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VOL. 126 | NO. 14 | Friday, January 21, 2011

BBB Fields Increased Inquiries

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Daily News

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Local consumers are increasingly turning to the Better Business Bureau to find reliable services, despite the rise of a number of alternative websites that enable consumers to rate their experiences and leave feedback.

“Our Mid-South bureau received 606,000 inquiries last year, a 31 percent increase over 2009,” said Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

The Mid-South bureau maintains reports on 25,000 companies, and 10,000 of those businesses have an actual grade. How many businesses in the Mid-South scored an F? About 1,000, or 10 percent of businesses with a rating.

The branch also received 8,200 complaints during 2010, along with 127,000 requests for rosters of workers from specific industries. Both figures are up an average of 30 percent.

Hutchinson attributes the increases to two factors: More and more people are using the Internet, and the BBB increased its efforts toward better search engine optimization so that its reports and rosters appear higher on Google search lists.

Several other online review sites, like Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, Yelp and Yahoo Local, let consumers post reviews and conduct discussions about their experiences with various businesses.

“The information from alternative rating agencies and services tend to complement the information that is available from the BBB,” said Dr. John Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis. “No single source of information is always comprehensive, so it pays people to check multiple sources to confirm information about a local business. The information age is now, and this is an example.”

Hutchinson also looks at all of the review sites as complementary because he feels consumers should be equipped with as much information as possible.

“We encourage people to do as much research as possible,” said Hutchinson. “However, unlike most of the other sites, we are impartial. Most of our information and reports are based on actual complaints.”

In early 2009, the BBB adopted a new grading system that rates businesses from A+ to F. Prior to then, ratings consisted of only “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.” The new rating system is based on 16 factors, including, most importantly, complaint records. Other key factors are whether the business responds to disputes in a timely and professional manner and whether it adheres to honest advertising practices.

The BBB also identifies and alerts the public about marketplace scams, working closely with the media and law enforcement.

“We are in the business to educate and protect people from scams,” said Hutchinson. “A recent Federal Trade Commission study reported that 30 million Americans have been victims of scams in the past 12 months, and that figure is on the rise.”

The bureau recently notified consumers about various Twitter and eBay phishing scams – a form of Internet fraud that aims to steal personal information – as well as lottery and lending scams involving area businesses and phony job solicitations.

Later this year, the BBB plans to introduce a new feature that will allow accredited businesses to include videos and photos of their work in the BBB’s reports. Another change for 2011 will be BBB reports beginning to include new information such as hours of operation, refund policies and more.

The Mid-South BBB formed in 1948 and now covers all 21 counties of West Tennessee as well as six counties in Northern Mississippi and Crittenden County in Arkansas. Today there are 125 BBBs across the U.S. and Canada that evaluate and monitor more than 3 million businesses and charities. All operate as independent, nonprofit organizations. The first bureau was formed in 1912.

“I think the Better Business Bureau provides a valuable service and one that people recognize and trust,” said Gnuschke. “I know of no downside to the community from the services provided by the BBB.”

Frase Protection is one area business that has earned an A+ BBB rating and has received zero complaints in 40 years of business. The company has been BBB-accredited since 1995.

Jonathan Frase, president of Frase Protection, explains that he uses his company’s BBB accreditation as a stamp of approval to tout his business’s reliability and win new customers.

“Having the BBB accreditation is a differentiator for our business,” said Frase. “It builds consumer confidence before they even know who we are, and we make sure they know we are members of the BBB and that we are accredited on the front end.”

Frase says he consults the BBB mainly as a consumer, like when looking for reliable companies or individuals to do service work at his home.

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