Businesses flash their Better Business Bureau membership as a sign of credibility to consumers. • But what does it mean to be a member of the Better Business Bureau, or the BBB, as it is commonly called? And what significance does the BBB have for consumers? • Some have criticized the organization as a support for businesses trying to woo consumers rather than a watchdog. We talked with the local BBB branch to get the organization's view of its role. • Here's what Karen Nalven, president of the BBB of West Florida Inc., which represents the Tampa Bay area, had to say:
What does the Better Business Bureau do?
Our vision is to build an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other.
While we strive to be the partner of choice for businesses on marketplace and consumer trust issues, we have an equal and compelling commitment to be the resource of choice for consumers. We educate consumers. We gather and provide the reliable data that allows consumers to do business with companies they know are ethical and trustworthy. We build consumer demand for a trustworthy marketplace.
The BBB is divided into different areas. Your office represents the Tampa Bay region. What locations does that include and are there any differences between the branches?
Our office serves a wide range of area, not only covering the Tampa Bay area, but much of the western coast of Florida. Eleven counties are served, including all of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, DeSoto, and Hardee.
Some question whether the BBB actually serves a significant purpose in helping consumers. What is the BBB's power and influence?
Ultimately, our power and influence is driven by the ability to deliver consumers to trustworthy businesses. Today, your BBB is more in touch and more focused on the matter of trust than ever before. BBB identifies high standards of excellence in the marketplace and at the same time exposes substandard marketplace behavior.
BBB is more relevant than ever, as is evident in our ability to deliver close to 2 million instances of service to consumers and businesses in our community so far this year.
What do the BBB ratings mean and how are they determined?
BBB Reliability Reports and ratings are objective and comprehensive. The BBB rating system relies on an A+ through F letter-grade scale. The grades represent BBB's degree of confidence that the business is operating in a trustworthy manner and will make a good faith effort to resolve any customer concerns. The ratings system is based on a proprietary formula that takes into account 17 factors which BBB has determined as important attributes of reliability and trustworthiness.
The combination of BBB Accreditation status and our BBB Reliability Reports with letter-grade ratings is a powerful and valuable resource for consumers.
What kinds of information and services does the BBB provide to consumers?
BBB products, services and programs are backed by something other organizations can't match — an "Accredited Business" seal, indicating that a business has met high standards for marketplace trust.
In addition to business reliability reports, BBB provides a wide array of services to businesses and consumers alike. We work with businesses to maximize customer satisfaction, help resolve marketplace disputes, assist in cases of misrepresentation and fraud, and provide important consumer information and education. We provide lists of accredited businesses that have pledged to follow BBB standards and serve as a resource for consumers to get quotes for services from them.
How can the BBB help a consumer who has a problem with a business?
Should a consumer have an issue with a business, we will act as an expert, unbiased mediator to help bring the two parties together to resolve their differences. We have a high success rate of achieving this goal. So far in 2009, we've been instrumental in handling close to 30,000 complaints.
BBB complaint settlement services continue to provide consumers and businesses a fair and equitable way to resolve disputes and avoid high legal costs. These include mediation and arbitration services.
How can a consumer contact the BBB?
Evaluating trust is one of the first steps in deciding who to do business with, and your BBB is here to help. Consumers and businesses should take advantage of the resources provided by our Web site, bbb.org. We can be reached by telephone at (727) 535-5522 or 1-800-525-1447; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail at P.O. Box 7950, Clearwater, FL 33758-7950.
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.