December 18, 2014

Better Business Bureau – Valuable or a Waste?

Click to verify BBB accreditation and to see a BBB report.I was all set to write what I considered to be a non-controversial post about the Better Business Bureau.

I didn’t expect ANYONE to find fault with the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau is like motherhood and apple pie. Who could say anything bad about them?

But then I put out a quick note on Twitter about becoming accredited by the Better Business Bureau. And to my surprise I got back several messages from someone I know stating essentially that the Better Business Bureau was a waste of time. If the messages hadn’t come from someone whose opinion I respect highly, Denise O’Berry, this post might have been a simple straight forward announcement and that’s it. But there’s more to this story worth exploring ….

Becoming Accredited by Better Business Bureau

So the news is, Small Business Trends LLC is now accredited by the Better Business Bureau and the associated Better Business Bureau Online. You have to first be accredited from your local Better Business Bureau in order to be accredited with the Better Business Bureau Online.

In order to get accreditation, I was required to fill out an application, provide trade references, pay the membership fees, prove that I had a privacy policy of my site, and have been in business over a year — plus not have any outstanding BBB complaints. Oh, and the local Better Business Bureau office insisted on meeting with me personally to learn about the business and check me out.

Having gone through that process, this site is now permitted to display the Better Business Bureau insignia.

My reasons for joining the Better Business Bureau have to do with trust online. I want to give readers (you) even more reason to trust this site and the business behind it.

I spend much of my time online, sifting through information and indicia of new trends. I am sick and tired of all the spammy and/or anonymous websites out there. They seem to multiply like rabbits. They waste your time and their information can be misleading. Sometimes they are outright scams and can steal your money or infect your computer with malware. It’s a jungle out there.

Indications of Trust on the Web

When I visit a website, I look for reasons that I should trust it. Here are some of the indications of trust that I look for:

  • I want to know something about the company and/or people behind it. The About page is the one of the first pages I look for. Does the About page discuss the business, including a street address? In the alternative (since some people run home-based businesses and are loath to reveal their home addresses), are real people identified by full name? The About page is more important to me than the site’s design or its speed and performance.
  • Another thing I look for is the copyright notice. Is there one? If not, the site is suspect to me immediately. Has it been updated for this year’s date? That tells me the site is likely to be kept current and not just some temporary experiment that was later abandoned. Does the copyright indicate a person’s or business’s name (with Inc, LLC or Ltd behind it), not just the blog name?
  • Contact information or form. Can you find a way to contact someone on the website? You’d be amazed how many sites I visit that have no contact information/mechanism. This is especially true with made-for-AdSense sites, i.e., sites set up for the sole purpose of getting clicks on ads, or sites set up for illegitimate purposes. Sites like that don’t want anyone contacting them.
  • What about a privacy policy? Is there one?
  • What is the site’s age? Sometimes you can tell age by the copyright date (as in: Copyright 2004 – 2008). Sometimes you can tell by archive dates, if it’s a blog. Sometimes you can look up the site in the Internet Archive and see how long it has been active. But an established site is more trustworthy in my eyes than one that looks like it was set up last week.
  • If it’s a small business behind the site (as opposed to a large corporation), are the owners or management involved in their industry or belong to professional associations or is there some other indication of who they are? That tells me they are people who care about their reputations and have something valuable to lose. Anonymous websites, on the other hand, may or may not have a reputation to lose if they do me wrong.

How Good an Indication of Trust is the BBB?

Are these indications of trust foolproof? Of course not. Anything can be faked.

But spammers and fakers rarely go to the trouble of setting up extensive indications of trust like the ones I listed. If and when they do fake a few things, usually the fakery doesn’t survive more than casual scrutiny. Something won’t smell right. Or they are soon “outed” and their ruse short lived.

Denise O’Berry suggests that I should discuss whether/to what degree the Better Business Bureau exerts quality control  over members. Denise raises a good question. I don’t know the answer to that, Denise. I suspect as a practical matter the BBB waits until a complaint is lodged against the business.

But I do know that if members have complaints lodged against them that go unresolved, that fact will become public. I for one check for complaints at the BBB before hiring a new vendor. So ultimately I think the Better Business Bureau matters, even if practically speaking the BBB may not actively police their member body. Plus, the mere fact that a business cares enough to join says the business cares what customers and the public think.

