CNN recently featured the problems with the Better Business Bureau’s rating systems.  I spent a couple of years as a volunteer mediator/conciliator for the BBB of Greater NY in Manhattan when I was first training as a mediator.  The article presents a fairly balanced viewpoint of the issues, but I thought I would add my experience to the conversation.

  • The BBB does not investigate companies.  They first and foremost try to help mediate disputes between disgruntled customers and companies, member and non-member.
  • A non-responsive company receives the worst grades as they are perceived to be anti-consumer by not responding to a complaint.
  • A company who responds, even if denying the claim, is not given a “demerit” since they were responsive.
  • An accredited company was required to respond to a complaint, lest they lose their accreditation.  Same for member companies.
  • Many consumers thought the BBB was the government with the powers to shut a business down.  The reality is that the BBB is not a governmental body and the government barely has that power itself.
  • Some consumer complaints were pretty bogus, some were outright frauds.  That is one reason why a company isn’t downgraded even if they simply respond.
  • We would see a lot of complaints against the same fly-by-night companies, especially ones promising to make a modeling career.  Those companies would disappear.
  • Oddly, we would also get a lot of complaints from prisoners who did not receive their porn orders.  I guess they have a lot of time on their hands.
  • With millions of companies in the U.S. and a limited budget, the BBB has to automate their ratings as much as possible.  Things will fall through the cracks in any automated system.
  • What I did as a mediator/conciliator had no direct impact on the ratings.
  • All of the mediators were volunteers.  Some were good, some not so good.  It was a great experience for me, and I was often given the more challenging cases.
  • Consumers should not use BBB as their only source to check companies.  Check their local court system.  Check their references (more than one, especially if it is a big dollar project).

Perhaps a letter grade system is not a good fit for the BBB.  Perhaps they should go to a satisfactory/unsatisfactory system.  What was your experience with the BBB?