I was looking at different companies for employment. I noticed that one might be a good fit, but then I looked them up using the Better Business Bureau's(BBB) website. It turns out they had 605 complaints closed with BBB in last 3 years and 109 closed in the last 12 months. This was enough to make me skip over the company.

Is there a correlation between customer complaints and the treatment of employees? Or is this an overreaction on my part? Is this an accurate reflection of the company's ethics?

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    Hey Ryan, this question would be much more effective if it was a bit broader. Something like, "How can I determine company values and treatment of employees?" Asking for a list of potential resources will be localized (to a country) and is just asking for recommendations which won't necessarily solve a problem (those sorts of questions are better suited for other mediums). Any chance you could broaden the question a bit to explain what the actual issue you have is? – jmac Jun 4 '13 at 1:13
  • @jmac I updated my question to be more broad (and hopefully more useful). I don't have a specific issue, but I was wondering about the topic in general. – Ryan Gates Jun 4 '13 at 1:34
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    That isn't really going to be a good question for our format then Ryan... General questions can't really have a "right" answer because there isn't any specific question to solve... – jmac Jun 4 '13 at 1:52
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    I went ahead and reopened, adding a post notice that answers should be backed up with some form of explanation, resources, or personal experiences. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Jun 4 '13 at 14:37
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    Its important to consider BBB ratings in context. People don't announce the good experiences they have with a company, so that means its already biased as there is no countervailing force. Add to that, some businesses and industries are significantly more prone to complaints because of the nature of their business (eg finance/debt companies, companies which primarily operate with contracts or fixed length service agreements with stiff penalties, medical services, and so on). – JustinC Jun 5 '13 at 2:00

The numbers alone don't really tell you anything, even about how they treat their customers. At the very least, look at the content of the complaints, and how they were resolved. Then, use that as a basis for more research, if needed.

Some good examples can be found in this article. In the opening, it specifically talks about the interaction between Southwest Airlines and a customer. More generally, it talks about how the author feels it's important to stand behind one's employees than to appease customers (when the employees have done the right things, of course).

In the Southwest example, it's quite likely that the customer may have filed one or more complaints with the BBB. Likewise, customers who are jerks, and then "fired" from the company, may file complaints as well. These probably aren't valid complaints, and even if they are, it doesn't accurately reflect on how the company treats its employees. In fact, using your method of judging, it actually shows the complete opposite from reality - the company pissed off one or more customers because they defended their employees.

If you look at the content of the complaints, you can get a general idea of the nature of the complaint, and whether employee treatment may have even factored at all into the equation. It will also help you better gauge the company's overall ethics, especially if there are themes to the complaints (for example, I probably wouldn't want to work for a company that has a high proportion of complaints about breach of contract on the company's part).

Even then, it's not necessarily going to be an indicator of how the company treats its employees. It might give you leads to follow up on, but your best bet will be to talk to people who actually work(ed) for the company. Very often, word travels about who treats their employees badly and who treats them well.

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    and don't forget that the number of complaints is a factor of both the number of customers and their demographics as well. A company with many individual customers, especially ones in the extremely low and high income brackets (and possibly a spread in race and/or sex as well) will get more complaints than one with a small number of customers that are either corporate or middle income consumers. – jwenting Jun 6 '13 at 6:17
  • It's not at all a good indicator. I've worked for a company that had a near-perfect BBB rating and they treated their employees (include me) like total garbage. All a customer would have to do is say "I will never do business here again unless you fire this employer" and they would do it. It's sad, but true. To them, employees were a disposable asset, and they would do absolutely anything to keep customers. An employee turnover rate is a much more interesting statistic to look at (that company's was about 1 month). – animuson Jun 6 '13 at 23:05

The BBB in the US has nothing to do with the treatment of employees. Though poor conditions for employees will eventually result in poor customer service either because of constant turnover, or the poor mood of the employees.

Their ratings tend to only be about resolving disputes. Here is a quote regarding a famous software company

A BBB Accredited Business since 11/01/1987

BBB has determined that redacted meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB Accredited Businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.

BBB accreditation does not mean that the business' products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business' product quality or competency in performing services.

Your example, 100+ complaints in a year, may or may not point to a company that treats their employees poorly. But it more likely points to a company that treats their customers poorly. If you don't like that, then you would be right to look elsewhere. But a clean record with the BBB doesn't mean they treat their employees fairly.

  • I believe that you have made an excellent point regarding the accreditation standards. I was wondering if a large number of complaints indicated less than ideal treatment of customers, then wouldn't it make sense that the treatment of employees would be equally lackluster? – Ryan Gates Jun 4 '13 at 1:11
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    @RyanGates _ I Worked for a call center once that treated their employees very well but their customers very poorly. But then again it was a company that primarily performed collections. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 4 '13 at 18:05
  • @Chad You make an excellent point. The nature of the relationship between the customers and the company is very important. In the case of collections, I would classify the debt owners as the customers rather than the debtors. – Ryan Gates Jun 4 '13 at 18:08
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    @RyanGates - But this question is about the BBB's definition not yours... And the BBB is concerned with the businesses relationship and treatment of its general public customers. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 4 '13 at 18:10
  • @Chad You are absolutely right. – Ryan Gates Jun 4 '13 at 18:19

I think you would have to take it into consideration with a other factors. For instance the cable company receives a lot of complaints, because their customers are ordinary people. It is likely that a service company like this has a lot of unwarranted complaints as people are trying to get something for nothing. Lockheed has mostly government agencies for customers and thus would be less likely to have a lot of BBB complaints to adjudicate. This says nothing about how either company treats their employees, particularly not how they treat their non-customer-facing employees. Large business treat employees differently depending on what category they are in and while the customer service reps may be treated badly (or even may not work directly for the company), the accounting people or sales people or developers may not be.

Where I would see this being most important in evaluating a company would be if it was a smaller, local company. Then yes, probably if they treat their customers poorly, it is more likely that they treat their employees poorly as well.

I would see it as a more important thing to evaluate if the position I was applying for was a customer-facing position. The general level of unhappiness of the customers will make a difference in your work environment and unresolved complaints may mean they didn't give the employees a way to make the customer happy. And it would only be useful as a weed out factor, there are companies with happy customers (or the type of customers unlikely to go to the BBB) where employees are not treated well.


I would look at the nature of the calls and consider if they are going to affect your work. If you're in customer service, these are only a small sample of the calls you're going to have to handle. The most frustrating part of this type of work is not having access to the resources to solve the customer's complaints. Are deliveries a problem? Will you be able to track packages or inventory. Some companies want to help their customers, other's work very hard to train their employees and setup systems to screw their customrs.

The number of complaints should be balanced against the size of the company along with industry standards. Even the best cell phone carrier has a high number of unsatisfied users.

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