Is the Better Business Bureau still relevant to consumers in an age of near-instant response on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram?
For more than 110 years, the office has been built to build trust between consumers and businesses, and it continues to say that its services are in demand. The North Central Texas office had over 4,295,021 requests on its website last year, with over 62,353 complaints processed. Of these complaints, 90% were resolved.
But many young consumers simply go to Twitter, Instagram, or other social media to publicly voice their complaints. Within seconds, their responses can be viewed by corporate social media teams monitoring traffic.
And some companies, even well-known ones, no longer bother to join the BBB.
Grab a Texas favorite, Buc-ee’s. The convenience store caught on in April for amassing 100 BBB complaints since 2006, a seemingly small number given the thousands of people who stop by large stores and gas station chain locations every day.
Yet the BBB puts a disclaimer on its site saying Buc-ee’s no longer responds to complaints filed with the agency it started in 1912.
“At the store level, our managers have the power to make decisions,” Buc-ee general counsel Jeff Nadalo said in an email in April. “We choose not to mediate problems through the BBB or any other social media platform. As we found out, most of the complaints on social media are false. We believe good old-fashioned face-to-face resolution is the best option for us. “
The same goes for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which claims to work directly with dissatisfied customers.
The carrier ranks 1.14 out of five stars in customer reviews and gets an F rating on the Better Business Bureau website, and has chosen not to be a member of the agency anymore. “We do not respond to customers via BBB, as indicated on their website,” a spokesperson for Southwest said in an email. “Rather, we respond directly to customers.”
David Beasley, vice president and chief operating officer of BBB in Dallas, says what differentiates the Better Business Bureau are its core services. It’s a human first company, a technology second whose dispute resolution services are conducted by real people who check if the company has treated the consumer fairly, Beasley said.
“You can scream into that black hole, but that company isn’t going to help you try to get a solution to your problem,” Beasley said. “So this is where BBB has really taken the market by storm and is still able to provide direct help to consumers.”
The Better Business Bureau of north-central Texas employs over 45 people in its Elm Street office, which serves 29 Texas counties, 5.6 million consumers and 120,000 businesses. The base fee for a company to join the BBB is $ 500 per year, according to Beasley. As a 501C-6 organization, the Better Business Bureau relies heavily on membership fees, which vary by company size.
BBB’s audience is made up of consumers reaching a stage in life where they are “buying a really expensive house or pool or repair,” Beasley said. “It is then that whether or not an activity will blow your mind becomes more and more important to you. So it’s no big shock that an 18-year-old might not know what the Better Business Bureau is. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to pivot to meet the needs of the market. “
Monica Horton, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of north-central Texas, said in an internal study by the BBB agency, 88% of consumers who had heard of BBB were more likely to buy from a company with a credit rating. A + or A.
He said the agency monitors complaints filed on its site. “We do our best to try to validate and verify that the reviewer was indeed a customer of the company,” said Horton.
Scams are quite common and this was a recent target for the agency, he said.
Economics professor Rajashri Srinivasan of the University of Texas at Austin says web complaints came into play in 2009 with a crucial incident.
It was then that Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician, opened the case holding his Taylor guitar and found it completely demolished after a plane flight.
He complained to United Airlines, but nothing came of it, so Carroll posted a series of three YouTube videos titled “United Breaks Guitars” about his damaged $ 3,500 guitar.
United Airlines recorded a 10% loss of its market value at that time. And while there’s no evidence that the videos hurt United financially, they definitely didn’t help.
Srinivasan says social media hadn’t really taken off before then as YouTube had just debuted in 2005. Yelp complaints and Google reviews weren’t the norm.
Now younger consumers generally watch Twitter, Instagram, or even TikTok when they want to complain in real time, Srinivasan said. He said that companies monitor social media in various ways and try to keep up with consumer complaints.
“Social media is the new platform for consumer complaints,” Srinivasan said. “The Better Business Bureau is a bit like previous generation technology. It is not entirely clear whether they will continue to be relevant in the next two years ”.
The BBB says it’s not just for older consumers. In fact, online scams make it even more relevant, Horton said.
Many businesses in north-central Texas still rely on the agency, including Dallas-based AT&T, which has an A + rating but only 1.11 out of five stars on the BBB consumer rankings.
“Our mission at the Better Business Bureau is a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other,” said Horton. “This is our goal.”
Six Flags Corp., based in Arlington, has an A + rating but only has 1.08 out of 5 stars for consumer reviews. The company has closed 1,282 complaints in the past three years, according to the BBB website.
Its top priority is to provide a safe and fun experience, said Brad Malone, head of marketing and communications at Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor.
“The Better Business Bureau is one of the largest third-party review sites, providing our guests with an outlet to submit valuable feedback,” said Malone. “This also provides us with a neutral platform to address concerns directly with our guests.”
And the BBB says it is targeting the new generation of consumers. Horton said young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are more likely to be scammed.
“Seniors are what people think of because the losses are generally greater, but buying online was our number 1 scam, followed by cryptocurrency,” Horton said. “These are all scams that target that demographic.”
Scams and misleading advertising are two areas the BBB represses, Beasley said. The agency is also working with search engine optimization and site traffic to ensure consumers can instantly see business ratings when they search for a business.
“We make sure our technology is to the point where once a consumer needs us, they can find us,” said Beasley.