Why the Better Business Bureau Should Give Itself a Bad Grade

Last week, the Better Business Bureau announced that it had officially expelled one of its local affiliates, the BBB of Southland, which served the greater Los Angeles area.

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Last week, the Better Business Bureau announced that it had officially expelled one of its local affiliates, the BBB of Southland, which served the greater Los Angeles area.

The expulsion stems back to a pay-to-play scandal unearthed in 2010 by the ABC News show 20/20. The investigation showed extortion-type practices applied to local businesses: Those that paid annual dues to the BBB were handed accreditation and A ratings, while those that didn’t play along were given subpar grades, even if they hadn’t received complaints. Most disturbingly, investigators were able to get accreditation and an A- grade for a fake, totally nonexistent business after paying a $425 fee to the local BBB. (The name of the dummy business was Hamas—yep, the same as the Middle Eastern terrorist organization.)

Katherine Hutt, a spokesperson for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which oversees the 113 independently operated local BBBs around North America, characterized the Southland affiliate scandal as “an isolated situation.” Getting rid of the the rogue branch just proves that the BBB is “the leader in advancing marketplace trust between businesses and consumers,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of the national Council of BBBs, in a press release. “We hold businesses to high standards for honesty, transparency, fairness and integrity, and we hold ourselves to those same standards.”

It’s certainly good that the Southland branch is no longer associated with the BBB. But the fact that it took more than two years to expel a branch that was basically engaged in open extortion is cause for concern. What’s more, a closer look at the BBB shows what appear to be built-in conflicts of interest throughout the organization. At the very least, the BBB certainly isn’t what many consumers think it is — some quasi-government combination of consumer advocate, watchdog, and complaint bureau. And even after jettisoning the bad apple in southern California, the BBB hardly seems fair and transparent.

What with the rise of online forums and user review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, the services provided by the BBB would also seem to be increasingly irrelevant. But due to widespread concerns about the trustworthiness of online reviews, and the fact that the BBB clings to a reputation as some sort of “official” organization, consumers continue to reflexively turn to the BBB. The association announced that consumer inquiries had risen 20% from 2011 to 2012, and that the number of complaints made with the BBB by consumers against businesses rose 6%, to nearly one million. The numbers “demonstrate the trust that consumers place in us to give them good information, to steer them toward good businesses and away from bad ones, and to help them resolve problems when they arise,” said Hurt, who described the BBB brand as “more relevant than ever.”

(MORE: Top Consumer Complaints: Our Latest, Biggest, Weirdest Grievances)

Relevance aside, let’s clarify what the BBB is –and what it isn’t. In local Yellow Pages around the country, BBB affiliates are often listed under the category of “Government Offices.” Understandably, many consumers assume the BBB is an official government agency. But this isn’t the case. The BBB itself acknowledges the misperception on its blog, noting “We are not a government agency” as one of five facts consumers didn’t know about the BBB.

Another of these little-known facts about the BBB: “We are not a consumer watchdog.” While the BBB offers consumers many services—lists of popular scams to watch out for and such—the organization’s mission isn’t to have your back. From top to bottom, the BBB is funded by the annual dues paid by businesses it anoints with “accreditation,” which allows the companies to put those iconic BBB stamps of approval on their storefronts and websites. This fact raises obvious questions about an inherent conflict of interest: The organization’s customers are businesses, not taxpayers or consumers. How can the BBB serve as an honest broker between businesses and consumers when it is fully funded by one of these parties? Many argue that it cannot — that there’s a natural incentive to paint its paying clients in the best possible light.

Whether or not a business is accredited, it can be graded by the BBB. The grading system, ranging from A+ to F, is confusing at best, useless at worst. Business grades are determined by 16 factors, including how many complaints have been filed with the BBB against the business, and if and how the business responded. Notably, however, a business’s grade won’t necessarily be hurt if nothing much comes of a complaint and the customer is left unsatisfied. Rather, all that matters, grading-wise, is that the business responded and made a “good faith effort to resolve complaints,” according to the BBB. This means that a business could have a good grade even if it is the subject of lots of complaints, as long as the business dutifully responds — even in a pro forma way.

On the flip side, a business that is committed to handling complaints directly with customers in a substantive way, but does so outside the purview of the BBB, will get a poor grade because the BBB is not involved. So a company can have a B or C rating, or even an F, simply because it doesn’t play by the BBB’s rules, which include looping in the organization with complaint responses and providing the BBB with background information about the company.

