By Karen E. Klein
One year after it took its consumer and business-protection show online, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) has nearly doubled the number of queries it handles from consumers, a new study shows. The U.S.-based BBBs logged 41.5 million instances of service in 2002, vs. 21.4 million in 2001, says Ken Hunter, CBBB president and CEO. Those requests included 25 million "reliability reports" on businesses.
The public has adopted the group's online search-and-reporting functions, at www.bbb.org and www.bbbonline.org, in a big way. "Fully half of all BBB business reliability reports are now issued over the Web, and two-thirds of the complaints BBBs handle are filed online," Hunter says.
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The latest data was made available from the CBBB's 2002 Annual Inquiry and Complaint Summary, which also updated the annual "Top 12" -- the business categories that generated the most requests for BBB reliability reports, as well as those prompting the greatest number of complaints in 2002.
"Work-at-home" promotions topped the list of businesses that are most frequently checked out, the same position it has occupied for the past four years. Inquiries about such offers increased in 2002 by 69% over the previous year. Mortgage and escrow companies ranked second, up from fourth place in 2001. Inquiries on moving and storage companies also increased -- up 105%, with more than a half-million requests in 2002.
Three industries -- Internet services, modeling and talent agencies, and insurance companies -- appeared on the BBB's Top 12 list of inquiries for the first time in 2002, replacing plumbing contractors, air-conditioning contractors, and-credit card offers, which dropped off the list.
The remaining six most-asked-about businesses also appeared on last year's Top 12, in roughly the same ranking: roofing and guttering contractors, general contractors, franchise auto dealers, home remodeling contractors, home builders, and auto repair shops. Although debt-consolidation services did not make 2002's Top 12 Inquiry list, consumer requests for reports on such services increased significantly from the prior year, up 162%, the report says.
Of the industries that drew that most complaints, 2002 saw cell phone top the list for the first time. Moving up from 16th place in 2001, the number of cell phone complaints more than tripled -- from 5,928 in 2001 to 21,534 in 2002 -- an increase of 263%.
Ranking second and third respectively in terms of the number of complaints were franchise auto dealers and credit-card offers, followed by Internet services, and computer dealers/stores. Telephone companies came in sixth, followed by mail-order and catalog firms, home-furnishing stores, credit-collection agencies, cable- and satellite-TV outfits, moving-and-storage companies, and auto-repair shops. Long-distance service providers dropped off the Top 12 list, falling ten places from the eighth-ranked spot in 2001, thanks to a 27% decline in complaints, from 8,711 to 6,847.
Given the increasing use of BBB services by consumers, getting your small business registered with the organization should be a great credibility tool and selling point -- particularly if you're in an industry that attracts a lot of requests for information and questions about credibility.
Businesses, trade associations and members of the public may order the CBBB's 2002 Summary by sending a check or money order for $7.50 to CBBB, Dept. 023, Washington, DC 20042-0023.
Karen E. Klein writes the Smart Answers column for BusinessWeek Online