The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is one of the largest and most respected independent business review organizations in North America, and their A+ rating is a fantastic testament to a business’s success and longevity. It boosts consumer confidence that your business has ethical and fair practices, and when things go wrong, you can rely on them to fix them.
Basically, a Better Business Bureau A+ rating is one of the best ways you can communicate your commitment to quality for your customers.
So once you’ve got it, what’s the best way to keep it? Here’s how to keep an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Even if you were accredited recently, it still pays to look at how the BBB rates your business, and understand what you need to do to push yourself over the A+ threshold.
Just like in school, the BBB letter grades are based on a score out of 100. To get an A+ rating, you need to get 97 points or more. The grade you get from the BBB represents the BBB’s degree of confidence that your business is operating in a trustworthy manner and will make a good faith effort to resolve any customer complaints.
BBB ratings are based off the transparency and integrity of your business. They have a code of ethics they follow, which sums up what they’re looking for in businesses with BBB A+ ratings: These businesses “Build Trust, Advertise Honestly, Tell the Truth, Be Transparent, Honor Promises, Be Responsive, Safeguard Privacy, Embody Integrity.”
If you feel like you already run your business in accordance with these values, then you have a shot at getting an A+ BBB rating.
But what is a BBB rating, really?
The BBB bases their rating on 13 elements:
But due to the BBB scoring, only five of the 13 elements earn points for your business. With most of the requirements you’ll lose points for failing to comply—your reward for compliance isn’t earning points, it’s just not losing them. For example, if you comply with all government licensing, you get 0 points. If you don’t, then you lose 41 points.
Since the penalty for failing to comply for any one requirement is at least 21 points, putting you far outside the 97 point minimum for an A+ rating, we’re going to focus on the ways that you can get points. They are:
It’s pretty simple. These add up to 100 points, and you need to get 97 points to get an A+ BBB rating. Before we delve into them, it’s worth noting a few things:
Now let’s look a little more closely.
This measures how many complaints your business has had filed against you in the last three years. Your complaint volume score takes into consideration complaint age as well, so if you had two complaints 24 months ago they’ll count for less than if you have two complaints yesterday. The more complaints you have, the fewer points you’re going to be awarded. It is worth noting as well that your company size is also taken into account, so larger companies with more customers are at no disadvantage.
A low complaint volume is important to maintain an A+ rating, but not the most important. For starters, other than generally improving your business practices, there’s not really a lot you can do to get more points. And second, because it’s based on a formula of the BBB’s own device that weighs scores in an unknown way, it’s the hardest to predict what score you’re going to get ahead of time. Finally, it’s only worth 15% of the overall points, speaking again to the Better Business Bureau’s focus on how you respond to complaints, rather than never getting any in the first place.
How should you focus on this metric to keep an A+ BBB rating?
The key is to treat your customers with fairness and respect so you attract less complaints in general.
This is the first of two major categories (the other is unresolved complaints) which together make up 70% of the total points. When it comes to improving your BBB rating, this is really what’s most important.
Unanswered complaints are complaints from customers that you haven’t provided an answer for. The fewer unresolved complaints you have, the more points you get.
In reality, to get an A+ rating, you need to have zero unanswered complaints.
To know how to answer a complaint, you need to understand the BBB complaint process.
Every time someone files a complaint with the BBB against an accredited BBB business, the business is contacted and has 14 days to respond. If it’s still unanswered, the business gets another notice and a 14-day extension. Businesses are encouraged to address customer complaints at this stage directly with the customer. And for the vast majority of complaints, this should be easily achieved.
At this point, the complaint has been answered (if not resolved).
How do you keep up this metric to maintain a BBB A+ rating?
The key is to respond to complaints promptly. Even if it takes a long time to resolve, recognizing there’s a problem promptly helps you secure an easy 40 points and your A+ rating.
Unresolved complaints are a little trickier, since this focus is on resolution instead of simple recognition. The score is simple—the fewer unresolved complaints you have, the more points you get.
Your first step is to try and resolve customer complaints directly with the customer. That much is obvious. But should you fail to reach an understanding, the BBB is there to help. They’ll first try to help informally, but they also have a huge number of trained resolution specialists should you need a little extra help.
This isn’t just about customer appeasement, the way a lot of other review sites are though. The BBB is absolutely willing to resolve cases even if the customer isn’t satisfied if they feel that the customer is being unreasonable. While your cooperation here is an important part of maintaining an A+ BBB rating, the focus is on fairness.
This score also includes your ability to deal with underlying themes in the complaints you’re getting. So if there is one sales representative who regularly accrues complaints against them but you refuse to fire them, that’s going to hurt your score.
How can you focus on this aspect to improve your BBB rating?
The key is to work first with the customer and then with the BBB to resolve any complaints against you. Remember that even if you feel the customer is wrong, it’s still better to work with them to resolve the complaint and the root cause rather than ignore the issue.
This isn’t worth a huge amount but it’s an easy way to push you over the edge to A+ BBB rating. And given the high standard that’s expected for an A+ rating from the BBB, you need every point you can get.
This score is based on how quickly you start working on resolving complaints. A huge part of this is communication—responding to the BBB’s communication quickly, contacting the customer, and keeping them updated as the process unfolds.
The key is to be on top of your complaints. The BBB will email you when a complaint is filed—flagging those for immediate attention is a good idea so that nothing gets lost in email noise.
This is a score assigned to you for however long you’ve been in business. The BBB doesn’t even rate companies until they’ve been in business for a year. After that, you get 2.5 points per year up to four years that you’ve been in business. So if you’ve been in business for two years, you get 5 points. More than four years and you get the full 10 points.
The key is to provide documentation for how long you’ve been in business. If the BBB can’t determine when you were founded, they’ll take the date that you joined the BBB, slicing at least one year off your time.
When it comes to scoring an A+ BBB rating, it really depends on your willingness to make customer service an absolute priority for your business.
When you think about it, a BBB rating is mostly based off number of unanswered and unresolved complaints. Yes, your compliance with regulations and licensing laws matter, along with your time in business. But it really comes down to customer service. A way to get ahead of this is to run an incredible business that fully satisfies your customers.
And at the end of the day, it’s not really about having a perfect, unblemished record of customer satisfaction (although that helps). Getting an A+ rating renewed is more about how you react to customer complaints.
Maintaining and building an A+ BBB rating is tough, but any dedicated and thoughtful entrepreneur can do it. If you and your employees work hard to provide consistent, responsive, high-quality customer service and care and you won’t have anything to worry about.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera.
Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.