Savvy Shopper: Researching a Pool Cleaning Company (Blue Science)

I was recently searching for a pool management company to take care of weekly pool cleanings on two Texas rent houses for a relative. Staying busy with my online business makes me prone to outsource home duties for time management purposes and having been a homeowner for over a decade now has given me a strong filter in vetting service companies.

Price Not Correlated to Quality
The quality of work from home service companies is notoriously hit or miss and “you get what you pay for” does not apply. There is little correlation between the price and the calibre of the serviceman in the home service industry. There are multiple reasons for this. One being the inability to display quality of work to prospective customers leading respectable companies to under-price (relatively speaking) and newer unproven companies to overprice to create a veneer of quality and experience.

Few Big Brands – Online Search for Discovery
Home service sectors are generally not controlled by name brands. For example, name a top pool care company, landscaping company, AC repair company or roofer in your city. Unless you recently transaction with one, you probably can’t name one. This means online savvy vetting is more important. The primary vehicle for this is through online reviews.

Pool Company Search
Searching for a home service like “pool cleaners” or “pool maintenance company” will yield a mix of company websites and 3rd party directories like Yelp, Home Advisor, and Angie’s List. In general I skip the directories and just look those companies appearing on the first page of Google. Why? Because these are companies you can assume are already getting a steady flow customers (due to visibility) and therefore we should find both positive and negative reviews written about them. Their reviews are justified through the online exposure. Why did I just say that? Because a company with no exposure and many reviews screams fake reviewers.

Company Spotlight: Blue Science
So the company that appeared near the top in all my searches for pool care in Dallas and Houston was Blue Science. So now we search their name and locate the review sites hosting customer feedback. Here’s the thought template I use for home service providers, this is only for home service companies. Searching “Blue Science” I found the following sites:

Blue Science on Yelp
There was one Yelp profile for Blue Science but it appears to be old and when they were working with another company under a different name. Expect Yelp reviews of home service companies to be overwhelmingly negative. This is because pool service isn’t a socially promoted industry. People don’t brag about their pool cleaner or message their friends about the awesome AC repair company they found. Therefore, customers go to Yelp solely to vent. The happy customers likely won’t voice their experiences on Yelp until the day they suddenly felt mistreated or overcharged.

Companies efforts to balance these scales fail against Yelp’s filtering algorithm. If a company sends an email to their customer base asking if they wouldn’t mind sharing their service experience on Yelp, since the majority of US homeowners are gen X or older, they probably don’t have a Yelp account and certainly not an actively used one. Therefore the algorithm will gleefully toss their review into the black hole of “reviews that are not currently recommended”. I imagine most pool companies like Blue Science are aware of this unfortunate discrimination against non-millennials and don’t bother promoting their Yelp listing at all.

Blue Science on Zillow
Blue Science shows four different Zillow listings.

Zillow: Blue Science Austin, TX
Zillow: Blue Science San Antonio, TX
Zillow: Blue Science Pool Service Dallas, TX
Zillow: Blue Science Pool Service Houston, TX

Zillow reviews are higher than average in trustworthiness due to Zillow not being a target of review manipulation. I’ve never heard of any companies scheming to boost their Zillow rank (realtors aside). Zillow requires reviewers to enter their physical address of where the services were performed. Many reviews are likely recently transacted with Zillow in some way via a home search or realtor contact and stumbled upon a home service company in the process.

Blue Science on Yahoo
Yahoo is the least trustworthy of all business directories, without a doubt. Rampant manipulation via no filtering and not even the most basic reviewer spam checks led Yahoo to become the laughingstock of online directories. Only on Yahoo can you find:

  • companies with no reviews for years, then 20 five-stars posted all in one day
  • companies with ten five-star reviews only saying “great company!”
  • companies with five-star reviews from spam generated account names like “Albatross Quixodenture”

Therefore if the company has a one-star rating on Yahoo or a five-star rating, your response should be the same – ignore all.

Blue Science on Google Maps
It is safe to have the majority of your vetting come from Google reviews. Due to the high visibility, they are likely to attract both positive and negative reviews effortlessly. And effortless reviews are by far the most honest and straightforward since they from customers with nothing to prove and nothing to gain. Also Google requires you to create and verify an account via SMS before you can post a review, that’s a good bit of friction to block blatant spam.

Reading reviews for Blue Science I noticed a couple observations in the negative reviews. One being that many of them had obvious fake names or no names. Which doesn’t necessarily rule them out but does increase the likely-hood of gross exaggeration or falsehoods that someone doesn’t want their name attached to.

Another observation was reviewers writing much about the company and its internal operations/policies and not about their own experience. This is almost always not a customer, but a former employee that was fired for various justifiable reasons. In retaliation they sought to damage the company’s reputation through posing as an unsatisfied customer.

Real negative reviewers are easy to spot having:

  • A detailed experience, not a critique of company internals
  • Actual names of staff members and employees involved
  • Prices discussed and what was promised
  • Dates, timelines, and work history

Blue Science on 2nd Tier or Lesser Known Sites
There are many 2nd tier reviews sites, don’t expect to know them all or try to or care to. But you’ll notice them if they show up. Searching Blue Science reviews I found a site called Kudzu.

Blue Science Dallas on Kudzu

Since reviewer filter is going to be largely unknown these sites, ignore the actual star rating and just read the content of the reviews. Is there a detailed experience presented? Or is it just filler “great job” text. If so ignore.

I also saw some reviews on a site called Judy’s Book. Same rules apply, ignore the rating and just look for detailed experiences.

Judy’s Book: Blue Science Dallas
Judy’s Book: Blue Science Houston

Making Sense of it All
After taking in everything if you feel you read at least three good experiences for every one bad, that’s pair for the course. Remember this isn’t the restaurant industry and frustrated customers will voice their story disproportionately more than satisfied customers.

I hope this guide was helpful to those lesser savvy online users and seasoned junkies as well.

Know this before signing up for Earth Class Mail

Today I canceled my Earth Class Mail account. When I signed up last year, my needs were simple.  I just needed a place to see online who I am getting mail from. Most often I didn’t even need to open/scan the mail (which saved me $1.50 a pop). I could easily discern what mail needed what response just from knowing who sent it. As the weeks rolled on I was updating my address in more and places. Then I suddenly stopped to consider the cost to wean myself off of the service or to simply convert to another virtual post office (should a better company arise or Earth Class Mail decides to hike their rates). So what forwarding options do they provide to ex-customers? I searched their site and was shocked to read:

“If we receive mail for you after you’ve closed your account, US postal regulations require us to continue accepting it until six months after your closure date. Within the first two months, we hold onto this mail in case you decide to reopen your account. Once two months have passed, we’ll recycle any existing and incoming mail. At the end of the mandated six months, we’ll begin to refuse the new mail and return it to sender. As with all Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies (CMRAs), you will be unable to fill out a Change of Address form with the USPS when ending your service with us. Because of these policies and limitations, it’s important to directly contact anyone who’s sending mail to your Earth Class Mail address before you close it.”

Basically you can’t forward mail period, not through them, not through USPS. There’s no system in place to notify senders of your new address. Good luck remembering all the places you updated it.

They do a great job of making it sound like they are merely obeying US postal regulations. But these regulations were not designed with virtual postal mailboxes in mind, these companies didn’t exist until recently. So Earth Class Mail could devise their own forwarding solution to give customers like me peace of mind about furthering my dependence on their service. Alas this company and the industry as a whole are not at that stage yet. Virtual mailboxes are just a cool toy, not a real utility.

So I got out while the damage is still minimal. Thankfully I did not use my virtual address on any printed materials!