The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 as an independent watchdog, and for many years, it served a vital role in exposing deceptive business practices and scams.
Consider Author Solutions, widely regarded as one of the most notorious exploitative vanity presses in the industry. By 2010, the Better Business Bureau had amassed volumes of complaints about Author Solutions' practices. So, when Author Solutions applied for the BBB's new accreditation program in 2010, how did they stack up against the BBB's standards of integrity and honesty?
They received an A+ rating — after paying the BBB's accreditation fee.
In the first year of the accreditation program, the BBB overtly awarded points to accredited companies, boosting their ratings for no other reason than being paid to do so. When Connecticut's attorney general accused the BBB of running a “pay to play” scheme, the BBB bowed to public pressure by ending its practice of awarding points for paid accreditation.
How does Author Solutions fare now that the BBB has supposedly ended the practice?
Today, this appalling vanity press that feeds off naive authors is still rated A+, despite more than 200 complaints filed with the BBB in the past 3 years, and a nearly 80% negative customer rating. There is no mention of the lawsuits filed against Author Solutions, or the legion of furious ex-clients who had their pockets emptied with little to show for it.
A new disclaimer appearing on the BBB's accreditation pages offers a partial explanation for how substandard companies like this receive glowing commendations: “BBB Accreditation does not mean that the business’s products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business’ product quality or competency in performing services.”
Naturally, the BBB doesn't advertise this fact anywhere near a company's rating. All consumers see is the prominent “A+” rating and “BBB ACCREDITED BUSINESS” badge. Most will assume that the BBB has vetted the company, and may incorrectly believe the company to be legitimate and trustworthy.
The BBB outlines its rating system, and a close look reveals how they can award their highest praise to the worst companies. Points are deducted for complaint volume, unanswered complaints, a pattern of complaints, lack of transparency, and more. However, the number of points that are deducted can be zero for every category, purely at the discretion of the BBB. Despite hundreds of complaints alleging the same disreputable business practices, the BBB has deducted zero points from Author Solutions' score.
In this watchdog's opinion, the BBB mission of “advancing marketplace trust” by “calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior” has given way to whitewashing that behavior. However, negative reviews and customer complaints can still provide valuable insights into a company's trustworthiness, even when the BBB's accreditation fails to do so.
Over to you
What organizations do you rely on for information about businesses? Let us know in the comments below!Is the Better Business Bureau promoting bad businesses? - by @johndoppler Click To Tweet