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The complaints system is also flawed because consumers usually can’t read the specifics of gripes from previous customers. It’s therefore impossible to get a sense of whether a complaint is legitimate, or if it’s coming from a crank who would probably never be satisfied. This reality is frustrating for businesses and consumers alike.

Sometimes, the grades make perfect sense. For example, a Detroit Free Press article recently highlighted a sketchy company that sells a product called WaxVac, which is advertised on TV, and which customers have complained about because of upsells on phone orders and excessive shipping fees ($38, all nonrefundable). The company has what seems like an appropriate D rating from the BBB.

But the system can also hand out grades in what seems to be a haphazard, unfair, or outright absurd fashion. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times’ David Lazarus did a random search of the BBB’s database of about 4 million North American companies. What he found was that the accredited businesses — even those that get numerous complaints — very often received higher grades than unaccredited companies with spotless complaint records.

Today, a Ben & Jerry’s in Maryland has had just one complaint in three years (resolved successfully), and yet it gets just a B rating, in part because “BBB does not have sufficient background information on this business.” Compare that to AT&T, which has received 22,474 complaints over the past three years at last check, yet gets the same B grade as the little Ben & Jerry’s shop.

(MORE: The Yelp Conspiracy: How a Group of Businesses Conspired to Get Better Yelp Ratings)

In case you’re wondering, Bank of America gets an A (3,880 complaints in the last three years), Comcast gets a B- (13,231 complaints), General Motors gets an A+ (348 complaints), and, interestingly enough, the user review site Yelp also gets an A+ (816 complaints).

Even in cases where the grades generally seem fair, however, they probably don’t mean what you think. Unlike the reviews on Yelp or Angie’s, the BBB’s grades are not a reflection of customer experiences or the overall quality of a business. “We are not rating the products or services they provide,” said Hutt. Instead, business grades are mainly determined by “how they resolve customer complaints,” Hutt clarified.

But how often are complaints truly resolved? The BBB brags that it handled nearly one million complaints about businesses last year. How much time can BBB staffers devote to each of these grievances? Seconds? Perhaps a few minutes? There is more than one incentive to make complaints go away and not damage business grades. If a business’s grade drops too low, it will lose accreditation and the BBB will lose out on those annual fees.

A 2011 New York Times article pointed out examples of BBB complaints being closed—or not even registered—despite the fact that customers weren’t remotely happy with the behavior of the business at hand. When a complaint is deemed “closed” by the BBB, a consumer can elect for the BBB’s mediation services. But those services must be paid for by the consumer, resulting in a situation that, say, a customer must pay $70 in order to get $39 back on computer software that didn’t work as promised. This scenario works out well for businesses, which can maintain their good BBB grades and see their annual dues as money well spent:

It pays $550 a year in dues, and for that money, it puts between itself and its many unhappy customers a toll booth operated by no less an authority than the Better Business Bureau. And passage through this toll booth costs nearly twice as much as the product for which a refund is sought.

Because the BBB has no government affiliation whatsoever, it cannot shut down a business or force it to do much of anything. In Yelp reviews of the BBB, consumers and business owners alike call the organization “useless” time and again. Few businesses go public with criticism of the BBB because, among other reasons, there is a stipulation in BBB standards that lists the following as a reason a company can have its accreditation revoked: “Avoid involvement, by the business or its principals, in activities that reflect unfavorably on, or otherwise adversely affect the public image of BBB or its accredited businesses.”

(MORE: Do We Really Need Another Credit Score? Maybe.)

In other words, complaining about the BBB can result in your business losing accreditation with the BBB. This is despite the fact that the BBB’s reason for existence is largely as a platform for lodging complaints. (Hutt says that the reason for this stipulation is to protect against the “BBB haters” who might pay for accreditation merely to bash the organization.)

So what is the BBB and its grading system useful for? The BBB is “not the best place to find out customers’ prior experiences,” according to Edgar Dworsky, who runs the consumer advocacy site ConsumerWorld.org. “You get a snapshot about a company’s reputation, boiled down to a letter grade, much like a credit score, but the detail is lacking.”

And is it worth complaining to the BBB about a business? Sure, so long as you keep your expectations low, says Dworsky. “My sense is that BBB complaints at many companies get special attention because of the implied threat of having a bad reputation/rating at the BBB,” Dworsky explained via e-mail. “Since it is so easy to complain online to the BBB, why not? Like chicken soup, it couldn’t hurt.”

43 comments
TonyInOhio
TonyInOhio

What is the BBB good for? Absolutely Nothing. 


