We often think of Better Business Bureau as the place to file a complaint about a business, or maybe report a scam, or for any number of other things that give value to business and consumers. Many may not realize that BBB is also a great source for all kinds of useful research that can help businesses succeed and help consumers make smarter choices. Recently, BBB released a new report about consumer trust in the marketplace, and it had plenty of lessons for businesses of every kind.

A central finding of the research is that about three out of five American consumers start from a point of trust when engaging with a business for the first time, and their expectations are increasing even as their customer experiences too often disappoint — that’s to say that customer expectations seem to be increasing faster than customer service is improving.

Of those surveyed, 41 percent said they had a negative customer service experience in the previous 12 months. Three out of four said the number of negative experiences with companies is about the same or greater than it was three years ago.

And there’s another aspect of these changes in consumer trust that should concern businesses — the “hidden voices” of those whose problems go unresolved. About one out of three consumers who have had a problem never complain to a business or to a third-party. They think it’s not worth their time. The research pointed out that this is where trust really erodes and businesses lose an opportunity to better themselves.

There are a lot of factors that go into how businesses earn and lose trust, but one area where they lose people is with hard-to-use customer service and poor handling of complaints. The research found when customers contact a business directly to resolve a complaint, most found it difficult, and almost half of those businesses did not resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

Consumers want to be heard. Even when there is a problem, six out of 10 will do business again with companies that assume responsibility and resolve disputes. The way a business handles a complaint can make them more trustworthy and honest in the eyes of those customers. Businesses need to make it easier for consumers to engage and pay more attention to these “hidden voices” as they seek to improve customer relations.

Another interesting finding in the study is the power of millennials to influence reputation and trust in the marketplace via online reviews. The survey showed that millennial consumers are about four times more likely to post a review when they have a good experience with a company versus when they have a bad experience. Although almost all consumers read reviews and ratings, millennials are more likely to post reviews or comment on social media than other age groups, and they’re more likely to post positive reviews, giving their opinions a greater impact on a company’s reputation in the marketplace.

Pricing also matters in consumer trust, although it did not rank as high as honesty, integrity, or ethics. Respondents cited higher-than-expected prices as a way consumers lose trust in a business. A minority of consumers (about a third) said they would consider purchasing from a company with poor ratings or reviews if the price is right for the product they want.


Other key findings of the report:

  • Business interactions are human interactions. In-person interaction is still the preferred customer service channel, even for young people. Half of all millennials would prefer to talk to a person instead of use an automated telephone system, even if it means waiting for the next available representative.
  • The top causes of customer frustration respondents listed:
    • 24% – bad customer service
    • 24% – product or service different than advertised
    • 15% – product or service was not delivered
    • 13% – billing issues
    • 8% – could not return item or get a refund
  • The top factors for earning trust: honesty, integrity, and ethics; good reputation; competitive prices; good customer service; reviews and ratings; recommendations from family and friends; quality



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