Steve Jordan interviews the people behind Sirelo, a website that has caused anger amongst movers worldwide.
It was a complaint that first alerted me to Sirelov. I took the matter seriously: spoke to the people concerned, asked for an explanation, passed this on to the complainant and let the matter lie. But then the complaints kept coming from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand … I had to find out more.
Sirelo is a website run by TriGlobal, the lead generation company used by many international movers. It exists to provide review information to consumers and generate leads that TriGlobal can then sell on to its partners. Lead generation companies spend heavily on harvesting the leads and then sell them on for less money than it would have cost the companies to do it themselves.
It’s a business model that should have been unnecessary if the industry had seen the writing on the wall back in 2005 or so. But it didn’t, so we now have this additional layer between the customer and the service provider that most movers have come to accept … if reluctantly. Some call the lead generators parasites who steal enquiries then sell them back to the industry. But that’s how disruption works: you don’t see it coming then, by the time you do, it’s too late.
So, it’s not what TriGlobal does with Sirelo that’s causing such angst, no more than anyone else anyway, it’s the way it’s done that’s the problem. Let me explain:
Sirelo is a website portal that attracts enquiries for international removals then offers the customer five quotations from movers in their area. The problem comes when the customer Googles a company that they know. In this case, the company will be listed on the Google search but, scroll down just a little and there’s the company also listed on the Sirelo site with a tag line ‘Reviews and Complaints’. It would require a super-human self will for the customer not to click on that page. Having done so, the customer is taken to a page provided on Sirelo for that company, showing contact details and branding, plus the opportunity to get four more quotes, quotes that will be provided by TriGlobal’s partners.
The complainants believe that this is unfair because TriGlobal has acquired the enquiry by using the original company’s name and good reputation. It has then sold it on to four competitors that might not have been considered by the customer otherwise. The obvious remedy, of course, is to take your company name off the Sirelo site. Here is the problem: TriGlobal won’t do it. The company says that it aims to have every moving company in the world listed and it refuses to remove any company’s details.
At least one company has threatened to sue TriGlobal if they did not remove its details, but succeeded only in having its logo removed, not its listing. I have spoken to many companies that are listed but did not know Sirelo existed. This is a problem because Sirelo also publishes reviews from customers and if a company does not know it’s listed it cannot respond to reviews, good or bad. More investigation was needed so I headed off to The Netherlands to meet the company’s Marketing Manager Brielle Jones and CEO Maurice Don.
Brielle and Maurice welcomed me warmly to their rather smart offices in Dordrecht, about an hour by car from Amsterdam. The offices usually house 25+ people but, owing to a national public transport strike, there were only a handful of diehards there when I visited. They explained that TriGlobal started in 2004, right at the start of the lead-gen revolution. Today the company has around 500 subscribers worldwide and supplies around 100,000 leads to the industry for which is charges €10-€15 each on average.
The Sirelo site started three years ago to help customers understand the prices they received by showing reviews to help them judge the quality of movers’ services rather than relying on price alone. “Movers have the opportunity to take part by getting reviews and being seen,” said Brielle. “They get further exposure for free on a website that gathers its own momentum by the value of what’s on there.” TriGlobal says it has 9,935 profiles on Sirelo and tracks the moving industry as best it can to keep the content updated.
TriGlobal does not ask permission to add a company to Sirelo nor does it allow a company to remove its listing. I asked why? Maurice said it was just public information that he used so there was no need to ask permission. “If we delete companies it’s no good for the consumer and in 99% of cases it’s the companies with bad reviews that want to be removed. I understand why companies are upset. It bothers me a lot because it would be easy for us to remove profiles if asked but we think it’s important to give a complete overview of moving companies so that customers can publish their feedback.” Sirelo also shows each company’s logo and branding too which some companies are particularly sensitive to. At least one company has been successful in having its branding removed if not the listing itself.
Brielle said that this was not the first site like this. She quoted Trustpilot as an example and claimed that Sirelo was more detailed: it was better that someone from the industry was now doing it. “We don’t do anything different from Google but we try to make it better and work.” However, neither Google nor Trustpiolt are selling leads to competitors!
