Ever had a plumber, auto mechanic or electrician that created more problems than were fixed, but you didn't know anyone who could refer you to someone more reliable? You can check out all kinds of product and service providers, from lawn-maintenance companies to financial planners, through the Better Business Bureau's website.

The Better Business Bureau in the United States and Canada keeps track of important information about online and local-area companies. Through the BBB, you can find complaint records, information about how long a company has been in business, licensing information, whether government actions have been filed, contact information and most importantly, how customer complaints have been resolved.

While businesses are evaluated regardless of whether they belong to the Better Business Bureau, companies can become members to show their solidarity with BBB standards. By finding a reliable business, you may be able to save cash by not having to shell out money for the same repair twice.

10 Steps To Finding Top-Notch Companies
You can use the Better Business Bureau's websites to find top-notch companies by following these steps:

1. Find your local or online Better Business Bureau website
Go to BBB.org and enter your United States zip code or Canadian postal code. This will bring you to the website for the Better Business Bureau in your local community. If you are looking up the record of a specific company and do not know its location, click on either the U.S. or Canadian national site. If you are looking for an online-only company, go to BBBOnline.org.

2. Find the business you need
After you find your local or online Better Business Bureau, click on the tab for consumers. From there, either type the name or other information about the company into the search line for business details.

If you are on your local BBB site, you can also look at businesses by service type. After you choose the category, you'll be able to limit your search based on proximity to your zip code and choose to limit your search to Better Business Bureau-accredited businesses only.

3. Learn from the experience of other customers
Once you have found the company or category you're looking for, you can start gathering data. The most important information you can find concerns the experience of past customers. (Some types of businesses are modeled to encourage customer interaction – customer-to-customer businesses, for example. Read Getting To Know Business Models for more information on how businesses are structured.)

The BBB provides the number of complaints that have been processed over the past 36 months and whether the business resolved the issue with the customer. For instance, if your credit card was overcharged and you filed a complaint with the BBB, the BBB website will show that a complaint was filed against your credit card company and will provide information on whether it was resolved.

The BBB Online website provides even greater detail about how complaints are resolved. Each complaint can be assigned a status, including:

  • refund issued
  • partial refund issued
  • refusing to make an adjustment
  • relying on terms of agreement
  • unanswered
  • unassigned

(Read Choosing The Winners In The Click-And-Mortar Game to learn more about finding a great online business.)

4. Check the online ratings
While your local BBB site for physical businesses within in your area will only give you a rating of "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory", the ratings for online businesses range from an 'AAA' rating, which means the online version of the Better Business Bureau ranks it as an exemplary company based on BBB standards, to a self-explanatory 'F' based on BBB standards.

5. Find out how long the company has been in business
This helps you make sure the business didn't just open yesterday, so you can find a company with the experience level you desire.

6. Find out whether government actions have been filed
This section notes if there have been any law-enforcement actions taken against the companies you are reviewing. (Read Common Clues Of Financial Statement Manipulation to find out if a company you are dealing with may be cooking the books.)

7.Check for licensing information
If you are looking for a service for your home, such as an electrical repair, this is the section where you will find licensing information in the company report.

8.Search for Better Business Bureau membership
If you want to work with a company that has agreed to comply with the standards of the Better Business Bureau – including trying to resolve potential disputes you might have – both the online and local Better Business Bureau websites show whether the company is a member of the BBB and for how long.

9.Gather contact information
After you have researched one or several companies thoroughly and found several companies you might want to use for the service you need performed, you can use the contact information found within the reports to contact all of the companies and compare prices.

10. Filing complaints and conflict resolution.
If you are not pleased with the services rendered by the company your choose, contact the company and report your issue. If it is not resolved, then report it online to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will try to mediate the process.

Companies who are members of the Better Business Bureau may be motivated to resolve your claim quickly so as to avoid a black mark on their complaint records. In addition, the information you report will help others decide which companies to use in the future, which makes you part of this valuable resource for service referrals. (Mistakes happen in the financial world too. Read Broker Gone Bad? What To Do If You Have A Complaint and Tips For Resolving Disputes With Your Financial Advisor to learn more.)

While it would be great if there were no need to check up on a potential product or service providers, given that the need does exist, the Better Business Bureau is a great source of reliable information. By setting up standards for companies to operate by and encouraging customers to share their experiences, the BBB has made it possible for consumers to get informed and save money by choosing the right company the first time.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    10 Surprising Companies That Began as Underdogs

    From fast food to electronics, these success stories give hope to leaders who, despite lacking funds, possess unshakable passion for their underdog brands.
  2. Budgeting

    Don't Let Halloween Haunt Your Bank Account

    With Halloween celebrations getting ever-more elaborate, families can end up spending a fortune. Here, 10 tips to help keep costs down.
  3. Investing

    How to Use Technology to Save Big on Travel

    How to leverage the online community and technology to create a one of a kind travel experience that's economical.
  4. Professionals

    RIAs: Why Discounting Your Fees Is a Big Mistake

    For RIAs, lowering your set price is a short-term fix. Here are a few other ways to reach out and appeal to a wider array of potential clients.
  5. Stock Analysis

    How Yelp Adds Value to Local Businesses

    Understand how the Yelp platform operates and how it adds value to the business world. Learn about the top five ways Yelp helps small businesses.
  6. Budgeting

    How To Save Money When Moving

    Moving doesn't have to be as expensive as you think. Here are some great ways to save money on moving costs.
  7. Personal Finance

    Tips To Improve Chances Of A Small Business Loan

    Enhance your small business loan eligibility by keeping these important tips in mind.
  8. Investing

    10 Ways to Effectively Save for the Future

    Savings is as crucial as ever, as we deal with life changes and our needs for the future. Here are some essential steps to get started, now.
  9. Investing Basics

    Investing $100 a Month in Stocks for 30 Years

    Find out how you could potentially earn hundreds of thousands of dollars by just investing $100 a month in stocks during your working years.
  10. Professionals

    How Advisors Can Carve Out a Social Media Niche

    Social media is a great way for financial advisors to build a brand and potentially generate leads if it’s properly used. Here are some tips.
  1. What types of capital are not considered share capital?

    The money a business uses to fund operations or growth is called capital, and there are a number of capital sources available. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does the trust maker transfer funds into a revocable trust?

    Once a revocable trust is created, a trust maker transfers funds or property into the trust by including them in a list with ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the benefits of financial sampling?

    Financial sampling allows auditors to approximate the rate of error within financial statements. For accounting purposes, ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are the responsibilities of the principal in a company?

    Principals have different roles depending on the nature of an individual business, but the universal responsibility of a ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What do hard and soft goods in the retail sector refer to?

    Hard goods and soft goods, also referred to as hardline and softline, designate different types of goods a retailer offers. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the most common business deductions and expenses for small businesses?

    Among the most common expenses and business deductions for small businesses are the expenses of getting the business started, ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!