Our tables rating individual companies will be more valuable
to you if you know how the data were gathered and how they should be
Customer survey scores reported on our ratings tables are
from our surveys of area consumers—primarily Consumer Reports and CHECKBOOK
subscribers—conducted via email and regular mail.
Since many companies were rated by rather small numbers of
raters, small differences between two companies in the percentage of raters who
gave a particular rating (say, “superior”) should be ignored. The table below
gives a rough guide to minimum differences you should look for in deciding on
one company over another.
When using these survey data, remember that the questions are
to some degree subjective and that the differences among companies might be
explained by differences in the personalities, backgrounds, critical standards,
and other characteristics of the raters or by biases these raters might have.
Our ratings tables report the number of complaints filed
against individual companies with local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a
There are limitations to the complaint data. One problem is
that some complaints may be unjustified, simply filed by cranks. Another
problem is that we didn’t have a measure of business volume and therefore
couldn’t control for differences in companies’ exposure to complaints.
We always recommend that you look for substantial
differences in complaint counts and rates. We also advise giving little weight
to complaint counts if the total count against a company is less than three or
To gather much of the other information on our ratings tables,
we surveyed the companies. In general, our researchers surveyed companies by
phone (sometimes without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK),
but in some cases, data were collected by mail or from companies’ websites, or
phone responses were confirmed by mail follow-up.
All of the data must be interpreted in view of timeliness. Our
customer survey data are from surveys conducted from January 2004 to August
2012. Survey respondents were asked to report on experiences in the preceding
year. Our data on complaints for the BBBs are for a three-year period dating
back from a date between June 4 and August 3, 2012. The data from our surveys
of companies were collected from April to August 2012. Our price data were
collected from February to July 2012.
For the most part, our tables include companies for which we
collected 10 or more ratings on our customer survey during the customer survey
period mentioned above, but we do not report data for periods prior to
companies’ changes of name and ownership. As a result, some large
companies are not listed at all. If only name or ownership changed, we
do report the data. Changes subsequent to the dates listed above may not be
taken into account.
We give checkmarks to companies that score highest on a
scoring system that we devise for each service field. Our scoring systems take
into account the various data in our tables based on our subjective judgment of
their importance. Since the scores are based entirely on information presented,
you can apply your own subjective judgments, and decide whether you prefer
companies we have not given checkmarks. Where we do not have important data on
a company, we cannot give our checkmark.