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Jim Winsett of the BBB.
Q. I see on the BBB web page that you accept customer reviews on businesses. Please explain the process and benefit to consumers and business?

A. Customer review sites have been increasing in popularity, as they offer a forum for people to leave comments about their experience with a business. We also know that there are many online forums for consumers to express positive and negative reviews on a business. The reality of customer reviews is that they are an integral part of today's marketplace.

Interestingly, surveys and studies show 92 percent of consumers surveyed read reviews to determine the quality of products and local business. This is how consumers make decisions on where they spend money for products and services. The challenge with customer reviews is they are the subjective opinion of the individual who posted the review, and the reviewer's accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

For more than 100 years, the BBB has helped people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. BBB customer reviews allow consumers to post positive, negative or neutral reviews about marketplace experiences. However, unlike most review sites online, they are vetted by BBB team members and sent to the business before they are published online.

To the consumer and business, by request, BBB must be able to provide substantiation of the marketplace interaction and/or transaction had taken place. Ultimately, BBB customer reviews help both consumers and businesses make wise purchasing decisions.

Surveys find that 88 percent of consumers read approximately 10 reviews before they trust a business and choose it to purchase products or services. In turn, we find very beneficial — and encourage consumers to share their experience — by leaving a customer review. In the positive view, it is a great way to express a thank you for service excellence, honoring contracts, and great products.

The local BBB serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia web page,www.bbb.org/Chattanooga, offers the opportunity for customers to share their experiences with business via our own version of customer reviews. BBB's objective is to deliver honest reviews from real customers at all times. Therefore to vet and assure accuracy, the process is the following;

When the BBB receives a customer review on a business, we first send a confirmation to the email address of the reviewer to ensure the email and I.P. address is valid and there is a real person there. The BBB will not post a review for which it does not receive validation of the sending email. I.P. addresses are monitored for repeat users. Privacy issues and appropriate language are monitored and removed as necessary.

When the individual confirms the email address, BBB sends the review to the business with which the interaction took place. The business may confirm, deny, or ignore the request. The business is given 3 to 10 days to respond.

When the business verifies it is their customer who has placed the review, the BBB will post it and add a "BBB Verified Reviewer" button to the review.

If there is some question about whether the reviewer is a customer, the BBB may ask the reviewer for additional information to demonstrate there was a marketplace interaction.

If the BBB has reason to believe a fake customer posted a false review, the BBB will not post it.

If the reviewer is unable to provide BBB with confirming information, and BBB does not hear back from them, the BBB will post the review (unless there is other cause not to) but will not label the reviewer as Verified.

The business may also post response and information on the customer review.

A consumer may not file a complaint and post a customer review.

Customer reviews do not affect the grade rating of a company in the BBB data base.

In summary, the BBB always tries to verify a marketplace interaction occurred between customer and business. To business, it is reality that consumer reviews are an integral part of today's marketplace. BBB encourages businesses to request that customers post reviews of their positive experiences.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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