Consumer IQ

3 Sources of Reliable Business Reviews

3 Sources for Reliable Business Reviews

Companies routinely bend the truth about themselves, online, offline and through other media.

They claim their products are better, faster, cheaper than anyone else’s, but too often we’re left disappointed after our credit cards have been swiped and the money’s gone.

You can’t trust unverified user-generated reviews, self-published descriptions or trade groups funded by the industry, even when regulators are holding their feet to the fire. Last week, I explained why those sources are often unreliable.

But who can you trust?

Word of mouth

Typically, a friend’s advice is the most trusted by customers. A recent Nielsen survey found that consumers still place the highest level of trust in other people’s opinions, and with good reason. They’re our friends. We know them, and they know us.

Plus, if something goes wrong with a purchase, we know where to find them and can quickly change their recommendation (or, in extreme cases, we can change friends) if it’s appropriate.

Bottom line: If you can’t trust your friends, then who can you trust?

A neutral third party

An unbiased third party is another credible source. For example, I’ve relied on The American Customer Satisfaction Index, which is run by the University of Michigan, for ratings on major U.S. companies.

Its methodology is solid. It asks consumers what they think of a particular company and aggregates the results.

Warning: Some “impartial” companies — not going to name names — are little more than pay-for-play beauty pageants, in which award categories are created so that a company can win. They aren’t too hard to spot. Don’t trust them.

Yourself

Sounds obvious, right? Not necessarily.

People who have a negative experience with a company are often quick to dismiss it as an anomaly, especially when a company puts a product on “sale.” Trusting yourself is one of the ABCs of good consumer behavior.

If a company has burned you in the past, then go to a competitor. Give a company a second chance only if you’ve done your due diligence and have all of the assurances you need that you’re not in for a repeat. (I’ll have more on that in next week’s post.)

When it comes to the schemes, swindles and shady deals out there in consumerland, it would be easy to say: trust no one. But if we did, all commerce would stop and the economy would collapse. Also, we would all starve.

In the end, knowing whom not to trust is important, but it’s even more important to know who you can put your faith in. It’s a short list.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.