October 31, 2014

Better Business Bureau Introduces Verified Customer Reviews

better business bureau reviews

Imagine customer reviews like the ones on Yelp. But these reviews would all be from real people who had actually used a product or service. No fake reviews from PR agencies or competitors would be tolerated. No one would be allowed to manipulate reviews to make businesses seem better or worse.

Sound too good to be true?

A program slowly being rolled out by the Better Business Bureau is aimed at accomplishing this seemingly impossible task.

A New Kind of Customer Review

Katherine Hutt, Better Business Bureau national spokesperson, said online reviews in the process of being launched by the non-profit group are tied to the organization’s original mission. In an email interview, Hutt explained:

“For more than a century, BBB has been all about fostering trust in the marketplace between businesses and consumers. What started out as a truth-in-advertising campaign in 1912 has grown to include dispute resolution, industry self-regulation, consumer education, and charity reports.”

Customers are justified in being skeptical of review sites these days. In September, 19 small businesses were hit with fines totaling $350,000. The New York state attorney general’s office says they recruited freelancers to create false reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch.

Then, a study concluded 16 percent of the customer reviews on Yelp might be fakes. Also recently, Yelp filed suit against a San Diego law firm claiming the company faked its own reviews.

The Verification Process

Hutt insists the Better Business Bureau’s online reviews will have more credibility because of the way they are screened.

As with the complaints it takes from customers, Hutt says the Better Business Bureau will employ a verification process for all reviews appearing on its sites.

Identities of reviewers will not be shared with the public, Hutt says. But the Better Business Bureau insists all reviewers share their names and other details sufficient to verify that they are indeed customers of the businesses they are reviewing.

She says the information is also shared with the businesses being reviewed as part of the verification process, adding:

“If a consumer cannot prove he or she is a real customer, we will not publish the review … it’s as simple as that.”

History of the Program

While the first BBB online review pilot program was launched back in 2004 (the same year Yelp was founded), it wasn’t until 2012 that it was announced as an option for local BBBs to implement.

Hutt says the organization’s careful benchmarking and exacting verification standards have caused it to move more slowly than many startups and has led to fewer reviews being published.

She says about 20 local Better Business Bureaus are already using online reviews on their websites with more rolling them out as they are ready.

The reviews are being incorporated into local sites alongside existing BBB accreditation, ratings and other data. But Hutt says customer reviews are not part of the organization’s overall ratings formula for BBB business ratings.

Reviews Photo via Shutterstock

13 Comments ▼

Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Editor for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and social media networker with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business before moving to the digital world. He was the former community manager of BizSugar and the former community editor at AllAnalytics, a site dedicated to professionals in the business intelligence and analytics community.

13 Reactions

  1. Hi Shawn,

    This is interesting news. I heard about reviews recently being rolled out at the Akron BBB. At the time, I wondered about the “fake” issue. It’s good to see the BBB taking steps to filter fake reviews. It makes it harder to roll out a review program, but it’s much better for businesses when the review site doesn’t take the easy way out.

    – Anita

  2. I love the idea and with Google adding a “Reviews Extension” to their AdWords program for 3rd party reviews, these would be perfect.

  3. Shawn,

    This helps – a lot. Many reviews today are engineered. It’s a growing problem for me to know whether a review is objective or not. Getting verified eliminates a few things; it’s not perfect but it’s a great help.

  4. I think this is already needed. With so many fake or crafted reviews going around, customers now need verified reviews more than ever. It is always better to solicit real reviews than come up with a list of reviews that do not even exist.

  5. At the end of the day, it all boils down to making more sales with fake reviews, but with genuine reviews, a business appears more trustworthy and sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

  6. This is actually a very good news. verified customer reviews will be very useful. It’s all about reliability when you know that you can trust a review about a specific item.

  7. As a remodeler, my reputation is crucial to my future business. Every client I have checks my BBB profile page. One complaint on my profile can literally cause me to lose thousands and thousands of dollars in potential business. The fact that a non-client could file a dispute or claim about my business is shocking. I think it’s in the BBB’s best interest to protect their paying business members at the same time giving consumers a reliable ‘Trust’ rating. I think this is a good move by the BBB.

  8. What good are reviews that are screened?
    Do you think the BBB would post a bad review of one of their members? Anyone that thinks that is an idiot.
    My 84 year old friend got totally ripped off by a BBB member business. They charged her $738 for ten minutes work to fix her furnace and no new parts were used. A total rip-off and the BBB did nothing about it because they don’t get involved in pricing. Do you think for a moment the BBB would post her review. I don’t trust the BBB or BBB members businesses. I think the BBB is a fraud.

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