Good concept, poorly executed. All they care about it your $$ membership for which you get a certificate that you are a member. This is based on years of experience with them. 


Will be awesome when they finally fold / go bankrupt. Their legacy.... failure.



scovitzgirl
scovitzgirl

I will say that the BBB have "established" themselves, and for 100 years to appear to be for the public in order to make money. The same thing that any of us can do.  Unfortunately, they need their financing monitored.  I worked as a contractor for the Atlanta Location, and realized, everyone hired was friends, and church members of one another.  Or to say the least Related.  And while there, they fired 2 Jehovah's Witnesses on the same day in April 2014, because they didn't celebrate their holidays.  It is a very deceiving and sad to see that these people get away with so much, yet they walk around pretending to be Christians.  Go to ANGIE"s List, or do your own consumer research.

ESASLLC2006
ESASLLC2006

I think the word SCAM is thrown around far too loosely in today's culture and it is inaccurately used. The BBB does not falsely represent themselves. If you don't want to be a member, then don't pay, period. If your interpretation of what they are doing or attempting to do is wrong, that is due to your own ignorance. A scam is a fraud is like I tell you I have a Mercedes Benz for sale and you send me money. When you arrive, it is a Chevy Cavalier, that is a scam. If I tell you that it is a Chevy Cavalier in decent shape and it breaks in a week, that was not a scam. It might have been true at the time. The point is, the BBB is not a scam. Members that do pay dues should get preferential treatment over others that don't. If you and I go to a concert and I pay $500 for a seat and you are given a free ticket, I certainly better not end up sitting next to you.

Indoor.air.guy
Indoor.air.guy

In Minneapolis The BBB Keeps calling me to get my business (specialty contractor) to sign up as a member - $500 yearly fee - always teling me how many times consumers (?) have looked at my rating during the past year - several hundred hits. I have an A+ rating, 0 complaints with over 3000 customers in the past three years but am unaccrededited since I do not pay the fees.


Accredited simply means that the BBB has checked with the Minnesota Secretary of State to see if we are incorporated. Thats it, nothing else. A consumer looks at being "accredited" as being licensed, trained, or some other type of approval. Choice of words is VERY MIS-LEADING. Me thinks a business doing that in their advertising would be looked down upon as not being very truthful.


I refuse to re-up with the BBB because of that and the fact that one competitor (amongst others) has over 75 complaints and maintains a A+ rating only because they play the response game, while I have personally been hired by my competitors clients to re-do and fix the work that my competitor has done so poorly. The BBB membership person justified my competors rating stating that 75 complaints overy three years is not bad considering their volume of several thousand costumers during that time. Hmmm, about the same number of clients as my firm has had during the same time period.


75+ complaints in three years equals one, on average, one complaint every two weeks. One must also realize that not every un-happy client complains to the BBB. In my field, much of the work being done is for clients that are moving and they are too busy to file with the BBB when they will be gone in a couple of weeks anyway.


The choice of using "accredited" and "un-accredited" by the BBB is TOTALLY MISLEADING AND INTENDED TO MIS-LEAD THE CONSUMER. This is shamefull and should be stopped immediatetly



naar.joel
naar.joel

Why is Chicagoan Steve J. Bernas of the Better Business Bureau getting so much hate mail?

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the BBB was exposed by both ABC and a 20/20 investigative report as a for-profit corporation that rewards companies that pay the BBB with higher ratings. A woman with a tiny antique store only had one resolved complaint but the despicable human scum at the BBB refused to change her rating from a “C” to an “A” until she paid up. Once the check cleared the antique store was suddenly an “A+” rated company.

Or maybe Steve J. Bernas of the BBB is so hated as pond scum because of the BBB’s willingness to award an “A” rating to Hamas, a fake company that shares a name with an anti-American terrorist cell. Do you think Steve J. Bernas or the BBB cares that Hamas has killed U.S. soldiers as well as thousands of innocent children?

Why, exactly, is Chicago native and Illinois BBB President Steve J. Bernas at the top of the list when it comes to bottom-feeding pond scum? Could it be because he allows businesses of ill repute to hold A+ ratings? Could it be because millions of registered senior citizen voters are at risk of being taken advantage of thanks to the BBB’s lax policy of handing out “A+” ratings to companies just because they have $400 or a credit card?

It could be all of the above. Thanks to scumbags like Steve J. Bernas and other BBB executives we are all at risk, and as long as he and other pieces of pond scum like him are in charge of the BBB offices around the United States we will never be able to trust any BBB-accredited business.

