September 3, 2014

How to Handle a BBB Complaint Against Your Company

How to Handle a BBB Complaint

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.

How to Handle a BBB Complaint

Respond

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.

Provide Documentation

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.

Be Proactive

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.

Be Respectful

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

12 Comments ▼
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Annie Pilon - Staff Writer


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles and feature stories. She is a freelance writer specializing in marketing, social media, and creative topics. When she’s not writing for her various freelance projects or her personal blog Wattlebird, she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

12 Reactions

  1. Nice one, Annie!

    Small Business Trends is a member of the Better Business Bureau, yet I found this common sense and methodical approach to handling complaints lodged with the BBB to contain information I hadn’t really thought about before.

    - Anita

    • Thank you! The BBB had some really great tips for dealing with these situations that most businesses go through at some point.

  2. I think these tips are not only useful, but some can be used for most other platforms where a complaint is expressed (complaints never going unanswered, for instance.)

    • That’s very true! Some are specific to BBB complaints but most of them are pretty good common sense practices for all types of businesses.

  3. please call or email me as I just found out you have two open complaints against my company that are not true and was never notified about them 561-305-0475

  4. This is really useful. Businesses really need to learn how to handle complaints so that they can turn it around and may even give the need of the customer. Trust me. Getting some negative feedback is not the end of the road. You can still turn it into a positive thing if you just become persistent.

    • I’d add, along with persistence, listening, swallowing your ego, forgiving yourself for what might have been an oversight on your part and not letting that get in the way of moving forward with the customer.

      • All people and all businesses make mistakes. The way you handle them can say a lot about you and can really have a big impact on people’s opinions.

  5. You can’t make everyone happy, but realistically you should have very few, if any, complaints with the BBB. Having sound contracts is very helpful in avoiding bad reviews, but it’s more about how you express what is written in the contract verbally when interacting with customers. A lot of the content in contracts is considered standard or generic, such as: “is not responsible for”, or “does not guarantee.” If you are providing a service, you are basically being paid to solve a problem. If you take someone’s money and the service you provide doesn’t solve their problem, emotion becomes involved and they’ll either understand why or won’t. It’s about setting reasonable expectations, maintaining good communication throughout the process, and handling customer service with integrity. Of course, there will always be people you can’t please, but (in my experience) more often than not they reach out to you first and only file complaints if they feel like it wasn’t worth your time to do right by them.

    • Very true. It’s important to give people a realistic view of the products or services you provide BEFORE they spend their money with you. And when they do come to you with a complaint you should try as hard as possible to solve it before it has to go to the BBB.

  6. I wanted to understand how long a business has to respond to a complaint. I received far more and better information from this than expected. It takes two, however, to make it work. The consumer as well as the business. Both could use documentation to make their case, if they have it, and the truth.

    In the meantime, as the consumer reading the other end of my issue from the business, they had a valid concern. So, I’ve taken care of some of my part in it (until this is settled or ended, whichever comes first).

    I agree – one does what can be done prior to going to BBB and they become close to a last resort. In years past, I’ve found them exceptionally helpful.

    Nice non-BBB site :) .

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