Q&A on BBB Customer Reviews: Not Just Another Unkempt Local Review Site

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto27/6391444495/Love or hate the Better Business Bureau, it’s one of the bigger sites to have dipped a couple toes in the greenish-brown pond of local business reviews.  In my experience it’s a great place to get reviews, as I’ve written.

But the current local-reviews landscape is the Wild West.  The sheriff in TripAdvisorville seems to shoot straight, but the one at Yelp Rock ain’t no Will Kane.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Mountain View is never in town, and his one deputy managed to lock himself in the cell with the town drunk.

And those are the big sites that actually attempt quality-control of reviews.  Facebook and YellowPages?  Ha.

Like Angie’s List, BBB actually seems to try.  Not to say that no bogus reviews wind up there (bogus reviews are everywhere), but at least there’s an effort.

A higher-up at a regional BBB chapter read my post on how it’s an “underrated” review site, and sent me some info, which prompted me to ask him a few questions.  He prefers not to be named in this post, but here’s the inside scoop he gave me on BBB reviews:

 

Q: Is there an automatic filter on BBB reviews?  (Like Yelp’s or Google’s filter.)

A: No, there is no automatic filter on BBB reviews. We have BBB staff that read them, as well as ask the business if this person is a customer.

 

Q: Under what circumstances do you remove a customer’s review manually?

A: Since October 2015 (at my chapter of the BBB) 17% of our online reviews submitted to the BBB were not published. Reasons could have been that 1) BBB was not able to verify that the person writing the review was a customer, or that 2) the review contained abusive language.

 

Q: Under what special circumstances will BBB reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer to the business owner?

A: The BBB does not post any anonymous reviews. Once the BBB receives a review it goes into a 3-day “holding tank” before we publish that gives the BBB time to email the business to verify that the review is in fact from a customer and gives the business an opportunity to respond. The BBB does protect the identity of the reviewer by not posting identifiable information. Same regarding formal complaints. We would not publish a complaint that was sent anonymously.

 

Q: Do formal complaints factor into the “star” rating of a business, and not just against its “letter” grade?

A: No, formal complaints do not factor into the star rating. Currently we have 2 separate grading systems. The A+ – F grading system is based on standards the business meets and has earned. The star rating system is based on consumers’ opinions of the business.

Q: To get reviews on BBB, first you need to get listed.  You can pay to get accredited, of course, but then there’s the free submission option (which has been relocated at least once, and never has been easy to find).  Why is that form so buried and, seemingly, so ineffective?

A: We have had a massive problem with citation building services who white-label their product to agencies submitting inaccurate data – either by accident or maliciously to attempt to damage a competitor’s listing. This has created a massive amount of work for our staff. Often they submit data we already have listed. If we get a listing that we think is submitted inaccurately, we try to reach out to the business by phone and later by letter and send them a questionnaire asking them to update their file in our system (free of charge). We don’t always get return phone calls or get our questionnaires returned. If we think the data is submitted inaccurately, we don’t publish it.

We are also getting a lot of submissions that have virtual office addresses that we can’t verify have employees in the United States. The business can’t be verified in public records of the state or county.

What I really think makes our database so great is that we have humans who act as “Curators” or caretakers to verify that the information that we report to the public is correct. We take this very seriously at our chapter of the BBB. It is what we dedicate the most financial and human resources to, especially regarding our Accredited Business Directory. Those businesses and their owners have been background-checked, and we’ve checked their licenses, business start dates, verified addresses, etc. That is why you won’t find an un-licensed mover in our Accredited Business Directory, or an unlicensed handyman lumped into the licensed plumbing categories.

Another thing that I think really sets us apart from other directory sites is that we ask for sizing information from the company.  For example, we know AT&T would be considered a “colossal large” business because of the number of customers they have.  It would be acceptable for them to get 500 complaints a year and, as long as they respond and make a good-faith effort to resolve those complaints, they could still maintain an A+ record.  Contrast that with a pool builder who builds 20 pools a year and gets 10 complaints. To us, that’s less expected and more of a concern.

Anyway, we are in the process of making some major improvements to our website and iPhone app. We are moving in the right direction digitally, just moving slower than I would wish! 🙂

How does that square with your experience with Better Business Bureau reviews?

Any questions I can pass on to someone at the BBB?

Leave a comment!

Which Awards Grow Your Local-Search Stature?

Every now and then I stumble across a business in Google Places that has a sweet “best-of” –type award sitting right at the top of its Places page.

I don’t run across these awards too frequently—but when a business has one, I notice it.

More often than not it’s a “Best of CitySearch” award, but sometimes I see other types.

Example of an award highlighted on a Google Places page

For a few years I’ve wondered how many “best local business” awards are out there and (more importantly) which ones can help a business attract more local customers in one way or another.

I did a little research and found some distinctions that can help your local visibility in some or all of the following ways.  These are awards that:

  • Google will showcase prominently at the top of your Places page,
  • You can take a picture of and upload as a photo on your Google Places page,
  • You can feature prominently and “talk up” on your website,
  • Earn you a link from the site that awarded you the distinction, or
  • Increase your visibility and reputation to customers on local-business sites other than Google Places.

Here are some of the most visibility-enhancing awards you can win (depending on your industry):

Angie’s List Super Service Award (see example on Places page)

Best of CitySearch (see example on Places page)

Gayot awards (see example on Places page)

OpenTable: Diner’s Choice (see example on Places page)

TravelandLeisure awards (see example on Places page)

TripAdvisor: Traveler’s Choice

Vitals: Patients’ Choice

Take a look at this spreadsheet for more info about each award.

Chances are your business is eligible for at least one of those awards.  But not necessarily.   It depends largely on your industry.  Just look into the ones that seem as though they might apply to you (that’s why I made the spreadsheet).

What if you try hard to get recognized as a “best-of” but don’t end up winning the blue ribbon?  Well, you’ll still come out ahead.  In order to pursue the award in the first place, you need to get tons of positive feedback from customers—often in the form of glowing reviews.  Those third-party reviews can help your Places ranking hugely (as you may know).  You’ll also boost your prominence or rankings on the site where you’ve been pursuing the award, which will mean more visibility to potential customers who use that site.

Most likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results of your push to win—and you’ll get a snazzier-looking Places page, a good link, more bragging rights, and probably more local customers out of the deal.

By the way, please leave a comment if you know of any really good local-biz awards that aren’t on my list.  Extra kudos if you can find awards that you’ve seen highlighted on someone’s Google Places page (and that aren’t on my list).