The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Isn't a Government Agency and Can't Force Companies to Act
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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) Isn't a Government Agency and Can't Force Companies to Act

Many consumers think the BBB is a government agency that can solve their problems, but it's primarily a business membership organization

April 15, 2021

If you tell your friends that you're having a problem with a company, someone is bound to tell you to contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for help. But can the BBB really help you? Many people are confused about why the BBB actually does. The BBB is primarily a business membership organization, not a government agency. But the BBB can prove a good source of useful information about companies.

Consumers Surprised By Lack of Results

Many consumers report feeling frustrated that they did not receive the help they expected from the BBB. Why? Some consumers are surprised to see that the BBB is merely facilitating communication between themselves and a company or that to learn that the BBB was unable to force a company to take action. This stems from an erroneous perception that the BBB is a government agency. It is not. It is, in fact, a business membership organization with chapters spread across the country.

BBB Gives a Communication Medium

The BBB does offer consumers a way to communicate with a business and voice their concerns via a third party, but they are ultimately unable to force a business to do anything. Moreover, not all businesses have BBB accreditation, which can cost many hundreds of dollars per year. Businesses without this accreditation are less likely to communicate with consumers through the BBB versus those who have a paid membership. And just because a business is responding to you through the BBB doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get anywhere.

What Does Satisfactory BBB Membership Entail

Satisfactory membership in the BBB generally involves the paying of a membership fee and responding to consumer complaints in a timely manner. There are no stipulations that a business do anything to resolve a complaint or address the complaint a particular way. Some consumers report that responses from companies through the BBB are often short and do nothing to address their issues. Of course, every situation is different. Some consumers have successfully arbitrated through the BBB and others have seen satisfactory complaint resolution. But these may be cases where the company was already willing to work with the consumer to make things right.

Don't expect a resolution

"Consumers are welcome to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau," says Brian Reitter, NCCC Vice President. "Consumers should be cautioned, however, that the Better Business Bureau can in no way obligate a business to do anything. While a consumer sits around hoping for a response from a company, a response that might never come, that consumer could have already contacted the North Carolina Attorney General's Office or begun legal proceedings."

Contact Attorney General's Office

Letters written on behalf of the North Carolina Attorney General's Office generally receive satisfactory resolutions to consumer complaints very quickly. In cases where the business does not respond or is engaging in illegal acts, the Attorney General, as the chief law enforcement officer in the state, can step in and take legal action on the consumer's behalf. The BBB cannot.

An "A+" Rating Doesn't Really Mean A business is trustworthy

Sometimes you can see that a company has an "A" rating with the BBB, and these scores are often tossed around in advertisements, but that doesn't mean the company is trustworthy. It simply means that the company has upheld its obligation to the BBB and followed their membership rules. Ratings come from a variety of factors from time in business to the number of complaints received, both answered and unanswered.

Please note that we are not discouraging consumers from using the BBB. While the BBB cannot force a company to do anything, the BBB does offer consumers valuable insight into companies and may be able to resolve issues through arbitration.

BBB Can Offer You Insight Into Company

"The BBB can give a consumer an indication of the company by complaint statistics, which might make a consumer think twice about a certain company," continues Reitter. "We recommend consumers not ignore other avenues and explore all options available to them before so much time has expired that they are unable to take further action. In cases where a consumer decides to use BBB complaint resolution, the consumer should also explore other complaint avenues available at the same time."

Reitter further cautions that a perfect BBB score and no complaints is not an indication of a perfect company. "It could mean that no one has yet chosen to file a complaint."

BBB affiliates typically care about consumers

Just like the North Carolina Consumers Council, the vast majority of BBB affiliates work with the communities in which they are based to educate consumers about the consumer marketplace. While there have been cases of local affiliates, such as the BBB of Southland that served the greater Los Angeles area, being expelled from the organization, the vast majority have dedicated staffs that genuinely want to help consumers and prevent problems before they occur.