You can call Steve J. Bernas at (312) 832-0500 and his email address is sbernas@chicago.bbb.org. Let him know that Chicago and the entire United States of America won’t stand for crooked policies that fill the BBB’s coffers while hard-working Americans get the short end of the stick.

Freedomfreak1
Freedomfreak1

My Business had an "A" rating till the Northeast, PA BBB raised its yearly rate 20% in 2010. The day i told them I would not renew, my rating was replaced with "unrated"

_jorn
_jorn

I lifted the following right from the BBB website:


PROCESS SUMMARY

  1. Complaint opened
  2. Complaint sent to business for a response
  3. Response received, and consumer is notified or no response is received and consumer is notified
  4. Consumer may not agree with the business response and provide additional comments and file a rebuttal within 10 calendar days
  5. Case is closed and consumer is notified

Did you see what happened just there? Read #4 & #5 carefully. As a consumer, you can either agree with the business response, or not. But, it doesn't matter. Case closed. 


Tell me again how this is useful?

frankw
frankw

Why aren't they paying damages to the companies that they hurt in California? They have annual meetings where they share strategies and successes - that makes the group liable because it is a corporate strategy to hurt companies in the manner that they have practiced in CA

NickFHS2
NickFHS2

We have had the BBB Call to sell us there services and they Identify themselves as the BBB but make it sound like there is a complaint or issue and will only speak to the owner and then the owner answers and is mad because it's a sales call,  I would like to file a complain on the BBB that worked out really well.

Spodek Law Group P.C.

100 Church St 8th floor 

New York, NY 10007

(212) 300-5196

http://www.spodeklawgroup.com

mdejarnette1
mdejarnette1

Don't expect accuracy from the BBB if you call them to check for complaints filed against a business.

I filed a complaint against an auto repair shop in Baton Rouge, backed up by written proof that they used contaminated Freon in repairing my A/C (which another shop charged me extra to dispose of), resulting in poor A/C performance. After multiple trips back to the shop without any improvement I had to cut my losses and go to another repair shop to get a working A/C as the daily cost of renting a car was becoming too expensive. After some 3-4 months I called the BBB back and asked if there were any complaints against this repair shop and was told "no complaints filed." That is exactly what they told me BEFORE I ever brought my car in. So I told the lady I did indeed file a complaint some months ago and I was looking at all the paperwork that I had received from the BBB about my case. She told me they still had no bad reports on this shop. No telling how many others complaints were filed that never saw the light of day.

Maybe I should file a complaint to the BBB against the BBB.

Stu_Draper
Stu_Draper

The fact is, the average Joe Consumer is getting smarter, and articles like this make him smarter, but I have to believe that Joe Consumer, overall, still trusts the BBB, even if it is a subliminal thing they don't realize. Being in the online marketing world, I highly recommend putting the BB logo on your landing pages because it is a trust symbol. It gives you credibility with the site visitor.

jdietrich
jdietrich

This is quite a good article. I was surprised at the comparison between a single Ben and Jerry's store and the very large entirety of AT&T. To me that's kind of comparing apples to legos...they're both things you may find in a home, but are quite different on most levels. All in all though the article is worth reading.

Happycamper
Happycamper

While it's good to see BBB employees rushing in to protect the mothership, unfortunately this article is exactly correct. You can count on the BBB to provide some good consumer info, but if you rely on their business reviews you're crazy. They don't verify company self-reported information properly; they can't. They don't have the time or authority to go through business accounts and procedures. So if you take their word for it that a business is A+, you're nuts, especially when the company just has to play ball with the BBB to maintain their rating - NOT have good business policies. An F rating might be a signal that you should think things through, but it might also show that a BBB employee has it in for the company. 'Haphazard' is a very good description of the ratings.

dyfsyn
dyfsyn

Mr Tuttle, you obviously did no research for your poorly contrived article. A couple minutes/ seconds on a complaint? http://minnesota.bbb.org/faq/complaint-process/ - same standard as all the other BBBs across the country.The complaint process is about a month long and involves a heck of a lot more than you seem to have considered while writing this article in the bathroom during your lunch break. And yes, people use Yelp and Angie's List but those are consumer driven and are more of a community forum to either rant or rave about one experience with a business while BBB is more expert driven. If any consumer feels one website or resource is all they need to decide on where to go to get their hair done or install an A/C unit in their house, then they really need to take a look at their own habits. A quality business is not based on one review or one complaint, it is what they do to fix it. Let's be honest, there is a large percentage of consumers who are never going to be satisfied and small, local businesses shouldn't be subject to that abuse. And I don't see Angie's List or Yelp be asked for their opinions on charities or scams.