Why the BBB Matters Online

I’m not alone in finding value in the BBB. For instance, in this post by Bloom Marketing, they give their reasons for becoming accredited by the Better Business Bureau — to promote trust. On a recent episode of my radio show, Khalid Saleh of Invesp Consulting pointed out that conversions on a website can be substantially increased by the presence of a Better Business Bureau seal or some other authoritative seal of approval (assuming you have the legitimate right to display the seal).

In this imperfect world the Better Business Bureau may not be a perfect indication of trust. But it’s one more piece of evidence to take into account. With websites little things matter. Sometimes one small bit of evidence of trust is all it takes.

That’s why I think being accredited by the Better Business Bureau and displaying the BBBOnline insignia have value, even for online businesses with no brick and mortar component.

37 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

37 Reactions

  1. I’d gone through the process a while back, but backed out at the last minute to handle some emergencies that had popped up.

    I’m still not convinced that the BB or VeriSign seal matter, but I might have to give it some more thought…

  2. i think its a waste actually. There are tons of sites ON the BBB that ARENT legit and that ARE crooks. The BBB isint a tell all site. Anyone can join this site in thinking it will make their business look legit.

    • All those folks who think they are getting away with :fake BBB logos are so easily exposed. Click on logo if it takes you directly to the BBB report it is real. If it does nothing it is fake. Further more if BBB meant nothing why do tons of business want to Fake it?

  3. IMO, the only problems with BBB is the failure of people to make complaints and the lack of visibility. If making a complaint was as easy as leaving feedback on eBay, and the results were published, this would be a valuable service.

    For instance, members would publish BBB’s logo that included their rating, which could link to their feedback. If a company loses their accreditation, the feedback would still be in a public, searchable database. That’s my 2-cents worth.

  4. I utilized the BBB when i had an issue with an online printer. The printer was still a bit substandard after all the back and forth. But without the BBB’s intervention i really don’t think i would have gotten anywhere with the company in question. Like you, this company also felt that the BBB moniker was worth it to them to heed making changes not to get another F rating. of course, if they didn’t i would have probably hit up every design forum and blog i could have found and made a mention of their practices. In the end, the BBB did help me resolve the issue and get my money back. So from a consumer standpoint? i think its a benefit.

  5. BBB needs to move into 2008 and modernize they way they do business. They should be a web 2.0 site with reviews about everything. When the reviews pass a certain level then they will get accredited.

  6. I think the point is, nothing is fool proof. You can’t just go by what you see or don’t see on a site. You must do a little looking around before you can fully trust them. In my opinion, I am affected by seeing a BB or VeriSign logo. It makes me feel better about trusting a site but I don’t just stop at that. I take into account a lot of the things Anita has listed above. With a few keys facts and a logo or two, it makes me feel more secure about doing business with them.

  7. Hi Gary, I hear what you’re saying.

    The only thing that worries me is if you make it too easy to whip off feedback, it can lead to competitors coming and trashing a company. Or fake ratings designed to make the business look better than it is. Either way, the rating becomes useless.

    So I’m torn on those kinds of feedback systems.

    Anita

  8. Thanks for that post.

    People outside the US often rely on that logo when it comes to make an online purchase.

  9. Anita,

    This is an excellent conversation, as you so often provide here at SBT.

    Yes feedback systems have their challenges, but eBay has done an excellent job refining the process. They recently discarded negative feedback for buyers. One thing that makes their system so successful is the tying of feedback to specific purchases, which addresses your concerns very well.

    BBB could offer members code that could be popped into a checkout page (like Google Analytics, etc) and the buyer would be given a feedback option tied to that purchase. Another option is partnering with shopping cart providers.

    IMHO, BBB should be more aggressive at providing 21st century services to maintain and leverage the value they created in the last century.

    Just my thinking :)

    Gary

  10. I too like to see the BBB insignias because if a company owner is willing to go through the entire process for approval, chances are 1.) they are a responsible business owner and 2.) I know I have something to fall back on if something should happen to go wrong. So it DOES make me feel better as a consumer, and that’s the point – to offer your customers an added bit of security. It works for me. Although I must say that an update to the way the conduct their own business is necessary.

  11. Some consumers and site visitors have confidence in the Better Business Bureau. It seems to me that the BBB insignia is more likely to help than hurt. Isn’t that the real issue???

  12. I think there is the potential for abuse on BBB from feedback from unhappy people – very onesided comments that can be very detrimental feedback about a business. I recently read about a precious metals company I use and recommend – a friend ‘researched’ them online and at BBB and read some pretty nasty comments from people who had made speculative investments – lost and – then blamed the company. Not sure if I would want to be exposed to such subjective commentary!

