When your business receives a complaint through the Better Business Bureau, it can really harm your reputation. Complaints are not only publicly available, but they also impact your overall rating.
It’s an issue that affects a lot of businesses. In 2013, Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada handled 918,695 complaints. The Akron, OH branch alone processes about 4,500 complaints annually.
Sandy Gamby, director of operations for BBB’s Akron branch  explained when and why complaints are a big deal for businesses in a phone interview with Small Business Trends:
“It’s not necessarily just a complaint that can harm a business’s reputation. Most businesses get complaints at some point. But it looks bad if the volume of complaints is large compared to the size of your business, if there’s a pattern where the same type of complaint is lodged multiple times, or if the complaint is deemed to be serious like if a customer paid for something and didn’t receive anything in return.”
Small businesses, in particular, can see their ratings suffer from complaints, since it will take fewer unhappy customers speaking up to cause an impact.
Complaints stay on a company’s record for three years, so avoiding them whenever possible is crucial. But if you do receive them, there are some things you can do to minimize the damage and try to avoid causing any more of it.
Complaints should never go unanswered, according to Gamby. The BBB recommends that all businesses, both BBB accredited and non-BBB accredited, should respond as soon as possible.
If a BBB accredited business is unable to respond within 10 business days for any reason, Gamby said they should reach out to their local branch to explain the reason. Otherwise, the complaint will go on record as unanswered, showing the businesses didn’t successfully address the issue, resulting in a ratings drop.
Acknowledge and Apologize
In your response, the BBB recommends addressing each issue that the customer has brought up. Gamby also said that the business should stay fair and reasonable, acknowledge the experience that the customer had, and stick to the facts.
If the customer’s story doesn’t match with the real experience they had, try to provide some documentation that supports your side of the story. This may not always be possible, but it can add some credibility to your brand since the BBB’s complaints and resolutions are publicly available.
Oftentimes, Gamby said, customers reach out to the businesses themselves before filing a complaint with the BBB. When this happens, she said businesses should try their very best to resolve the problem so that it doesn’t escalate to a complaint.
Sometimes customers are just seeking acknowledgement and an apology. Other times, a refund or other resolution might be in order. But taking action before a complaint can often help businesses avoid the situation altogether.
Have Sound Contracts
One of the ways businesses can avoid negative feedback is by having clear contracts with their clients and customers. If people know exactly what they should expect from you, they will be less likely to have inflated expectations that will cause them to complain later.
The BBB will even review contracts for their members to ensure that they are sound, and thus less likely to cause problems later.
There are other, common sense steps businesses can take to avoid complaints. Gamby said that business owners and representatives should always show up on time, treat people with respect and courtesy, and make sure that customer service is a top priority. Showing simple respect for customers and clients can eliminate quite a few potential complaints.
Seek Positive Feedback
The BBB also gives customers the opportunity to post reviews on their website. They are different from complaints since those can impact a business’s BBB rating. But positive reviews are posted on the BBB website  for all to see. Businesses still have the opportunity to respond to their negative reviews, and Gamby said they should definitely try to do so whenever possible.
However, balancing these out with positive feedback goes a long way to presenting a more balanced view of your business. The Akron branch sees about two-thirds positive reviews and just about a third negative. So encourage happy customers to speak up and you can boost your company’s reputation even further.
BBB  Photo via Shutterstock