JakeDunham
JakeDunham

I used to sell BBB memberships, over the phone at the original BBB is St. Paul, MN for a short time. I've since used it to get a variety of issues resolved. I think people don't really get what it's for most of the time. It is most effective in helping getting problems resolved without getting the law involved. It doesn't always do the best job in saying who are ethical business and who are not because it doesn't get involved until there is a problem. A business proves its commitment to customer service when there is a problem and the BBB helps them to do the right thing. It's not perfect but it's better than a world without the BBB. 

BadJournalism1
BadJournalism1

Mr. Tuttle,  one last thing.  I challenge you to research this.  How many BBB employees have law degrees.    Find out how many Arbitration's the BBB holds ever year.  Out of those Arbitrators- Find out how many of them are lawyers and have experience in dispute resolution.  Find out how many BBB's work with Attorney Generals offices, FTC, Department of Justice, etc on cases every year.      Find out how many news stories the BBB contributes to to raise awareness of scams in the area.    Find out how many BBB employees make speeches every year to, High Schools, Colleges, Chambers of Commerce's, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and other community groups. 

BadJournalism1
BadJournalism1

Time and Brad Tuttle ought to be ashamed.  This is such poor journalism and extremely slanted and not 100% accurate! 

First- Yes, the BBB Expelled the LA BBB after the ABC News Story back in 2010.  True!

The BBB is no different than any employer.  I am sure Time Magazine and UMass Amherst have both fired employees for not following policy!   The BBB DID investigate the issue and fired several employees directly after the 2010 story!  So it would not be true that it took the BBB 2 years to react.   The 2010 issue was just one of a long list of problems the LA had with not following policy!   Every week in my area I see reports on the news about a local police officer or teacher doing something unethical or illegal.  However I am thankful everyday that we have police officers to protect and serve our citizens and Teachers to teach our kids. 

Since the ABC story in 2010 ABC news stations all over the nation have continued to use the BBB in news stories as a trust resource to use in stories reporting on scams in the United States. 

Does the BBB charge dues to its members that we research?  Yes.  Just ask the thousands of business owners every year who get kicked out of the BBB or get denied membership or have F records if they think the BBB can be purchased with money.  -  Mr. Tuttle, I challenge you to step foot in a BBB office and see the work that they do everyday!  Sit in on our Board of Directors meeting to discuss the scams that the BBB runs across on a daily basis.   I challenge you to sit down with a BBB Operator and listen in on phone calls we take to help customers on a daily basis.  To suggest there is a conflict of interest is just plain poor and lazy journalism.    The fact is the BBB has more non-members that have an A+ record then we do members.   Where is this fact in your story?  That type of honesty does not get views and readers huh?? 

You suggest the BBB is Irrelevant?  Again do your homework.  BBB.org is in the top 400 (According to Alexa.com) most traffic websites in the Nation.  It is in the  Top 200 most Important websites in the world( According to SEOMoz.com Top 500)   again, do your homework. This traffic does not even count the traffic each Local BBB website gets! 

  If anyone things the BBB is a Government Agency then thats their own stupidity!  The BBB has NEVER represented itself as such!

Is the BBB going to make everyone happy?  NO.  We take thousands of complaints a day and not every consumer or business owner is going to agree with the way we handle them. 

Mr. Tuttle, I challenge you to step foot in a BBB office and see the great staff and work we do everyday.   I work with a bunch of great Christian people who are passionate about ethics and helping educate consumers about scams in this area. 

Writing articles like this only gives scammers a resource to go to point to to further their scams. 


samjones
samjones

** sorry hit return too soon! ... The company's new location was on its website and the BBB hadn't bothered to check. The rep laughed when I told him and said the BBB was irrelevant anyway, but if it was me I'd have had an attorney write a letter.

