We have held an A+ business rating with the BBB for the last several years.  We gained this rating through honest and transparent business practices, excellent customer service and good old fashioned ‘doing what we say we are going to do’.  In fact according to our BBB rating 99.96% of our nearly 7000 customers are very satisfied while only 0.06% of our customers found something about our company they didn’t like. With 7000 customers we have found that you can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try.  We are very proud of this extremely high customer satisfaction rating, but we will keep striving to make every customer happy.

Still many consumers don’t realize just how difficult it is to achieve this high of a consumer satisfaction rating.  Not only is it difficult, it’s downright unheard of especially in systems like the BBB that have a history of extorting businesses.  In an article in Time magazine entitled, “Why the BBB should give itself a bad rating” the BBB faced some honest criticism about their shady practices, “the BBB certainly isn’t what many consumers think it is — some quasi-government combination of consumer advocate, watchdog, and complaint bureau…  the BBB hardly seems fair and transparent.”  In fact the BBB doesn’t even maintain a review page on their own site.  A quick Google search will yield article after article of stories about the challenges businesses face to keep even a reasonable rating with the BBB.  So while we maintain our excellent BBB rating and accreditation, we hope they can adjust their review system to be even more transparent, honest and useful for both the consumer and the company.

These unfair and skewed review systems online have led some businesses to try and pad their positive reviews. The recent FTC ruling against a business called AmeriFrieght brought the whole online review issue into the forefront.  This kind of dishonesty effects all companies with great reviews, because it erodes the confidence of consumers in the great reviews they’ve received legitimately.

So we decided to write to our customers about how to best decipher trustworthy reviews.  Here are four tips to help you draw the BEST conclusion from online reviews and rating systems like the BBB:

1. 25% of online reviews are fraudulent or fake according to a Harvard Research study by Michael Lucca. This affects both 1 and 5 star reviews.  So how can you weed out which reviews are fake?  Look for users who have very active profiles and lots of friends on sites like Yelp and Google +.  Look for reviewers who give a range of scores in their ratings, as those will be the most trustworthy.  As far as the BBB is concerned it’s a complaint/resolution system rather than a 1-5 rating scale, so read both the complaint and the business response to determine the validity of the actual complaint, and observe how the business responds.

2. You can be held accountable for writing fake reviews.  Amazon has filed lawsuits against companies falsifying positive reviews, and companies have sued consumers for filing defamatory reviews.  In both cases things get ugly.  So when writing or reading reviews keep it factual.  As a writer remember that there are real people who’s lives are affected at their jobs if you blow something out of proportion. So before you fly of the handle at some business, remember you may need to defend your statements with your check book.  As a reader try to keep things in perspective as it will help you weed out the consumers with an axe to grind and get to the facts if a business is trustworthy.

3. Check multiple sources.  There are lots of review sites these days, so compare sites like Google reviews, Yelp, BBB and others.  Look at the aggregate score.  Is it generally positive?  If the score is relatively high across multiple review platforms then the company or product is most likely worth a try.

4. Remember that just one unhappy customer can write multiple reviews, and they usually do.  According to Harvard Business Research only 25% of happy customers will actually report their positive interaction with the company while 65% of unhappy customers are likely to share their negative experience online.  Looking at these numbers you can immediately see that any business should likely have 400% more positive reviews it currently has, because happy customers don’t usually post.  Keep this in mind while you are weighing a businesses reviews.