Whose Customers Complain the Most? The Better Business Bureau dishes on the worst offenders.


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The North American BBB has released its 2009 compilation of which industries drew the most complaints and how well they resolved them. Of course, “resolved” is a relative term for BBB complaints. It can mean “customer gave up,” but the majority of resolutions indicate at least partial satisfaction of customer claims. While you have to discount some high “resolution” numbers, you can reasonably use them to differentiate addressing complaints among industries.

Here’s the list – from “least worst” (10) to “worst.” The number sequence represents: # of complaints / % “resolved”

10. Retail furniture: 12,313 / 76%

Having worked with clients in this sector, my educated guess is that going out of business without returning deposits triggered lots of these.

9. Auto repair: 12,410 / 65%

Hey, these blokes finish lower than used car dealer. Again, based on with a client providing technical back-up not knowing what they’re going and ginning up problems Click & Clack have never heard of are the primary culprits.

8. Wireline telcos: 13,166 / 96%

They answer to state regulators, so they can’t afford to just stick it to customers outside of what they’re allowed to do.

7. Used auto dealers: 13,235 / 69%

Most (but not all) new car dealerships have cleaned up their act here, so likely a high % of “used only” sellers.

6. Collection agencies: 15,628 / 85%

There is no more predatory and less ethical industry out there, but state regulators are final;ly clamping down.

5. Internet merchants: 21,154 / 69%

I cannot believe the ads some consumers take seriously. Want to inherit a fortune from a dying Nigerian? Hong Kong’s really getting in the act now, too. Most legitimate web merchants are actually very responsible, but far from all are legit. A little trick. If you don’t see an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the ad, get the hell out of there.

4. New car dealers: 26,019 / 83%

Thank you, Toyota. A number of dealer networks have really cleaned up their act. But obviously lots haven’t.

3. Banks: 29,824 / 95%

BBB acknowledges the “resolution” rate is inflated, probably because the FDIC satisfied lots of claims. If left to the banks own devices, and especially to credit card departments, the 95% would probably drop lots.

2. Cable & Satellite Television: 32,158 / 98%

Comcast for one is trying to straighten up a little, but basically we’re talking about two packs of liars caught in a life or death competitive struggle. A whole lotta these folks would qualify as politicians. But, they’re regulated, at least in part, which forces lots of make-goods.

1. Cellular providers: 36,086 / 95%

Verizon wireless is a pretty straight shooter, but watching AT&T defend its “Swiss cheese” coverage and lack of bandwidth to handle iPhones tells us just how low the industry can go. Sprint used to a service nightmare. Now they’re just a bad dream. Viral attacks have hit some so hard that all of them tend to roll over and make good rather than risk bad PR. Yeah, angry customers!

Two lessons here: 1.) If a company screws you, consider going to the BBB. No half-way sane (and legitimate) company wants to be on the black list; 2.) All those BBB window stickers you see at used car dealers and repair shops come from auto-supply distributors.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. This weekend (11/13/10) on 20/20, Brian Ross exposed alarming practices by the Better Business Bureau. We pay $424 a year to use their “Trust” symbol on our website – http://www.caregiverpartnership.com.

    The piece that ran was one of the most damaging against any organization I have ever seen. What is most disturbing is how poorly Steve Cox (national president) handled the interview. Rule one in media training is you don’t put your hand up by the camera lens or unmike and walk out of the room while the interview is in progress. It was clear he was on the defensive from the start and not at all well prepared.

    I was also shocked at his (and others) compensation. As a former global sector president and senior officer of Kimberly-Clark, the compensation at BBB (i.e. Steve Cox) would never stand the test of reasonableness at a “for profit” organization and certainly is out of touch for a non-profit.

    At minimum, he should have been proactive and gotten out in front of this with the membership. Obviously he knew something about the BBB would air and it wasn’t going to be favorable. He should have sent an email or mailing to the entire membership to present his (BBB’s) position before the BBB piece aired.

    After it ran, they also did not communicate with their membership. Nor did they post anything on their website to their constituencies. Maybe they were all home enjoying the weekend. There was no sense of urgency.

    The BBB is in the trust business. They have at least 10 national competitors (VeriSign, McAfee, etc) with many new web brands providing business ratings (Yelp, Trip Advisor, GetHuman, etc). In my humble opinion, BBB is a perfect example of “Marketing Myopia”, the article written by Phil Kotler. They think they are in the “BBB” business and simply don’t see the host of much more relevant competitors growing around them. The organization does not know what business they are really in. They clearly need new leadership at once. From that a new strategy that addresses today’s marketplace realities is required.

    We have posted their symbol on our website (www.caregiverpartnership.com) for 3+ years. Since that time, we’ve conducted ongoing quantitative research to determine what drives purchase on our site. The BBB symbol’s has had no effect. I am happy to share these results with anyone who emails me. Our conclusion is that consumers either don’t care or they don’t recognize what the symbol stands for. Young people certainly do not. The 20/20 expose only adds to the ineffectiveness and relevancy of BBB as a “trust” organization. It will now be an oxymoron in consumers minds.

    Beside being entrepreneurs and founders of The CareGiver Partnership, my wife and I are consumer advocates and authors of Negotiate Anything! Secrets to Make Businesses Treat You Fairly. If you would like a complimentary copy of this 30 year longitudinal study of customer service in the U.S., please go to http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/24153 and enter Code ZA94h at checkout.

    Tom & Lynn Wilson
    Consumer Advocates & Authors of
    Negotiate Anything!

    [email protected]


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