samjones
samjones

Unfortunately the BBB has become arrogant and entitled. I have lost all respect for them. I filed two claims; both were closed (resolved?) but without any satisfactory resolution. For one, I had the written promise of a rebate and proof that I'd paid for the required service but the BBB said the company (a member) had been reasonable in telling me 'no' and closed the claim. Luckily the FCC did not agree with the BBB and its paid-up member, and I got my rebate. Now I routinely look at BBB listings for companies that I'm thinking of using or that are in the news. The listings are a joke. For one big business the listing had an alert that said that mail had been returned, the company was believed to have closed, and consumers should talk to an attorney. The company had just moved its US office and the new location

abcstorystl
abcstorystl

So, collected database of members, and hit them with recurring postcards regarding the financials.  Their brand, the one they are selling out as they become less needed (NOW ALSO GETTING GOOGLE INCOME!!!), is their biggest asset.  Their financial upturn is AMAZING since their grade bit in STL.  One company has complaints from folks who aren't customers; another who has unsatisfied legal judgments of over $250k (easily available in Casenet) has an A+ rating, even after the STL BBB was notified.  Michelle Corey, the CEO, has been there right out of college; she owns the place.  BE CAREFUL, DO NOT QUESTION HER!!  Because the facts were true, they couldn't really do much.  And since they already established the protection of opinion, they could not really sue us.  But, beware, even if you don't have new complaints, no big deal, they just go for an "ad review"to demote you over their paying members.  If no one has a broken leg, sort of speak, then it's difficult to as effectively extort.  abc-story.com  ... Run a regular ad in STL newspaper = $3,500 ... Run same ad with BBB content - $15,000 (reclassified as political) ... so, short of the STL media who shields them from all bad PR, how might one educate the STL community? 

abcstorystl
abcstorystl

Gave them $2,000+ a year, no real problems.  STOPPED PAYING and yikes.  We had 15 complaints in one market and an A+ rating, a market where we never really paid them; 15 complaints in STL, and a D+.  So we sued them.  A grade is an opinion.  You cannot sue on opinions.  Expensive legal lessen there.  They income statements in STL are such that they now occupy new office space in the tallest building in STL.  The CEO earns $166,503.  Their law bills tags upwards of 22 times the average of 7 other BBB's.  You cannot buy ads against them very easily to educate the public.  The local media reports for them, not on them.  NO NEGATIVE STORIES IN STL RE BBB - as it would undermine their own news source and credibility. They sold out use of their brand first go around with MIP program in 2008 or so, then super-sized it with grading.  The money poured in because it's a defective product, the grade, as Richard Bluemthnal warns. No insurance = A+.  No credit = A+.  No references = A+.  No $$$$ = D+  Easy to figure that one out.  But how to change them?  

tomasOK
tomasOK

 As a business, it becomes starkly clear that the grading system is stacked in such a way that you are punished if you do not play along. Don't provide confidential information about your business? Rating takes a hit. Don't cave in to the consumer's demands, no matter how unreasonable (unresolved vs. resolved)? Rating takes a hit. Don't respond because you object to their practices, or because you know it's a waste after already dealing with an unreasonable consumer? Rating takes a BIG BIG hit. Complain about the BBB and get caught? Rating takes a hit. 

The only way to improve your rating is to play the game: Give them your confidential info, always give-in to the consumer's request to get that "RESOLVED" status, and PAY UP for that accreditation.  

Folks at the BBB claim that those taking the money don't handle the ratings, but it's not like the folks in our local office don't know we don't pay. Here's my take on it: They're always fair and impartial; they're just EVEN MORE fair and impartial to businesses that pay.

Don't get me wrong, lots of the people at the BBB really do their best to help consumers and to help businesses. However, the system within which they are working is too deeply flawed for them to make up for it. Even if nobody does anything wrong on purpose, the  conflict of interest is still there, if only subliminal: favor those businesses that pay, and punish those that do not.

