The Better Business Bureau was created by and for business. It’s not a government agency. It once had a true purpose and provided protection to consumers. Today, in my opinion, it’s a business that makes its living off of coercing other businesses to become a member. If you don’t, they give you a low rating based on, well, I’m not sure what. It reminds me of another business model, the Mafia. The only difference here is the Better Business Bureau doesn’t hold a gun to your head to get you to pay. Well, it’s not a gun actually, but it feels like it anyhow.
I started my first company in 1995. Like many, I joined the Better Business Bureau. I thought it would help me gain more customers. I put their logo on my website and it worked, a little. As time passed, the Better Business Bureau’s influence faded, like the Yellow Pages. People would soon forget they existed. They, like any business, needed to grow their revenue. I get that, but what they did next, I willÂ never understand.
In my next company, I chose a different plan of action. After getting a couple of negative BBB reports, we simply ignored them. Since we weren’t a member, the BBB couldn’t do anything about it. We contacted the client directly and remedied the situation. We then petitioned the BBB to remove the reports as we were not a part of their network. They did.
After a while, I reconsidered and decided to learn more about the BBB again. I contacted the local president and we discussed the deal terms. I noticed he had us listed on the site as a B-. He explained that the two negative reports we had was a lot for a company with only several hundred customers. I explained that we had over 25,000 customers and then reiterated that we only had two negative reports. That’s a pretty good ratio. Without asking me to verify a single number and after I agreed to join if he fixed this, I hit refresh on my browser and our score was an A+. I was shocked. One click from this guy and a company’s reputation is changed dramatically. He didn’t ask me a single question. He just did it, after he knew the money was coming. I never paid him.
Next, I received an email from the BBB. It was from their “merchant services partner” and came to me from a firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s not a real domain, but you get the point). He specifically stated in the email that he was “FROM THE BBB.” I smelled bullshit! Naturally, I responded and asked about their services. I learned that the person who sent the email wasn’t at all a part of the BBB. He had just cut a deal with them and they allowed him to market to their clients, and they gave him the use of their domain to send his emails. I was appalled. I contacted the BBB local president, again. I asked him why would he try to fool someone into believing that they were representing the BBB, when in fact they were a third party. I also asked why he would allow that third party access to this client list to spam/solicit their services? I expected more from an organization that claims to be the “trust authority.” He didn’t have a very good response, needless to say. Let me say that again, the BBB sold their client list to a third party and then allowed them to misrepresent themselves as an employee and service from the BBB. Yep, that really happened.
I’m a big fan of Yelp. I use it all the time. The reviews are generally legitimate. A restaurant with 4+ stars is almost always good if there are enough reviewers (typically more than 50 is my threshold). Yelp can also hold a company hostage, but not in the same way. They are fair(er) in their manner of managing this process. While they do discriminate from time to time by removing posts or changing how posts are approved, they seem to be getting it right. Their business model is to sell a business on services that are beneficial for their marketing. These services are not mandatory, and for the most part, they are not holding you to buying anything as a result of the reviews you receive. You can access the reviews for free, respond directly to the reviewer and you can even contact Yelp and ask for a review to be removed if you feel it was illegitimate.
When I think of the Mafia, I think of their visits to the local merchants to collect rents. A percentage of their revenues was expected or else. When I think of Yelp, I think of a great service that has built a reasonable revenue model that may or may not produce results. I believe Yelp has good intentions and they’ve certainly improved over the years. When I think of the Better Business Bureau, I think of what was once a Yelp and now, well, let’s just go back to “when I think of the Mafia.”