The BBB's Beginnings
Originally called “Vigilance Committees” or Advertising Clubs, the first Better Business Bureaus (BBB) were established in the early 1900s. Their goal was to correct advertising abuses. In response to marketplace demands, BBBs quickly expanded to monitor business performance and provide consumers with vital information to avoid the pitfalls in the marketplace.
Today’s BBBs are committed to the belief that the majority of marketplace problems can be corrected through voluntary self-regulation. They champion the cause of consumers and hold businesses accountable to the highest standards of honesty in their advertising and selling.
There are over 150 BBBs in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico that directly help nearly 20 million consumers and businesses each year. True to their faith in the virtues of the private sector, BBBs are nonprofit organizations that are financed almost exclusively by membership dues—dues paid for by businesses and professional firms in local communities.
American government and business leaders from the past to the present day have proudly acknowledged that the BBB has rightly "earned the confidence and gratitude of the American public."
BBB members are businesses and firms which meet tough BBB membership standards, agree to follow the highest principles of business ethics and voluntary self-regulation, and have accepted an invitation from the BBB to join.
BBB members are subject to the same scrutiny BBBs give all businesses. Staunchly neutral, BBBs provide reports on a company’s general background and consumer complaint history, if any. These reports cover member and non-member businesses alike.
As a rule, a BBB business report will contain:
- General Background: Information about the length of time a company has been in business and known to the BBB;
- Complaint History: A summary of the company’s complaint history and other experience in the marketplace; and/or
- Pertinent Information: Information developed through special BBB investigations and relevant government actions.
BBBs also report a company’s membership in the BBB or participation in BBB programs.
BBB Complaint Handling
Usual Steps To Follow
- Consumers should first contact the business and attempt to resolve the complaint. If there is no satisfactory resolution, consumers can submit the complaint to a local BBB or file it electronically using a BBB online complaint form;
- The BBB presents the complaint to the company involved. Because the majority of companies seriously consider customer satisfaction to be good business, complaints are generally resolved in short order and the matter is closed;
- Despite extensive efforts, some complaints cannot be resolved through initial contacts with a business. In such cases, a BBB may offer a dispute settlement process such as mediation or arbitration.
In some situations, the BBB may be unable to obtain cooperation from a company. A pattern of unanswered or unresolved complaints becomes a part of that company’s BBB record and is reported to any persons who ask about that company. An unsatisfactory report will lead to termination of a company’s BBBmembership if applicable. In extreme cases, the BBB may refer its file on a company to a law enforcement agency to determine if legal action is warranted.
BBB Dispute Resolution
BBBs help to resolve buyer/seller disputes with businesses by means of conciliation, mediation, and arbitration, as appropriate. The BBB may offer the following dispute resolution options:
Conciliation: The BBB staff helps the customer and business communicate so they can resolve their dispute informally;
Mediation: A professionally trained mediator meets with the parties and guides them in working out their own mutually agreeable solutions; or
Arbitration: The parties state their views at an arbitration hearing, offer evidence, and let an impartial third party from the BBB’s pool of certified arbitrators make the decision that will end the dispute.
Many companies sign pre-commitment pledges with BBBs to arbitrate disputes. These pledges offer interested businesses the opportunity to commit in advance to resolve any disputes not settled through conciliation. BBBs draw upon the experience of over 5,000 BBB-trained arbitrators, mediators, and staff to resolve buyer/seller disputes.
Although the BBB greatly helps consumers and businesses through information and business self-regulation, it is not a government agency, nor does it have law enforcement powers.
- The BBB cannot force a business to do what the customer wants, although most businesses work with the Bureau to ensure customer satisfaction;
- The BBB does not have legal authority, although it can inform you of applicable laws and refer you to legal assistance;
- The BBB cannot help either party involved in a dispute break a legal contract; however, the BBB will attempt to assist if misrepresentation or fraud is involved;
- The BBB does not make recommendations or endorsements, but it can provide you with a list of member companies that have pledged to follow BBB standards;
- The BBB does not appraise items or pass judgment on the price charged for merchandise, the operating efficiency of devices, or the length of time merchandise should last; however it can process complaints regarding misrepresentation in these areas.
How BBBs Help You
As a private, non-profit organization, the purpose of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is to promote an ethical marketplace. It does so by providing the following information and services to consumers and businesses:
- Business Reports: Information on a business’s performance in the marketplace, which can alert you to a history of unanswered or unresolved complaints, law enforcement actions, and advertising violations;
- Charity Reports: Information on charities and other soliciting nonprofits that seek public donations;
- Dispute Resolution: Help in resolving a complaint against a company, using conciliation, mediation and arbitration services when appropriate;
- Consumer Information Clearinghouse: Brochures, books, public library videos, and Internet advisories on many important topics to assist consumers and businesses in making wise purchasing decisions;
- Business Ethics Promotion: Promoting truthful, accurate advertising and selling practices, both online and off-line, by monitoring advertising and seeking appropriate corrections;
- Fighting Fraud: Alerting consumers and law enforcement agencies about current marketplace scams and frauds.