  13. Do they have similar systems in other countries?

  14. Hi Martin, I know the Better Business Bureau is in Canada and the United States. I do not believe it operates in other countries.

    But I wonder if there is some other organization that operates in a similar way in Europe and elsewhere? Maybe another reader can answer that question.

    Anita

  15. Even without the muscle the BBB can be more effective by just following through with some of their own policies. I have seen competitors get a poor rating and re-aply to be listed again with an “A” rating. The concept behind the BBB is still good but the management is only interested in signing up new members and collecting their fee.

    As for customer feedback or ratings, I have a “love hate” feeling about them. I have read postive testimonials written by people that I knew to be friends of the owner and also have seen complaints written that made no sense at all. On the other side I have found constuctive reviews of products, hotels, etc. to be very informative and have helped me make choices on items that I was not familiar with.

    Just my thoughts. Chris

  16. BBB is a place of last resort for consumers with small complaints against big companies to get their matters heard instead of being stiff armed by “customer service” based in India. I’ve seen BBB help the little guy out time and again.

  17. I tried to get a BBB online seal for my online retail biz last year and it was a horrible experience. My entire trust personally in the BBB is gone. They took my $700 (up front) and then denied me because they said my 2 tier affiliate program was MLM and they didn’t approve MLMs. I called an explained to them what an affiliate program was (hello? have they even looked at small retail web sites?) and then they said because I sold health supplements that they wouldn’t approve it. I’ve been selling digestive enzymes online for 10 years from a very reputable manufacturer. I don’t make crazy claims about them being “all healing.” I looked around and found PLENTY of other health supplement sites with the BBB online seals. So, I called the BBB again and they said it is my Texas region’s policy not to accept and approve health supplements. I argued that customers usually don’t know or care where an online biz is located and that it was really discriminatory for the regional BBBs to have different guidelines. He said I could formally appeal, set up a hearing, etc – oh and I had 10 days to do this. Well, great. I’m a 1 woman small biz and didn’t have time to drop everything to do this. And I was so annoyed I decided I didn’t want it anyway. Two months later I got my refund. Nice. So, what I learned is that BBB online seal is a JOKE and the BBB clearly knows nothing about online business and every region is different. I’m glad to see some others agree with me. I opted for the “Network Solutions Site Safety $1 million guarantee” seal. It give me a little 3rd party credibility and might help with those nervous online buyers. Along with already having a contact us form and emails, I also set up a 1-888 number which I didn’t have and I think that also gives customers a sense of security that they could reach someone if needed.

  18. My experience with the BBB has always been positive. My company sells “green” generators. We get 60% of our business online — the BBB seal helps consumers who come to our web site and don’t know anything about us. A ridiculous complaint was once lodged against us, and we were able to resolve it quickly with the help of the BBB. Sometimes they are overzealous in sales efforts, but actually it’s no more assertive than I like our own sales team to be. You’re either going to sell … or fool around. Decide which you prefer……

  19. Does anyone know of a BBB accredited home-based business?

    • Hi Janiece –

      Yes, I previously owned a home-based business that had a strong online presence and was accredited. You have to provide detailed info about yourself and your business, but it’s just to establish credibility. Good luck with your business!

  20. > Does anyone know of a BBB accredited home-based business?

    Yes, I run a consulting firm from my home, all work is done at the client’s site.

    I joined the BBB in 2006. The BBB only cared that my check would clear. The sent a sales rep out to the house and laid down a pitch in my living room. They didn’t check my references, just took the money. I declined to renew in 2007, and haven’t looked back.

    Waste of time in my experience.

  21. My association, America’s Best Companies, is working towards helping out small business owners in a way that the BBB cannot. We provide our members with discounts, marketing tools, SEO, and their own custom website.

    Check us out at http://www.americasbestcompanies.com/ and watch the video and browse the site if you’re unsatisfied with the BBB and want to belong to an association that genuinely cares.

  22. Anita,

    I read with interest your comments and the comments of your readers. The BBB isn’t perfect, and as noted, we are a national organization with independent corporate structures in communities throughout the US and Canada. The Council of BBBs sets forth minimal standards for marketplace conduct. The local BBBs with their Board of Directors can make policies which are more stringent than the national policy.