bgrieman
bgrieman

The BBB accredits businesses only after thoroughly vetting the company against a list of BBB expectations (is the company licensed? does the company have a pattern or any serious complaints? has the owner or principal been involved in other businesses that have had problems?  does the company use misleading advertising?, etc.).  We separate our departments so that accreditation is not involved with complaints.  Mr. Tuttle claims a company can have a high volume of complaints as long as they respond, but this is completely untrue.  If a company has a high volume of complaints - whether an Accredited Business or not - the BBB will try and work with the company to help reduce the number of complaints and if that doesn't happen, the BBB will lower the company's grade and report the high volume of complaints in the company's BBB Business Review.  We make no distinction between a BBB Accredited Business and a non-accredited business.  However, we do rate companies with 1000 customers per year differently than a large corporation with millions of customers per year.  It’s common sense that a large corporation would have a much higher rate of complaints than a small company.  Unlike other organizations that take complaints from consumers, the BBB works as a mediator between the consumer and the company to resolve the issue.  We make phone calls to consumers and business owners and try to help them work things out to retain the relationship between the two.  The Minnesota and North Dakota BBB is now publishing complaint detail so consumers can see what the customer was complaining about and also to see how the company responded to the complainant.  All BBBs will soon be doing this.  We resolve over 90% of all the complaints we handle, which is remarkable for an organization that has no enforcement powers.  The BBB is supported by businesses who pay dues, it is true, but how is that so different from TIME?  They write news articles on companies - some of which purchase advertising that pays Mr. Tuttle's salary.   Would it be fair for me to assume that Mr. Tuttle is kinder to advertisers than non-advertisers in the articles he writes?  And finally I would like to remind Mr. Tuttle that the BBB is much more than a membership organization and a complaint department.  The BBB educates consumers and businesses on a variety of marketplace issues - distributing Tips for Consumers and press releases that warn consumers and businesses of new scams.  Consumers can contact our BBB free of charge from 8 am to 5 pm each weekday to get answers to their consumer questions.  We work with many government agencies to share information on investigations we have done and to give trend analysis on complaints and scams.  We have a presence at many senior expos and speak to seniors at senior community centers to help them avoid fraud.  We offer mediations and arbitrations to consumers and businesses - our BBB charges $35 per party, which is much lower than other agencies, and much more affordable than Small Claims Court or hiring an attorney.  We speak to school age children and college students about advertising and credit card use.  We secret shop companies (including BBB Accredited Businesses) to confirm that their advertising is truthful.  We offer both Accredited and non-accredited businesses the opportunity to submit their advertisements - prior to publication - in order to insure the ad meets the BBB's Code of Advertising guidelines – and we do not charge for this service.  We have 50 employees here at the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota who walk out of the building each day feeling good about the contribution they make toward a more ethical marketplace.  To insinuate that all BBBs are "pay to play" organizations is an insult to the important work we do.

hypsterjc89
hypsterjc89

I give it an  65/100

I give Would give

UsSA Credit Rating  56/100

My scale   90-100n A

79-89 B

69-79 C

58-68 D

57 an F

because The allow get the Big , Medium , extra large High jobs or always seems to Hire more than

the small end jobs, etc.

svivar9087
svivar9087

The BBB has outlived it's usefulness !

BillSmithStLouis
BillSmithStLouis

As a former newspaper reporter (nearly 30 years), I too have had questions and concerns, even skepticism, in the past about the BBB and its value to consumers and its role in monitoring issues of  business ethics. Four years ago, I became an investigator with the BBB in the St. Louis office, charged with looking into and reporting on scams and questionable business practices. That experience has opened my eyes to the work of BBBs. It is true that the BBB is not a consumer advocate organization, but rather an organization supported and funded by accredited businesses. These businesses believe that good business demands good customer service and the BBB system is aggressive in pursuing that goal.  Every day, I see the work of the BBB first hand: senior citizens counseled away from foreign lottery scams; area residents who are desperate for loans guided away from advance fee loan scams; callers who are steered away (because of low grades) from contractors with a history of unscrupulous business practices.  I am not speaking on behalf of the BBB; I am speaking only for myself and what I have witnessed while working in the BBB system.  If anyone would like to speak with me regarding my experiences, I can be reached via email at tpc1@stlouisbbb.org.    

SumGai47474
SumGai47474

The BBB has been a joke for years. Just look at the number of unsavory products and companies that advertise their BBB rating ("income at home/snake oil/as seen on TV" types). Herbalife is a ponzi scheme and they have an A+ rating. BBB ratings mean nothing to me as a well-educated consumer.

AL369
AL369

I do not belive this issue is localized. I have a small business and they have called me twice asking me to subscribe to their premium services. They pressure you to give them their credit card right away. They refused to provide any information besides indicating that negative reviews would not be listed unless it is proven that it our fault.

On the other side I did complain against one of their so called premium companies (shipped a substitute less expensive item than ordered and had a difficult time for them to take it back and refund money)- Those complains do not show up even now.

So BBB, you lost one more person who at one time relied on your reports.

Bashfu11
Bashfu11

@ESASLLC2006  Comparing this to a concert is insanity. This is not a scam because it is essentially a free service, yes. However, BBB exists to warn customers of fraudulent or unscrupulous businesses and business practices. When you have the opportunity to pay to get your misdealing's swept under the rug you are not at all performing the service that you advertise to the level that you advertise, which is pretty close to a scam, except it is a service that consumers don't have to pay for so technically it isn't. It does, however, raise the question of why such a service exists.

