Better Business Bureau: Tech complaints on the rise

According to BBB report, computer dealers received 18 percent more complaints last year, but cell phone industry tops the list

Last week, in "When Web hosts fail and domains disappear," I mentioned that while commiserating with James over what seemed like a disaster with his virtual world, I  looked up the ISP that was letting him down at the Better Business Bureau's Website. I run this sort of checkup on companies I hear complaints about -- or am thinking of doing business with -- as a matter of habit. Apparently, so do a lot of other consumers. According to a recent BBB report, U.S. consumers turned to the Better Business Bureau 65 million times last year.

Since the BBB serves as a sort of clearinghouse for gripes across all industries, I found the nonprofit's annual report rather interesting. First off, the industries that receive the most complaints are cell phones, cable and satellite TV, and banking. What's more, complaining is a growth industry -- gripes are up by almost 10 percent over the previous year, with nearly 1 million complaints logged in 2009 alone.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Gripe Line readers note a disturbing trend in "Defective hardware, deteriorating customer service" | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

If you're pissed off at your cell phone maker or carrier, you're in very good company, as 36,086 of those near million complaints were about cell phone companies. New car dealers made the top five (do you think we can blame Toyota for that?), as did Internet shopping sites, which received 21,154 complaints.

I couldn't resist braving the fine print at the complaint statistics page to learn how the computer industry fared in the United States. I found it faintly heartening to discover that computer dealers did not make the top 10 for most complaint-ridden industries nationwide, though computer dealers did a bit worse in 2009 than in 2008. In 2009, they ranked 13th, with 10,775 complaints. In 2008, they came in 14th, with 9,093 complaints -- a "complaint growth" of 18 percent, well above the 10 percent BBB norm.

Internet services hovered right above computer dealers, placing 12th among the most listed industries in 2009.

Of course, these rankings are also a measure of the size and nature of an industry, as well as how likely its customers are to complain. For example, the adult entertainment industry ranked 504th with only 198 complaints. And the industry at the very bottom of the complaints ranking was zipper repairs, which received zero complaints. Still, it's interesting to step back and see how high-tech fared against cars, cable TV, banks, and roofers.

I also wanted to remind you that the BBB is a great resource. It may not tell you definitively whether you should do business with a particular company -- the world isn't that black and white. But search on a company you are considering doing business with and you'll discover how many people have complained about that company to the BBB and how many of those complaints have been resolved. That's a good thing to know.

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This story, "Better Business Bureau: Tech complaints on the rise," was originally published at Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at

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