    I can tell you that the Tri-State BBB, headquartered in Evansville, IN, tries its best to be vigilant in admitting only those businesses and organizations which exemplify excellence in ethical business conduct.

    I also can say, that unfortunately, some businesses slip through our accreditation process, and when this happens, we do move to deal with these accredited businesses. There is a review process for determining whether to suspend a company’s accreditation and whether to recommend revocation of accreditation. It is up to the Board of Directors to make the final determination. There is a process where a company may make an appeal to the board to preserve their accreditation.

    The BBB routinely alerts the public to activities of businesses in the marketplace who act unethically or whose practices are questionable.

    The BBB’s mission is “to promote the highest ethical relationship between business and the public through voluntary self-regulation.”

  23. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment about the BBB Evansville’s practices.

    I found this frank discussion by other business owners and the wide range of attitudes to be enlightening. I’ve learned a lot from hearing others express their views, and hopefully those at the BBB offices throughout the U.S. and Canada have picked up valuable information, too.

    In the end, I have placed my BBB accreditation badge here on my site and wear it proudly.

    Anita

  24. My recent expereince with our local BBB is that it is next to worthless. My complaint apparently did not fall within the confines of their process, although they can or will not tell me about the process and whether or not IT is reviewed. second, because of this they will not post my bad experiences and still show the offending business as Satisfactory with no problems. Because of this other consumers will ( and have already, if you read Angies List) had problems with this offending business and will continue to do so.

    So, I am disappointed on two levels, one for my own problems and one for problems of others.

    hence my rating for the BBB—-WORTHLESS!

  25. I find the notion that my business is “accredited” by the BBB an insult. I’ve passed state exams, posted bonds, paid for liability and workers comp insurance and unless I’m ‘accredited’ by the BBB my business is or could be suspect? What nerve! What makes them the authority on businesses? I’ve seen companies listed on their site that I know should have been in prison for what they tried to get away with on jobs that I was called on to inspect, and they are ‘accredited’ by the BBB.

    No, save your money. ’cause it’s all about the money. C’mon, how many people acutally read the BBB yellowpages? I throw mine out and keep you know which.

    I agree — worthless.

  26. I found this article while searching for the value or credibility of the BBB. I was contacted yesterday by the local branch and was told my company was invited to become a member. Some of the things the sales lady told me were suspect. The lady told me that companies have to be invited to join. Her number did not show up on caller id. Her email was name-bbb.org@comcast.net. She cc’d someone at acmebbb@bellsouth.net. Obviously, these are not emails associated directly with the BBB.
    I did a web search on the number she left as a call back number and couldn’t find a listing. It was not the same exchange as the local BBB office and appeared to be a cell phone.
    I’ve always associated the BBB with a standard of trustworthiness. I was astounded by the shadiness of the way I was contacted. Honestly, I wondered if the initial contact was a scam – especially since I was asked for a credit card number and was pressured to complete the accreditation process ASAP.
    I have not decided if I am going to join but, as a consumer, I will not give any value to their seal.

  27. CRK- That is definately not the actual BBB. You can always verify the person on the local BBB website (or find it through bbb.org) by going to ‘about us’ from the home page and then to ‘BBB Structure’ then clicking on staff and finding their name. If it’s not there than there aren’t legit. Further more, all of their e-mail addresses are @(branch-normally the city they are located in)bbb.org. You should report the people who contacted you to your local BBB or to the national BBB. Furthermore, there are very specific image rights to using the seal on your website. No one should take the seal for a certainty, becuase some companies who use it, are prohibited to do so. So for those of you who say that you have seen the logo on companies you say are crooks, maybe that’s becuase they are crooks and they stole the logo from the BBB. It’s not that hard to do an image search and download the logo to your webpage to fake it. The company that i work for is accredited and the seal on our website links directly to our local BBB’s website and to our reliability report. You can’t fake that.

  28. BBB loses credibility with Businesses:
    The BBB is under investigation by the Attorney General in Connecticut with good reason. The BBB went to the dark side in 2009. It went to a new rating system. When our company, a long time member at the time, went down in it

    • Fred Business Consumer:

      Thanks for your feedback. But I’d suggest that your comments would hold more sway if they were not anonymous. It’s easy to trash organizations when you remain anonymous. But all organizations that allow consumers to review would be better served to require real names.

      I’m not saying you don’t have a legit concern. I’m merely pointing out that readers would be more persuaded by comments coming from people who state their real names and give real Web addresses, instead of http://none.

