When the Water's Just Too Deep, Who You Gonna Call?

June 25, 2020


We started noticing – how can I put this delicately – the less than pleasant smell gently wafting from our basement drain some months ago. But as many of us do with slightly mysterious home issues, we more or less ignored it, hoping it was just some sort of seasonal thing and that, with time, it would simply disappear. Bad idea.

Last week, the waft morphed into a full-on assault on the olfactory system, and we had to confront the ugly truth. It was time to take action.

Since we don’t have a plumber on speed dial (does anyone – have speed dial, that is?), I decided to consult the next best thing: HomeStars, the free service “to help homeowners find verified and community-reviewed home service professionals for their home improvement needs.”

And there, I found Sewer Squad.

While I admit that I was an instant sucker for Sewer Squad’s name – short, catchy, alliterative – I was also influenced by all the excellent reviews.

“Amy scheduled my appointment right away”
“My Tech Vadym arrived on time”

“We received a call within minutes of submitting a request”  

“They gave me 3 estimates of options to compare”

Normally, I don’t put much stock in online rating sites. My main problem with sites like RateMDs, Rate My Professors, Chowhound, even Trip Advisor, is that I have no clue who the reviewers are. I don’t know their usual tastes and standards. I don’t know if they are generally calm and balanced or flighty people who have a little too much time on their hands. In short, I don’t know how credible or trustworthy the reviews are.

The other problem is that the reviews tend to be highly subjective. They are based on a skewed sample of reviewers – people who either really love or really hate the service provider in question.

As well, many of the reviews are short on facts. RateMDs is full of statements like: “Dr. Zeus is the “best doctor I’ve ever had.”  

On Chowhound, the people’s restaurant rating site, you’ll often find helpful comments like, “the service was terrible.” How so, I want to know. Did you have to wait at the door? How long did it take a server to approach your table? Give you water? Offer you drinks?

And don’t get me started on Trip Advisor. Good friends once booked Trip Advisor’s “top-rated hotel in Rome”, only to find that the room was small and cramped and the breakfast not much better than coffee and a stale bun. They stayed one night and booked into a different hotel.  

But the HomeStars reviews for Sewer Squad were different. They were concrete and specific.

From the reviews, I got a very clear idea of what to expect from Sewer Squad. The posts included names – the same people I talked to on the phone. The posts mentioned text messages to say the plumber was on his way – and that’s what I got, complete with the tech’s photo so I wouldn’t be opening the door to a complete and utter stranger.

Giving good feedback – feedback that is actually useful – is tricky. But since we are often called upon to do it – at work, at home, with friends, online for a particular experience – it’s worth considering how to do it well.

Here are three things to keep in mind when you are next required, asked – or tempted – to give feedback.

No. 1: Look at your motivation.

Look inside. Are you feeling hurt or offended? Do you have a gripe or a bone to pick? In other words, is this really about you? If you take a good, honest look at yourself, and decide, yes, this is really about me, do not proceed to go, do not collect $200. Instead, take a breath (or five), sit down and re-think.

On the other hand….are you genuinely interested in improving something or someone? Do you have good ideas that will make your experience or the experience of others like you better in the future? If the answer is yes, then sally forth.

No.2: Be constructive.

What does it mean to be constructive? Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up; promoting improvement or development.

This is linked to tip #1. Feedback that merely critiques or judges but doesn’t provide useful suggestions on how to improve, build up or develop is likely motivated by the wrong thing. It is likely motivated by our need to get something off our chest, our need to be heard. Constructive feedback comes from the opposite place – an unselfish and generous desire to help or improve someone or something outside of ourselves.

Of course, we’ve all been on the receiving end of “well-meaning” feedback that somehow still rankles. Getting it right is not only a diplomatic exercise on the part of the feedback giver. It also requires openness and confidence on the part of the receiver. Therapy, anyone?

No.3: Be concrete.

The most helpful feedback is feedback that people and organizations can act on. This requires objective facts, not vague statements, opinions and interpretations.

Therapy notwithstanding, generally, people will be more open to receiving feedback when it is factual and specific. For the feedback giver, this means giving thought to practical solutions that will provide the receiver with a clear path, or at least a distinct step, to improve their practice, approach or outlook.    

Think back to the Sewer Squad reviews on HomeStars. I didn’t merely learn that the “service was amazing” – a subjective evaluation; I learned that Sewer Squad returned the reviewer’s call “within minutes.” While it’s possible that “minutes” might not accord with my idea of amazing service – I might be having a drain meltdown and expect Sewer Squad to contact me within 35 seconds – at least, I now have some objective data to help me make my decision.

And, as it turns out, the service was amazing. Drain problem solved – quickly, expertly, professionally.

Remember this:
The best feedback is specific and constructive – and motivated by a genuine desire to improve.

Effective Communication