Online App Improves Customer Ratings for California Plumbing Company

A fast, app-based review process makes it easy for customers to give this plumber an online thumbs-up.
Online App Improves Customer Ratings for California Plumbing Company
A screenshot of The Plumbing Doc’s Real Time Reviews app that is sent to customers following a service call.

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In the years BI (Before Internet), the biggest marketing decision Rick Clemmons had to make was what size ads to take out in the phone books to promote his company, The Plumbing Doc, a service and repair outfit he established in 2000 in Bakersfield, California.

Things are much more complicated now. Instead of fighting for consumers’ attention in phone books, contractors are now scrambling to boost their internet presence through positive online reviews on websites and social-media platforms, and struggling to combat false negative reviews posted by unethical competitors. But Clemmons has found a simple, yet effective weapon to wield in this digital battle: Real Time Reviews, an app that makes it extremely easy for customers to review his service — and eliminates false negative ads.

“I never expected things to go this way,” Clemmons, 58, says of the burgeoning importance of online reviews. “But reviews really have a major effect on my business.” As such, he decided to give Real Time Reviews a try about a year ago, although he concedes he was a bit skeptical at first.

That skepticism lasted until Clemmons, a master plumber with 12 employees, almost immediately saw a boost in his online ranking — coupled with a corresponding jump in sales calls. “For the money, it’s about the most impactful thing you can do for effective online marketing,” he reports. “We do some pretty good tracking on service calls. Our people can’t put calls into the dispatch board without first finding out where customers heard about us — Angie’s List, Google, HomeAdvisor, Yelp and so forth.

“I would say that within the first two weeks, we saw a 10 percent increase in calls that came off Google searches,” he continues. “People see the number of stars (on the reviews) and call us. Consumers really read those reviews.”

Use of the app costs $199 a month, and there’s no annual contract required. Clemmons praises its simplicity, which is critical for time-strapped customers who are unlikely to provide reviews if the process is complicated. Here’s how it works: After completing a job, a technician asks the customer if they’re willing to provide an online review of the work. If they agree, the technician calls up the Real Time Reviews app on a cellphone, types in the customer’s name and phone number, and sends the customer a text.

The resulting message thanks the customer for using The Plumbing Doc and asks if he or she would recommend the company to others. They can hit either “yes” or “no.” If they hit “yes,” then it asks if they want to give a review on Facebook and/or Google. If they click on that, it walks them through some basic steps and then publishes the review immediately. “Sometimes our techs call me after a job and say, ‘Hey, Rick, check out the review I just got,’” he says.

The process doesn’t take more than three to five minutes. During that time, technicians usually load tools back on their trucks so they’re not standing around, wasting time. The ability to do the reviews quickly is important because technicians don’t leave until the customer finishes the review. Why? Even if customers say they will do a review, research shows the vast majority won’t do so after a contractor leaves the job site, he notes. “They mean well, but real life tends to intrude.”

The system’s simplicity is a big asset, too, Clemmons adds. He explains that in the past, he’s had customers who were willing to provide a good review but didn’t do so because the process was too difficult and time-consuming to navigate. “I actually used to give people a hard copy of instructions for how to post an online review,” he recalls. “And if I asked 20 people to give us a review, I might’ve received one.”

Of course, technicians must be discerning about which customers they ask to do a review. As Clemmons puts it, “If they’re a pain in the butt, you don’t send them the link. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out if a customer is happy or not. I like this system because it gives you more control over who’s going to give the reviews.”

Speaking of control, Clemmons also praises the app’s security. Customers can provide a review only if a technician sends them a link via the app, and then they have to log in to platforms such as Facebook or Google to complete the process. That ensures they’re legitimate reviewers, not unscrupulous competitors.

“We all have problems with false reviews, and they’re very hard to get rid of,” he says. “I still have one on Yelp that’s been there for more than a year. I have no record of ever doing work for a customer with that name, so I know it’s fake. But with Real Time Reviews, I’m certain the reviews are legitimate because we send the link directly to the customers.”

The Real Time Reviews app benefits the business in more ways than just raising its online ranking. For starters, Clemmons says he’s recorded a 10 to 15 percent increase in revenue just from reduced spending on phone book ads. “If you can get a $150,000 to $200,000 increase in annual revenue for an investment of a couple hundred dollars a month, I’d say that’s a pretty good return on your money,” he says.

Furthermore, the reviews act as a quality-control program of sorts. While Clemmons says his technicians are conscientious about providing good customer service, knowing they have to ask for a review makes them even more aware of what it takes to make customers happy. And if a technician consistently doesn’t obtain Real Time Reviews, that alerts Clemmons to a potential problem.

So far, that hasn’t been an issue. In fact, Clemmons says that The Plumbing Doc consistently maintains an online ranking of 4.75 to 4.85 stars out of a possible five. “It’s hard to make every single customer happy,” he says.

The takeaway for other plumbers? If they don’t feel comfortable pursuing a positive online presence, it’s only going to hurt them in the long run if they don’t because the internet is just too powerful a forum to ignore. “If a customer is ticked off, thousands of potential customers can see their negative review,” he says. “So you’ve got to maintain good ratings. If you’re not rolling with the times, you’re falling behind.”


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