  29. The BBB is under investigation by the Attorney General in Connecticut with good reason. The BBB went to the dark side in 2009. It went to a new rating system. When our company, a long time member at the time, went down in its rating with the BBB, we asked the local franchise owner, Judy Pepper, how she determined our rating. She said they use an algorithm they designed. We asked for the algorithm to determine how we could better our rating and she refused. Why would they keep that a secret? The Attorney General thinks maybe money is figured in.

    We decided to evaluate our membership and determined that:

    #1. Membership in the BBB is a COMPLAINT MAGNET. Our complaints grew 4 times over once we joined.

    #2. The BBB does not care about being fair to businesses it only counts complaints.

    We looked at our competitor who had almost 4000 complaints compared to our 133 complaints in the last three years, pretty good in our industry, and wonder how they keep their A+ rating. The judgments they make are arbitrary and subjective, no objectivity that we can see. As a member all of our complaints are resolved. Once you resign your complaints become serious.

    Judy Peppers BBB franchise is doing well. They just bought a new building worth millions of dollars. Their business model has changed. They make a lot of money for a non-profit. I think it is because they have gone over to the dark side. I suggest if you own a business stay away from the BBB.

  30. I can only say that I agree that the BBB is worthless in SC, in AL, in CA, and I am sure in other states. It’s always about money people! I am going through a case right now about an insurance company that insures people without having a license and when these people cause accidents they will not call you back and move on your claim against them, so I am waiting to see how the BBB will handle this company. There are endless complaints about Infinity Insurance company and they have an A rating. What would happen to Americans who drive without a license or on a suspended license? Well it turns out in NC and SC there are some who don’t have to have them, all they need is just insurance and a car. Unbelievable!!! Stay tuned…..

  31. I have had dissappointing and discouraging results from the BBB as a consumer and a BBB member. As a member I got some nice stickers and emblems, at a cost. And they are very prompt at calling you when it’s time to pay your membership again. As a consumer with some costly issues with a service company, the BBB was a huge let down. I’m talking about your basic “he worked on my machine, I paid him, the machine is not fixed….but “since the company addressed the issues” through the BBB it’s all over and the other company gets to keep the money I paid and I get to keep my broken machine. I don’t need the BBB for that. And I get new customers for my business all the time. Not because of the BBB. Because I run my business right, treat my customers right and they refer us to other people. I sure don’t check with the BBB when I’m looking for a company for any kind of service. Because the “BBB” doesn’t mean anything to me any more.

  32. AFFORDABLE ALTERNATIVES TO THE BBB – 2013

    Hello Anita! Thanks for providing this forum for helping small business owners trying to get much needed help and advice about the challenges of starting and succeeding in business.

    I think the BBB provides an invaluable service to small business owners in helping them build trust in the minds of potential customers. Because it is a well established company, consumers recognize the BBB symbol and — for the most part — trust in its rating system.

    That being said, there are other more affordable alternatives to establishing trust, that are now available to small business start-ups…

    The National Association of Small Business Professionals (www.Join-NASBP.com) has recently launched an Accredited Business Program which is included absolutely free to “Premier Certified Members”. Membership costs about $89 a year (or 12.95 a month if you go with the monthly option), so it’s well worth looking into.

    There are also a lot of other website Trust Seals and Membership Badges for print and online use — again it’s included absolutely FREE with premier membership.

    Hope this info proves helpful to your readers trying to establish trust and build up credibility on a very small budget.

  33. Great article, Anita.

    The Better Business Bureau definitely deserves some of the criticism it is getting.
    However, generally speaking, I strongly believe that businesses that have voluntarily went through the certification process, are less likely to be scammers or even poor service providers.

    True, every rule has an exception, but when you take a look at the big picture, I think that the BBB has a decent program that benefits consumers and businesses alike.

    I’d wish to see the system improved – not gone.

  34. The BBB is just another “pay to play” wild wild west internet complaint site. I agree it is older than many complaint sites, but that does not mean much. The business pays and the BBB takes their money. The BBB does not make any attempt to understand the industry they are dealing with and the person assigned to “resolve” the complaint is a low information, unmotivated employee. They misrepresent themselves using the word “Bureau” in their name which if you look it up in the dictionary indicates a government department which makes many consumers believe they are a government agency. I myself run away from any contractor that hides behind the BBB logo. If they associate with the BBB I don’t trust them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>