July 24, 2011 in Business

Negativity was anticipated; positive posts were refreshing

Jan Quintrall

I’ve been in this BBB business for more than 20 years, and that exposure has caused me to set up a fairly permanent residence in cynical. I have heard customers complain about the most ridiculous things over these years, scattered among the real issues that deserve attention from us and the business. I’ve seen customers ask for desired outcomes that include firing, jailing, torture and financial relief in the millions. Strange how skewed some individuals are in what is and is not fair.

But the past two weeks have partially restored my faith in human beings. Maybe the abundance of negativity, victim mentality and entitlement is not as bad as we who have settled in cynical seem to think.

Two weeks ago, this BBB along with seven other BBBs in the U.S. quietly launched a new feature for BBB ratings: customer reviews. This is a big step for an organization that prides itself on being the neutral repository that focuses on resolution, not just spewing. Like Trip Advisor and the other rating sites, we now allow customers to post reviews of businesses. We take it a step further and verify that a transaction really did take place and the person posting the customer review is really a customer rather than a disgruntled employee or competitor. Plus, if the review you want to post is negative, we ask you to instead file a complaint and seek resolution, as opposed to just shouting your dissatisfaction without a goal of resolve. One or the other, not both. We will not further the cause of someone who just wants to spread negativity. There is enough of that without our help.

BBB.org is a top 400 website in the U.S. and plays an important part in marketplace behavior. Surveys indicate that prospective customers not only want to see that A to F grade a company has earned, but that they want to see complaint details and feedback from other customers. As a collective organization, we struggled with how to make that happen without turning into a forum for people to vent without accountability. We’ve figured that part out, and what a success!

We have not formally announced this change — not to our Accredited Business partners, not to the hundreds of thousands of service and product seekers who visit our website each month, not to the news media that give us such a great megaphone to get the word out. We simply added a Customer Review tab to the business reviews.

Of course, Google sees the BBB as a trusted directory and sends millions of people to us each month, but even Google did not know about this test. And in the two weeks we’ve offered this feature, more than 100 people have written customer reviews on our site. But that is not what moved me away from cynical.

One of the fears of seeking customer reviews is encouraging negativity. Frankly, there is way too much bashing of business these days, and I have no desire to facilitate any more. I have seen comments on ratings sites that are so off base, I wonder if the writer is from another planet, and then realize they are probably a competitor or angry employee. That is why you should read more than one posting. Still, those who simply offer volumes of bad comments are often not looking for a solution, and I can’t condone that.

So what happened on the way to customer reviews was surprising, to say the least. Each day one member of our BBB staff comes in to find an email from each posting so she can edit out sensitive personnel information or profanity.

We cannot change content. And we expected negativity, but we were wrong. Three in four comments posted about BBB Accredited Businesses are positive. The percentage of positive feedback on non-accredited businesses has been much smaller, but that is to be expected. Only the cream of the crop carries BBB Accreditation.

Wow. People really do want to say nice things when the interaction with business has been positive, and they are passionate about it. How refreshing. And that is why I am pulling up some of those stakes in the neighborhood I call cynical.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at jquintrall@spokane.bbb.org.

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