Archive for September, 2009

Better Business Bureau - A useless institution ?

September 21st, 2009

For the last many years I had very high regards for Better Business Bureau. When I used the word "Better Business Bureau", it sounded to me like a quasi judicial institution that safeguarded consumer interests and helped resolve their grievances against erring companies.

If you look at the BBB logo - it says - "Start With Trust". And this trust is what is there in persons mind. They think that if they are not properly treated by companies they can trust on BBB and have their grievances addressed from Better Business Bureau. I was one of those persons.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) was founded in 1912. It is a corporation consisting of several private business franchises of local BBB organizations based in the United States and Canada, which work together through the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). As per wiki - "The BBB goal is to foster a fair and effective marketplace, so that buyers and sellers can trust each other."

How does BBB work

According to wiki - "BBBs gather and report information on business reliability, alert the public to frauds against consumers and businesses, provide information on ethical business practices, and act as mutually trusted intermediaries between consumers and businesses to resolve disputes. News media frequently turn to the CBBB and local BBBs as expert sources of news about scams and consumer issues."

What if a consumer has an issue

The BBB does have a dispute resolution system. The procedures for dispute resolution are established by the Council of the Better Business Bureaus. This in turn is implemented by local BBBs. According to the wiki -"disputes can be resolved through mediation; when appropriate, low or no-cost arbitration may also be offered and provided through the BBB. The BBB acts as a neutral party when providing dispute resolution services."

What happens in practice

In practice there is nothing like "mediation or low or no-cost arbitration". If you have a grievance, you complain to BBB. What does BBB do ? The Better Business Bureau forwards it to the local BBB unit. And local BBB starts investigations ? It starts mediation ? Absolutely no. All the loca BBB does it forwards your complain to the concerned company. It gives two weeks of time to the company to respond. The company can respond anything it wishes. The company may even respond just one liner -"This is according to our terms and conditions". Better Business Bureau, does not even read you or the companies reply. All it does is that it checks if your reply is with 700 characters. Note 700 characters - not 700 word. You can not write anything more than 700 characters. Their online system does this check. And it will not tell you automatically.

So the company replies back with a curt reply. And then what does BBB does. Nothing. It just forward you the reply. You are dissatisfied. You thought you made a very good case against the company. And you wanted BBB's support or at least BBB's acknowledgement that the case deserves merit and attention. No. BBB is not at all concerned about it.  BBB just forwards the reply to you. You can then again make a reply. And BBB then again forwards it to the company against which you have grievance. And then again 2 weeks of waiting time. The company may or may not reply. If it does reply, you get the reply from the company which may be a curt reply for half a line. And then the case is closed. BBB is not at all concerned what the reply is about.

In other words BBB is a useless institution. Worst, you have trust on BBB and that trust is shattered.

Why Does BBB exist

Well BBB is not a place to address your complaints. Never waste your time on BBB for you complaint addressal. BBB sells the BBB Certifications to companies. And this is where is makes money from. That money brings the bread and butter for its employees. If we rely upon the report as reported by consumers then BBB encourages and solicits money from the very businesses they monitor! How could this be beneficial to the consumer ?

Read from that report -  "What the BBB does, is give the business that is being reported the opportunity to respond. If the business responds many times this is enough to give the business a satisfactory rating, no matter what their response is!".

What is ridiculous is that the if the business responds just once, the story ends. BBB does not care if they responded subsequently. The businesses still get satisfactory rating.  The above article in ripoff report says that -  "The BBB does provide a mediation service, but the BBB cannot force the business to do anything for you to resolve your consumer rip-off. They can only make suggestions. And if the business does not comply, this will not insure an unsatisfactory rating for the business that ripped you off.". In my case however, BBB did not tell that they are ready to mediate.

You may also like to check According to the report - "of two similar businesses, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle--both major market, reputable newspapers from February 2009.  There are two differences between them:  1) They are graded by two different regional BBB offices (Los Angeles and San Francisco) and 2) the San Francisco Chronicle is a BBB member, the Los Angeles Times is not.  This suggests either members are favored over non-members or different regions grade differently."

If you have trusted BBB so far, it is because you have not gone to them to have any of your concern as consumer addressed.

Also read the comments below and another article Executive pays in BBB