BBB offering online reviews

Majority positive so far; businesses can post replies

Spokane’s Better Business Bureau, which covers North Idaho and Montana as well, has begun testing an online review system for customers to describe good or bad experiences with local businesses.

In large part, the goal of the new review option is to allow consumers to give high-fives for area businesses that do great work, said Jan Quintrall, the BBB’s president and CEO.

Previously the BBB took consumer complaints, investigated them, then summarized their findings and attached the report to a company’s rating page. No customer names were published online.

Spokane BBB Vice President Elea Katzele said consumers now are using many other sites, like Yelp or Angie’s List, that offer them a chance to comment on their business experiences. “This is what consumers are looking for,” she said.

The new system also gives owners and business managers a chance to post replies.

The BBB’s previous rating system relied on a letter grade.

“That black-or-white system gave grades but didn’t provide the details (behind the grades),” Katzele said.

The customer-review system is being tested by seven regional BBBs, including Spokane, which launched it in July.

So far 206 reviews have appeared on Spokane’s site, with 121 positive, 80 negative and five neutral.

When a positive or negative review comes in, the BBB staff contacts the business mentioned and gives it an opportunity to file a reply.

With or without an owner’s response, the comment – positive or negative – will go online within 24 hours, Katzele added. Both sides can file additional comments if needed.

One recent online review, for example, was a critical account of a Spokane plumbing company. The customer complained that a service person looked at her home plumbing and told her she’d need a new water line to eliminate a plumbing backup caused by outside roots. She claimed she was billed $300 for 20 minutes of time, with no attempt to remove the roots.

The owner of the company responded, however, that the woman’s comments were hazily based on a September 2009 visit. He said the bill was $219, and that the two-hour visit included minor plumbing repairs, although not a correction of the problem of roots in the water line.

As it’s testing the new review service, the BBB has told consumers they can either file a complaint or file a review, but not both. The intent behind that is to keep the reviews from being dominated by negative comments. The local office also withholds reviews that are submitted by someone other than the consumer who had the positive or negative experience, said Katzele.

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