Dispelling Common Misconceptions of the BBB

The Better Business Bureau handles much more than consumer complaints

Since its founding in 1965, the Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware has become celebrated for its ability to help consumers find trustworthy businesses. The BBB stamp of approval is well-recognized, and by simply accessing the online database or calling the office, consumers can get an overview of a business, learn about any complaints against it and check the company against the BBB rating system, which uses a scale of A+ to F.

Yet many businesses and consumers lack a full understanding of how the BBB operates. “Some people think that all we handle is complaints,” says Christine Sauers, president of the BBB Serving Delaware. “Actually, we do so much more.”

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We asked Carol Tomlinson, director of accredited business development, and Jon Bell, director of business relations, to talk about the common questions that they encounter from both consumers and businesses.

Q: Is the BBB funded by the government?
“We are not a government agency,” Tomlinson says. “We get no state funding. We’re supported by the fees from our accredited businesses and by a small number of donations.”

Q: How can you be fair to the consumer if all funding comes from businesses?
“The BBB’s goal is to be a neutral third party,” Bell says. “We give people an unbiased look at the marketplace.” Moreover, the BBB also provides information on non-accredited companies, if it’s available. To further serve as a neutral party, the BBB’s Arbitration Council, founded in 1973, helps businesses and consumers resolve disputes without the need for attorneys. 

Q: When the BBB gets a complaint about an accredited business, how can the BBB be unbiased?
It boils down to integrity: the BBB values the public trust. The organization bases its reputation on it.

Q: The BBB has received a complaint from one of my customers. Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?
The BBB is rooted in impartiality. It does not take sides in any matter.

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Q: What’s the difference between accredited and non-accredited businesses? Why do you report on both?
An accredited business is a company that has been evaluated by the BBB and committed to its standards of trust. A business owner can’t just fill out an application, write a check, and be accredited. “We vet them,” Bell says. Tomlinson agrees: “It’s an honor not every business can enjoy.”

Once accepted, the business must abide by the BBB’s eight standards. Ethics in advertising is key, as is protecting sensitive consumer information, such as addresses and credit card numbers. Businesses that don’t meet the standards do not qualify.

However, accredited and non-accredited businesses are subject to the rating system, which is based on factors such as how long the company has been in business, the complaint volume filed in relation to the business’ size, the company’s response to the complaints, and the resolution of the complaints.

The BBB currently reports on about 11,000 businesses in Delaware, 1,500 of which are accredited, but it will also take complaints on any business.

Q: What’s the value of being a member?
“We’re a valuable research tool,” Tomlinson says. “If people are thinking of putting in new carpets or getting their driveway sealed, they look to the BBB for an accredited business.” 

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And it’s not just for homeowners, Bell adds. Businesses turn to the BBB for suppliers, potential clients and even partners. 

“We are a 102-year-old brand,” he says. “We’re putting our reputation on the line every time we accredit a business. We work hard every day to maintain the consumers’ trust.”

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