In the old days, if a customer felt ripped off by a local business, he or she would probably tell a few friends and family members, and there might be a small backlash against the business. In many cases, it might not have even caused a ripple in the business’ revenue stream.

Ah, the good ol’ days — we can reminisce about them, but we can’t bring them back.

Now, thanks to an interesting Web site — — consumers are venting their frustrations on a global level. Yep, thanks to the long tentacles of the Internet, consumers with a beef about a business have been able to damage its reputation on a grand scale. As of June 17, there were 48 total complaints in the “Heating, Cooling & Ventilation” category.

Consumer Complaints

One consumer complained about the vast difference between two estimates from two different companies on an air conditioning repair, leading the homeowner to conclude that the first company was dishonest. “My home A/C unit stopped working so I called several A/C repair companies looking for an available repairman,” reads the complaint. A technician from the first company “inspected my system and came to the conclusion that the entire outside portion of my A/C system needed to be replaced at a cost of $1,900 to $2,100.” The homeowner states that one of the notes on the invoice read “checked run cap. — good.”

The consumer received better news from a technician from a second company, who “within minutes diagnosed the problem as the run capacitor (a very inexpensive part), replaced the defective part, and had the system working perfectly.”

“When I spoke with the person on the phone I told them I thought it might be the thermostat,” said another consumer. “When the guy arrived, he looked at everything and sure enough, it was the thermostat.

“Guess what? He didn’t bring a thermostat with him. He had to drive 15 miles back into town to pick up a thermostat and drive 15 miles back out. Well, he installed it and at no time did he tell me how much it would cost. I was presented with a bill for $200.80. When my husband found out, he was livid. I had no idea what a thermostat cost.” The bill listed the cost for the thermostat at $123.35; subsequently, the homeowners found it on sale for $18.


In most of the cases I reviewed, the consumer had a bone to pick with a contractor and wanted everyone on the planet to know about it. Thanks to the Internet, at least one version of the story is out there. (The Web site does offer the company the option of making a rebuttal.)

It’s hard not to look at a Web site such as this with mixed feelings. While the goal of exposing fraudulent companies and protecting other consumers is laudable, there is no guarantee that the consumer complaints themselves are accurate and truthful.

These cases are proof that word of mouth can work to one’s disadvantage. Complaints such as these could damage a reputation beyond repair, whether it is deserved or not. Either way, this is one time when an A/C contractor would not prefer the free publicity.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 06/23/2003