesting and am following it closely to see, if that can be the ELIXIR to the problem faced by Anand daniel and the many like him….. btw i had moved back from NYC to chennai and faced much worse issues finding right place to rent, right shop to buy homefurniture, right guy to install invertor, water purifier, daycare center etc..and not just me or Anand…there are many friends of mine who just move within India for job changes, for education.. etc.. have the exact same problem..and we are talking BIG numbers here… a lot of freshers go from their home town to Pune, bangalore etc for jobs and this migration accompanied by changing life-habits like need to find physical trainer, private keyboard class tutor..makes the PAIN more and more PAINFUL….

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