A remodeled website, enhanced business reviews and mobile applications are among the steps the Better Business Bureau will take this year as it pushes its business model toward the future.
"We're an organization who was a 20th century grass-roots, locally focused organization that now is making that turn to being a 21st century online information service provider organization," said Steve Cox, president and chief executive officer of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which represents 112 BBB locations in the U.S. and Canada. "We are not your father's BBB."
The city native visited the local BBB office Friday following a board meeting in Atlanta.
Cox said in just five years, the bureau has gone from delivering less than 70 percent of its services online to about 90 percent, and it's time to make that a more user-friendly experience. The first step in the process comes with revamping what the organization now calls its reliability reports, which feature detailed information on a company or charity.
Changing the name to "business review," the new platform is what Cox calls "version 1.0" of the BBB's effort to modernize. The new business reviews will have less text and more photos and videos, and will include consumer reviews, he said.
"The evolution of the business review is the concept of including specific complaint details," Cox said. "We've got a mountain of data in terms of complaints that come into the BBB -- [nationally, in 2010] alone we had over a million. We're integrating those complaints in, making that information available so everyone can see it."
Beta testing began Friday on the business reviews and Cox expects them to be available to the public on its website in several weeks.
"Five minutes after that thing goes live, we'll be working on version 2.0," he said. "And that's the mobile interface portion."
Applications specific to geographic area, business category or BBB service function all could be ready later this year if things go according to plan, Cox said. The bureau still is in the beginning phases of determining what needs will be met and ensuring that applications are available throughout all major cell phone operating systems.
The integration of these technologies, along with an updated version of the BBB website, will drastically increase responsiveness and accessibility, said Jim Winsett, president of the Chattanooga area BBB. He said local services have been growing about 30 percent each year.
The average BBB user is between 35 and 49 years old, but Cox said younger users are turning to the BBB before making purchases.
"We've increasingly been skewing younger over the course of the last five years, with an increasing pace over the last two years," he said. "By making things more interactive, I think it supports where we would want to go as an organization and also serves well those folks who are coming to us now in increasing numbers."
Also changing in 2011 will be the organization's 90-point rating system that divides a business into 16 elements, giving grades based on those factors.
After the group came under fire in November for allegedly giving higher ratings to businesses that paid for accreditation, board members began looking at ways to improve the system, Cox said.
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