How We Gather (and How to Interpret) Our Data
We regularly survey area Consumers' Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers for their feedback on services they have used. We sometimes also survey subscribers to various other websites and publications and survey a sampling of other area consumers. For our survey on electricians, we asked consumers to rate their experiences with companies they had most recently used "inferior," "adequate," or "superior" on several aspects of service, including "doing work properly on the first try," "starting and completing work promptly," "letting you know cost early," "advice on service options and costs," and "overall performance." Our ratings tables show the percent of each company's surveyed customers who rated it "superior" (as opposed to "inferior" or "adequate") on each question.
We have included on our ratings tables all of the companies for which we received at least 10 ratings on our customer surveys. If a company is not listed on our ratings tables, it simply means we did not receive at least 10 ratings for it.
Since many companies were rated by rather small numbers of raters, small differences between two companies in the percentage of raters who gave a particular rating (say, "superior") should be ignored. The table below gives a rough guide to minimum differences you should look for in deciding on one company over another.
When using these survey data, remember that the questions are to some degree subjective and that the differences among companies might be explained by differences in the personalities, backgrounds, critical standards, and other characteristics of the raters or by biases these raters might have.
Complaint Counts and Rates
Our ratings tables report the number of complaints filed against individual companies with local Better Business Bureaus (BBBs) for a three-year period. Where we were able to, we have also reported on our ratings tables a complaint rate for each company, calculated by dividing the number of complaints by our measure of the number of full-time-equivalent employees who do residential electrical work for the companies. These complaint rates are intended as a rough way to take into account volume of work and the fact that companies that do more work are exposed to a greater risk of incurring complaints.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are not always justified; sometimes the customer is unreasonable. Also, be aware that some companies may be at greater risk than others of incurring complaints because of the specific types of business they do. And remember that the measure of business volume we use in calculating complaint rates (the number of full-time-equivalent workers who perform residential electrical work) is at best a very rough indicator.
We always recommend that you look for substantial differences in complaint counts and rates. We also advise giving little weight to complaint counts if the total count against a company is less than three or four.
Price Comparison Scores
To compute our price comparison scores, we calculated an average price for each job for all the companies that quoted on that job or item. Next we compared each company’s price to the average. One company might come in at 120 percent of the multi-company average for a particular job, and another company might come in at 90 percent. We took each company’s percentage score on each job, standardized it, and assigned a weight to each job, based on our judgment. We then averaged the standardized, weighted percentage scores to find how the company compared to other companies overall. Finally, we multiplied this overall percentage score by a flat dollar amount, say, $100.
The price comparison score, then, is intended to indicate the relative prices we found for the companies, adjusted to the base of this flat dollar amount. These scores are imperfect for various reasons: for instance, the jobs checked may not be representative; the weighting of various jobs in the scores may not accurately reflect typical expenditure patterns; and the number of jobs is small.
Areas Served, Minimum Service Charges, and Labor Rates
Information reported on our ratings tables regarding areas served, minimum service charges, and labor rates came directly from the companies' representatives. We mailed each company a survey. For companies that did not respond to our mailed survey, our researchers called each company to complete a survey over the phone and then followed up with a mailed verification form.
Timeliness of the Data
All of the data must be interpreted in view of timeliness. Our customer survey data are from surveys conducted from January 2009 to October 2018. Survey respondents were asked to report on experiences in the preceding year. Our data on complaints for the BBBs are for a three-year period dating back from a date in February or March 2018. The data from our survey of companies were collected from December 2017 to March 2018. Our price data were collected from September 2017 to January 2018.
For the most part, our tables include companies for which we collected 10 or more ratings on our customer survey during the customer survey period mentioned above, but we do not report data for periods prior to companies' changes of name and ownership. As a result, some large companies are not listed at all. If only name or ownership changed, we do report the data. Changes subsequent to the dates listed above may not be taken into account.
We give checkmarks to companies that score highest on a scoring system that we devise for each service field. Our scoring systems weight the various data in our tables and text based on our subjective judgment of their importance. Since the scores are based entirely on information presented, you can apply your own subjective judgments, and decide whether you prefer companies we have not given checkmarks. Where we do not have important data on a company, we cannot give our checkmark.
|A rough guide for deciding whether the difference between two percentages is important||If one firm had this number of ratings:||And a second had this number of ratings:||Do not give much importance to the difference between percentages unless the difference is at least this many percentage points:|
|Assuming the average of the two firms' percentages is 50 percent||10
|Assuming the average of the two firms' percentages is 80 percent||10