I have spoken to many companies that have not heard about Sirelo and did not know that they were listed on it. I asked how TriGlobal informs companies that they are listed. Maurice was unsure about how that was done. They always include the e-mail published on the company’s website but have no way of knowing if that address is monitored. They offer companies the opportunity of amending an e-mail address but that’s difficult for them if they don’t know that they are on the site in the first place. “It’s not a secret, we want people to know,” said Maurice. It’s also impossible for companies to respond to reviews if they don’t know they are listed. When testing the system, I made a false enquiry and none of the four companies that responded from TriGlobal had heard of Sirelo.
All moving companies can respond to reviews on Sirelo. To obtain your password-protected personal login to the mover portal e-mail email@example.com. You can also change your profile through the portal.
TriGlobal says that it tries hard to verify that reviews are genuine. Maurice wouldn’t tell me how that was done as he felt it would allow people to get around the verification process. He said that it involved checking IP addresses, spotting unusual patterns of reviews and repetitive text and if abuses were found on an account it would be suspended until the issue was resolved. I know people who have left false reviews on Sirelo to test the system. They were not challenged.
TriGlobal staff members have been accused of posting fake reviews about Sirelo through their own personal accounts on another platform. This had nothing to do with reviews on the Sirelo platform. The company said there were in total six reviews published over three years. “After this was pointed out by a mover we acknowledged this, and asked the employees to remove the reviews to show that there was no malintent,” said Brielle. Maurice said that they have now been removed. “A lot of moving companies don’t like Sirelo so they leave bad reviews on our Facebook account,” he said. “The reaction was to compensate for that. We don’t encourage that here. We don’t pretend to be perfect, but we are open and willing to adjust.”
Asked about the ethics of using companies’ names and reputations to generate enquiries for TriGlobal partners Maurice justifies it by saying that customers will go to more than one company anyway. “I understand that movers are upset but Sirelo is a consumer platform and we provide services and information to help the consumer. As a consumer you are not worse off. Movers might not like the game but it’s the world we live in.” He said that movers are only half the story. He wants to add value to consumers. By publishing reviews from every company, he intends to alert consumers to bad companies to help them and protect the rest of the industry. “Competition is not a bad thing. It keeps you sharp and if we do it with respect for each other we can find mutual benefit. Or you can do nothing and wait until Uber enters the market.”
Brielle said that there is much inefficiency in the industry and technology companies are already knocking at the door. “They don’t care about the industry,” she said. “Their agenda is to make the process efficient for consumers and earn money in the process. We serve the consumers and keep the movers in the game. Typical customer behaviour is: I want it now, I will not commit, I want my price, I want to compare with three others at least and I want to see the reviews about your company. The moving industry doesn’t yet fit with consumer needs. There needs to be an evolutionary shift.”
TriGlobal has already lost partners because of Sirelo. “We care about losing partners, but don’t choose for the easy solution even if it hurts us,” said Brielle. “We need to maintain the integrity of the platform and its intention. Most of them return to using our services. This is just an initial phase of anger.” I suggested that this might be because they couldn’t manage without the leads. Brielle disagreed saying that they don’t believe they have such a hold on their partners. I suspect she is underestimating the importance of lead generation to the industry.
There is also the issue of claimed discounts on the site. The headline figure that consumers are tempted with is a 40% saving. I’m not sure what that is compared with, but I am convinced that it’s not helpful to an industry that is already under extreme price pressure. I suggested that consumers didn’t just want cheap prices, they wanted quality as well. Brielle said that was the purpose of the reviews. She claimed that the system did not drive consumers to the lowest price and it was not in their interest to destroy the market. “We are hoping that having five quotes will quench the thirst for consumers to shop around.” Maybe that’s true, but I still think it’s unhelpful to draw the consumer’s attention to price.
What about the future? “We don’t have a plan,” said Maurice, “but we do have ideas.” He says his aim is to make the moving industry more efficient. One way might be to perform remote surveys for the movers. He’s also looking at the corporate world that is already becoming more like the private market. And believes that efficiency will become increasingly important as shipment sizes continue to shrink.
So, is Sirelo just a site that cynically harvests enquiries, using companies’ hard-earned reputations, only to sell them to their competitors? Many would think so and I have much sympathy with that view. Or is it a leader that will transform the moving market to make it more efficient, customer focussed and fit for the future? You need to decide.
Meanwhile, I suggest you get a Sirelo login and manage the reviews you might already be getting. And keep an open mind – something the moving industry is not traditionally good at doing.