Saturday, July 9, 2016

Air Conditioning Brands--A Cautionary Tale

So  you want to choose the highest quality, most reliable new central air conditioning system for your home? Why not look at the reviews? Well, here are some cautions.

1. First, reviews can be faked. Review sites try to reduce the fakery, but it's difficult. Amazon distinguishes between "verified customer" and not verified. Just remember, an unhappy owner can post more than one negative review out of spite, a company across town can abuse a brand the competition uses, even a regional wholesaler might get into the act.

2. Second, and this is the most telling, unhappy customers are much more likely to post negative reviews than happy customers are likely to post positive reviews. We are a society that lives inside a culture of complaint. There is a bias toward criticism. And with air conditioning in particular, disgruntled customers are especially angry--because they are hot and miserable. (I talked to an A/C repairman once who told me it was not uncommon to be greeted on a house call by an angry customer who blamed him for the unit's failure.

To return to selecting the best air conditioner brand, here is a classic example. I wondered what the reviews were like for various brands, and hoped to pick out the best. So, I go to an evaluation site and pick Trane, a well-known brand.

Trane: (61 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: "This is the biggest [piece of junk] I  have ever owned in my life."

So I think, that's not good. Let's try Lennox, a popular brand at warehouse stores and hardware stores.

Lennox: (38 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . unit goes bad . . . class action lawsuit. . . ."

So I think, that's not what I was expecting. What about Carrier? They are a very old, experienced, reputable company, right?

Carrier: (81 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . service calls every year for the last three years. . . . Carrier's quality has gone way down."

Well, that brand sounds risky. How about Goodman?

Goodman:(63 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . total system failure . . . very, very low quality."

Now, I'm beginning to get suspicious. This brings  us to the next caution.

3. Manufacturers don't deliberately junk. I don't think I'm being a Pollyanna here. Manufacturers want to (a) stay in business (b) make a profit (c) have a good reputation and more sales by word of mouth. It is self defeating to build junk. Even if you're cynical, can you believe that all of the manufacturers above are "one-star" companies? If one or two were rated one star while others were rated three, four, or five stars, that would be more plausible. But all of them one star?

4. Individual experiences get generalized. This is the logical fallacy of hasty generalization. "I bought a Brand X air conditioner and it was no good; therefore, all Brand X air conditioners are no good." Remember the "your mileage may vary" warning? Same  here. Your experience may be unusual. If the company that installed your system did a poor job, you're likely to experience a poor air conditioner.

See the next posting for some comparisons of A/C brands.

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