The power of personal recommendation

If you need to find a tradesperson, the internet is there for you. Whether it’s a Google search, an online directory or one of the many ‘accredited tradesperson’ websites that have sprung up over the last few years, there’s no shortage of options. What there is, however, is a shortage of knowing which of the resulting names and phone numbers you can trust to do a good job.

I’ve always been a fan of personal recommendation. This worked even before the internet, through the simple process known as asking around. But now that we have so much information at our instant disposal, I find that it’s become even more important. The internet may bring us all closer together, but it does so in a distinctly anonymous way.

Checkatrade or Trusted Trader or whatever might have a list of ‘accredited’ plumbers in my area, for example, but it’s going to take more than that for me to allow someone I don’t know into my home. Especially if they’re going to be tinkering around with the pipes, the wires, the drains or anything else that can cause big problems if treated unsympathetically.

I may be a complete Luddite here, but I’d rather deal in such matters with someone I know and trust. And if I don’t happen to know and trust a tradesperson of the necessary specialism, then acting on a recommendation from someone that I do know and trust comes a close second best. Incidentally, I mean here a recommendation from someone I know in the real world.

This means, however, that those recommending tradespeople (or other professionals) to others take upon themselves a great responsibility.

Personally, I find that when asked for direction to a suitable electrician, mechanic, lawyer, vet or whatever*, I instinctively group potential suggestions into one of three categories: (i) people I’ve heard of but haven’t engaged personally, (ii) people I’ve had cause to engage, but not sufficiently frequently to have formed a view on their general competence or reliability, and (iii) people whom I trust implicitly to do a good and conscientious job and whom I would recommend without hesitation.

To make one’s way into this latter category is no easy task. But if you manage to do so, you’ll find yourself in the company of such local luminaries as Jeremy the boiler man, Charlie at the garage down the road, Barry the fence guy (for building fences, I hasten to add, not selling stolen stuff), the people at the carpet shop in town and everyone at the local vets.

American author Michael Perry refers to this level of trusted personal recommendation as ‘gotta-guy certification’. Along the lines of ‘I gotta guy who can help with that’. Which sounds about right. Although I’d emphasise that ‘guy’ here can apply to those of any gender or none. The critical thing is that a ‘gotta-guy’ recommendation isn’t just someone you happen to have heard of. It’s you saying ‘I trust this person and, because you trust me, you can trust them, too.’

So next time you need a carpenter or a tree surgeon or an estate agent or whatever, by all means look on the internet. But don’t forget to ask around, too. Because someone you know and trust may well already gotta guy.

* This happens surprisingly frequently. Probably because everyone knows I’ve lived in my little town for quite a while, know a lot of people, and have a house, two cars and two dogs that require regular repair and maintenance.

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