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Fort Worth BBB launches new rating system

January 12, 2009
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FORT WORTH, Texas – January 8, 2009 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) -- More than 37,000 local businesses - from major retailers, home builders and airlines to carpet cleaners, roofers and fitness centers - must feel like they’re joining the kids going back to school this week: The Better Business Bureau at Fort Worth has assigned them all letter grades from A-plus to F.

The new grading system, which took effect Saturday, can be found at the bureau’s Web site at www.fortworth.bbb.org or by calling 817-332-7585. The service is free to consumers.

The grading system is part of a national program under way at all 125 bureaus in the U.S. to rank more than 4 million businesses, said John Riggins, president of the local BBB. The hope is to help consumers make better decisions, he said.

"The program is based on market research that consumers wanted us to do this. That’s the driver behind this," Riggins said.

The grades replace the broader "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" labels that were formerly attached to the bureau’s reliability reports on companies.

The reliability reports also contain information such as the number of complaints against the company in the past year and three years, type of complaint and how it was or was not resolved with the customer. Last year, 1.4 million inquiries were made into the local database, Riggins said.

The local bureau routinely handles close to 12,000 complaints annually by sending letters and phone calls on behalf of consumers to companies, and offering mediation and arbitration when complaints can’t be resolved quickly.

Across the U.S. and Canada, the BBB fielded 830,000 complaints in 2007, and it estimates that it had 5 percent more complaints last year than the year before, according to a bureau spokeswoman. Inquiries - generally contact by a consumer researching a company - are believed to have increased 12 percent in 2008, from about 55 million in 2007.

In addition to giving a letter grade, the BBB now refers to members as "BBB accredited" businesses. The new designation stresses the fact that the businesses have been evaluated by the BBB and that they contractually agree to meet and uphold the bureau’s standards when dealing with consumers.

"Consumers from all walks of life want to do business with reliable companies, whether auto repair shops, home improvement contractors, mortgage counselors or online firms," national bureau spokesman Steve Cox said in a statement. "BBB accreditation and letter-grade ratings are valuable new resources consumers can start with when they are looking for trustworthy businesses."

Most companies fared well under the new grading system, however. One in 4 got an A, while almost 60 percent of local companies received a B. Just 15 percent received a grade of C or lower, Riggins said.

James Smith, owner of DalWorth Clean, an established carpet cleaner in Euless that earned an A-plus from the bureau, said his company has an extensive program designed around customer service.

Smith’s company asks customers to rate their DalWorth cleaner in a survey, which is then posted on the company Web site by an employee, along with the worker’s photo, rating and personal information. Customers can then pick who they want to clean their carpets from a choice broken down by ZIP code.

"In 2008, we had 7,000 completed surveys with an average score of 97.8 percent," Smith said. "There’s not a day that goes by that there’s a customer who is not disappointed, but the percentage of that happening is pretty small and we work to correct it."

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