Lets take Comcast, for example. If you consulted the BBB on Comcast you would get the impression that they are an upstanding business that is a pleasure to deal with. However, 5 minutes of online research would reveal that they are actually a very unscrupulous company with many shady business practices and very poor customer service. Is the purpose of BBB not to unearth practices such as this and warn the public about them? Definitely not a scam, you are correct. It is, however, a completely fraudulent service that boils down to an advertising agency. I could understand if they gave better support and other benefits to subscribed businesses, but to give higher ratings to subscribed businesses defeats the entire purpose of why they exist.

RealityintheBoonies
RealityintheBoonies

@ESASLLC2006  I agree that words have different meanings depending on your background.  But English isn't precise.  Misinterpretations are sometimes from ignorance and often not.


A business who pays to become accredited may have more power against a consumer but should not.   Businesses who become accredited should not get preferential treatment.  That should be an indicator that the business is upstanding and plays fair with consumers.  There aren't scales of justice because paying tilts it and makes an unlevel playing field. 


I'm working on this with a "board" now.  I proposed that we no longer use people  who work for independent companies for their paid.  It becomes a conflict of interest and a little difficult (putting it mildly) to toss what we paid for out the door.  Going to someone who hasn't paid to get advise is not a problem. 


I'm not calling BBB a scam but I am saying since they want businesses to pay for a misinterpreted standing is unfair and that should be made really clear to everyone.


It used to not be this way but times change and now, I won't bother looking at BBB standings - or perhaps if they're accredited, I need to move on to a different business because I may be unfairly represented from a "unbiased" company.  It is the way of the world but I don't have to play it or like it.  

TonyInOhio
TonyInOhio

@_jorn Had the EXACT same experience with the Cleveland BBB, EXACT. Thanks for posting.

unreal411
unreal411

@Stu_Draper People must be dumber than I can imagine then...how does a company with 150+ complaints mot resolved get an A+ rating? The place is a total joke!

_jorn
_jorn

@dyfsyn I've used BBB to help me resolve cases when I had no other recourse. Each time, it seemed like the business could actually write ANYTHING and the BBB would simply close my case. Even when I responded that the business lied and didn't deliver what they said, it was almost as if an automated system just shuts the case down after certain triggers occur. In other words, my first-hand experience seems to support the impetus of this article. I wish I were wrong.


Oh, by the way, I live in Minnesota.


(By the way, it's generally challenging to take a rebuttal like yours seriously when you can't resist stooping to ad-hominem shots. )

unreal411
unreal411

@BadJournalism1 Love to know then, why a company that is obviously a scam from first hand experience, has 150+ bad complaints and still has an A+ rating? Oh, and they accredited! But yet another business has 4 complaints and has an F rating? The people that work there may be "Christian", but the ethics are completely off base. And most people you talk to actually think the BBB is government run. That's why people are so brainwashed with ratings with the BBB.

dyfsyn
dyfsyn

@abcstorystlhttp://www.bbb.org/business-reviews/ratings/ educate yourself. Are they always accurate, no. But at least once notified, it can be addressed. Don't expect it to be perfect, after all information changes all the time and do business owners keep up with their changes, no. The scale slides, it isn't set in stone.

ESASLLC2006
ESASLLC2006

@tomasOK I am A+ rated and not accredited so I guess there is more to that story.

unreal411
unreal411

@bgrieman How do you determine companies that have 1000 customers a year or not? Is there a database for that, or are you going on what the company tells you? Who educated the crazy customers that will never be satisfied, that's what I'd like to know.The BBB has no validity IMO, their judge and jury, with no knowledge of either.

BadJournalism1
BadJournalism1

@bgrieman - Thank you for stepping up and setting the record straight!  I wish more BBB employees would! 

mersmom
mersmom

@SumGai47474  likes an article on TIME.

The BBB does nothing. It is a waste of time to file a complaint. Companies like EBAY just claim they are following proper procedures (no proof) and the case is closed. No refund of money...maybe a measly gift certificate to shop on EBAY...but hurry it expires. What a scam. And, then they close the case, ignoring what has been done to the consumer and will continue to happen. Frustrating. There is no consumer action...just inaction.

unreal411
unreal411

@dyfsyn @abcstorystl Who are they to decide who's right and who's wrong? They know absolutely nothing about every company in the world. And each person has their own story. I can see them educating people on companies that are clearly ripping people off, but giving bad "F"ratings on companies with thousands of customers and a few complaints isn't too bad of a reputation. Have you worked in customer service? Apparently not!