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.
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