How We Gather (and How to Interpret) Our Data
Our tables rating individual service providers will be more valuable to you if you know how the data were gathered and how they should be interpreted.
We regularly survey area consumers for their feedback on services they have used. We primarily survey our subscribers, but also invite other randomly selected consumers to provide ratings.
On our surveys, we ask consumers to rate their experiences with services they had most recently used on several aspects of service. Our ratings tables show the percent of each company’s surveyed customers who provided a rating of “superior” (as opposed to “inferior” or “adequate”) for questions on our survey.
Our ratings tables include all of the service providers 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 firms 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.
For many of the services we evaluate, our ratings tables show the number of complaints filed against each company with the Better Business Bureau for a three-year period.
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.
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 or item 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 or item, standardized it, and assigned a weight to each job or item, 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 or items checked may not be representative; the weighting of various jobs or items in the scores may not accurately reflect typical expenditure patterns; and the number of jobs or items is small.
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 2012 to January 2024. Survey respondents were asked to report on experiences in the preceding year. Our data on complaints for the Better Business Bureau are for a three-year period dating back from a date in March 2023. Our price data were collected from September 2022 to January 2023. The data from our surveys of companies to ask about facts such as areas served were collected from January to March 2023.
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 company had this number of ratings:
|And a second company had this number of ratings:
|Do not give much importance to the difference between the frequency with which the two companies experience a particular rating or result unless the difference is at least this many percentage points:
|Assuming the average of the two companies' percentages is 50 percent
|Assuming the average of the two companies' percentages is 80 percent