The premise of Angie’s List is extremely appealing: accurate reviews that you can trust, because reviewers pay to participate. This simple reversal of the usual relationship—where the vendor pays to participate, but users can post for free—significantly cuts down on fraud, or should.

My wife has been subscribing to Angie’s list for about six to nine months now. She has sourced many contractors to provide quotes, and has selected quite a few of them for regularly recurring engagements.

The relationship is fantastic until the time comes for the contractor to actually perform the job. Each one has either performed poorly, or not at all. Examples of failure include doing a job not in keeping with the quality promised; not returning for work after a schedule had been agreed to; or repeatedly missing the same first rescheduled appointment (because the contractor keeps not showing).

One contractor showed up on time, but had forgotten he’d already agreed to the job. He showed because he thought he was coming over to give an estimate instead of doing the actual work, after he’d already been by the week prior to give an estimate where he was awarded the job.

So far the failure rate is 100%. How can that happen, considering that real people are posting about real experiences with these businesses?

My wife and I theorize that that these businesses have become too successful too quickly. We make this assumption because many of the contractors have told us that most of their business now comes from Angie’s List. They actually make a point of telling us this to communicate “social proof,” to imply that it’s safe to buy because a lot of people have chosen this service and are very satisfied with it.

We are guessing that most haven’t yet learned to say “no” when they can no longer perform their jobs at their usual high quality. They like the money, but they can’t seem to grasp the importance of customer satisfaction—weird, when considering that their businesses grew because of customer satisfaction.

And that’s a real problem everywhere: thinking the sale is over when contracts are signed, and as a result putting growth ahead of customer satisfaction.

Last week CMS Wire ran a webinar called “Rethinking Web Engagement – Leading with Content Marketing.” On the broadcast Robert Rose showed a revised shape of the sales funnel; not funnel- but hourglass shaped.

Rober Rose Sales Funnel

Copyright 2012 Robert Rose

To readers of this blog, the concept that the sale is not complete and the brand in jeopardy until the customer is satisfied, is not new. But the visualization is a wonderful reinforcement and reminder that customers are our least plentiful asset. And they are the fulcrum around which our businesses revolve.

Word of mouth marketing is still the most powerful marketing out there, and that’s what Angie’s List is monetizing for itself. But Angie’s List seems to be misunderstood by contractors for preselling customer satisfaction, instead of reselling customer satisfaction ratings.

You can buy customers, but no business can buy customer satisfaction; you have to create it (and maintain it).