TruReview: An Online Feedback Process That Can’t Be Faked?

A few years ago, Dwight Zahringer owned a web development company called Trademark Productions in Royal Oak, MI. After Google went mainstream, customers began asking him to “play” in search engine optimization, an Internet marketing strategy that involves manipulating a website’s visibility in search results and its association with particular keywords—positive and negative.

“I was approached by people to fix stuff, but also to ruin people’s reputations,” Zahringer admits. “I saw how easy it was to do that and cover your tracks. Businesses were employing people to destroy their competitors online.”

One way businesses try to trick search engines and consumers is through reviews, like the kind you see on Yelp or Angie’s List. Businesses tell (or pay) their friends to write positive reviews to boost their ranking. Conversely, people with an axe to grind can bombard a review site with negative commentary to send a business’s ranking plummeting.

Watching this play out on the Web gave Zahringer an idea for a startup that might appeal to companies and consumers who are dissatisfied with the likes of Angie’s List and Yelp. What if he devised a fool-proof way for businesses that not only to solicit honest feedback, but also to follow up with unhappy customers and address their concerns directly?

After considering all the angles, Zahringer launched TruReview in May, with an initial focus on companies such as appliance repair shops and contractors that send service staff out to customers’ homes. TruReview, at heart, is appointment notification software. A business creates a profile on TruReview and enters information about its staff—names, qualifications, pictures, and, starting this fall, recent criminal background checks and drug test results.

After a customer books an appointment, TruReview sends him a confirmation e-mail with all of the information about the service person who will fulfill the appointment. (As to whether customers really care if the guy coming to fix their dishwasher smokes a little pot during his off hours, Zahringer says, “It’s a higher level of integrity. We’re just trying to help customers feel safe and get more business.”)

Once the appointment is over, TruReview sends the customer another e-mail requesting feedback. Once the customer types his review, it posts automatically to the business’s website. At that point, it’s also shareable on social media.

“We’re giving consumers more transparency,” Zahringer says. “There’s no way it can be faked and it helps businesses get back to customer service, frankly.”

Zahringer says businesses that get bad reviews have the opportunity to contact the customer offline or post a response, which triggers a re-review process for the customer. The customer never has to create an account to post reviews.

Zahringer says that in the next month or two, he’ll launch the restaurant review portion of the site. The process will essentially be the same: A restaurant’s server will ask customers for their e-mail addresses when they pay the bill, and TruReview will send out messages requesting feedback.

TruReview charges a monthly fee for businesses to use the service, and Zahringer says he offers the first 60 days as a free trial. “We’ve found that most people are getting good reviews,” he adds. “And if they aren’t, TruReview helps the businesses understand where they’re messing up internally.”

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