Company responses drive BBB ratings

Number of complaints is small factor; unresponsive companies can get quick F ratings

For example, Bill Hicks Body Shop of Centerville has had a handful of complaints against it in the past three years and an F rating from the BBB.

Time Warner Cable of Southwest Ohio has had more than 700 complaints against it in the past three years — including more than 300 in the past year — and has an A+ rating from the BBB.

“In general , it’s not about having a complaint, it’s about how you handle those complaints,” said John North, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton. “If you don’t answer those complaints, if you’re delayed on those complaints, if it’s a serious complaint … then that’s ultimately going to affect your letter grade.”

North said the BBB wants to be the bridge between consumer and company and that businesses are encouraged to respond to the BBB about complaints received into the BBB. The BBB gets customer complaints and filters them to the business and expects a response back. North said some businesses do respond directly to customers.

Troy Hicks, President of Bill Hicks Body Shop, is not BBB accredited and has no plans to join the 4,004 area companies who pay for membership in Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby and northern Warren counties.

“I think that at the end of the day, it matters who you pay and what kind of reputation they’re going to stick you with,” Hicks said. “You can talk to a lot of business owners and most of those business owners are probably going to give you the company line when it comes to the Better Business Bureau. They’re already attacking me, so I’ve got to kind of attack back the best that I can.”

Dayton BBB member Jim Miller of Hallmark Furniture Manufacturing in Enon saw his letter grade drop to an F for failure to respond. Since then, his letter grade is being re-evaluated after he called North. Said Miller: “You’ve got no choice around here” but to belong to the organization.

The Jeff Schmitt Auto Group had an A+ rating nearly a year after the Dayton BBB sent a letter asking them to address a “pattern of complaints” that coincided with dozens of lawsuits alleging deceptive business practices detailed in an Aug. 6 Dayton Daily News report.

The Dayton BBB suspended the Jeff Schmitt Auto Group’s rating Aug. 7 and on Sept. 10 revoked the auto dealer’s accreditation and gave it a D-minus rating. Public relations specialist Chuck Vella said on behalf of the Jeff Schmitt Auto Group that the company would not comment on the revocation, which can be appealed.

North said 42 other businesses have had their accreditation revoked in the past three years and that 471 businesses currently have an F rating.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Pedelty said that 700 or so complaints with the BBB in three years and more than 300 in one year represents less than one percent of its customer base.

“We think (the BBB) is a good organization that provides a good service to the community,” Pedelty said. “It’s especially good for those that want to have peace of mind in their hiring decisions or service decisions. They have a storied and stellar reputation. I don’t think anybody could really dispute that.”

Hicks does dispute that. He said the handful of BBB complaints out of 1,500 customers in three years also is less than one percent of his business. Hicks, whose business fixes luxury cars for Lexus of Dayton, said the car dealer has a right not to be thrilled about the body shop’s rating.

Hicks said after a time of not responding to the BBB, he tried to address his F rating starting in February and responded to complaints. In March, Hicks’ father Bill died. The body shop’s BBB complaint file was closed by April and his F rating stood and Hicks said he didn’t get the time other businesses have to up their grade.

“Why was I not given that consideration? Is it because I’m not accredited?” Hicks asked. “Or is it because I’m the little guy they want to get accredited? Is it a revenue stream?” North said he would have to review Hicks’ case but stood by the BBB’s process.

BBB membership costs range from $369 per year for businesses with one to five employees to $719 for companies with 101 to 200 employees to $8,188 and up for businesses with more than 6,001 workers.

North said membership revenues were $1.18 million in 2010, $1.26 million in 2011 and $1.30 million in 2012. The BBB is a private nonprofit, so its meetings are not open to the public and are not subject to open records laws.

Both Hicks and Miller said the BBB has worthy aspects.

“You have to be a Better Business Bureau member… . The position they’re in, you’d better be in there and you’d better take care of the thing because they’re going to do exactly what’s happening to me now,” Miller said.

An ABC News 20/20 investigation in 2010 charged the BBB of Southland in Los Angeles with employing extortion-like methods of getting businesses to sign up. The report showed those that did were given A ratings while those that didn’t were given lower grades. North noted that the BBB expelled that affiliate in March 2013 after a lengthy investigation.

North said BBB ratings are formulated via a mathematical algorithm that was tweaked four years ago. The formula – which North said is somewhat secret and set by the national BBB – contains 16 factors, six of which are related to complaints. A more full explanation of the formula’s elements, but not the formula itself, is on the BBB website. North said the Dayton BBB soon will add a customer review section.

The Dayton Daily News, which currently has a B rating, is a founding member of the Dayton BBB and has been accredited since 1925.

After a DDN story about how Williams Brothers Roofing & Siding Co. was being investigated for importing and hiring illegal workers from Mexico, the BBB dropped Williams Brothers from an A+ rating to no rating and stripped their accreditation.

“We truly appreciate the partnership that we have with consumers in the Miami Valley and the media and we’re all working together to try and make sure that is a fair and ethical marketplace,” North said. “We make changes based upon and we do investigations based upon any information we get through consumers, through the community or through the media.”

North said the BBB stays relevant and is different than online review sites such as Google, Angie’s List, Yelp and others.

“We are unique from all of those organizations,” North said. “We’ve been around for 100 years. Any information that we put into our business reviews on any particular business are somehow verified.”

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