Sunday, October 9, 2011

Who Will Protect Us From the Better Business Bureau?

Shopping for a large purchase or service requires research. We ask friends where they bought and the experience; depending on the item, we check Consumer Reports; we scan the internet for information and reviews; and we check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). But what do we know about our research sources? How unbiased is Consumer Reports? We all know to take online reviews with a grain of salt, but what about the BBB? Should we trust them?

The BBB has reputation as a trusted source of information on businesses. This trust comes from a history of providing consumers with reliable information on a wide variety of businesses. History, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the quality of information disseminated.

The BBB is funded by businesses that are members. Therefore, the BBB has an incentive to keep members looking good so the dues (money) keep rolling in.

A question never asked is: Who watches the BBB? What if the BBB used underhanded practices in the management of their organization? Would you trust the BBB if they spammed businesses or lied to get businesses to join? The bond of trust is fragile and destroyed by bad behavior. It takes a long time to build trust and only a moment to ruin it.

I can't speak toward internal policies at the BBB; I can share my experience with them and it is not flattering. Every year in January, just before tax season kicks off, the BBB in Milwaukee calls me with the good news someone inquired about my company. They refuse to tell me who made the inquiry. I am assured the inquiry is not a complaint, but if I joined the BBB they could provide more and better information on my business. The first year I thought nothing of the event; the second year I knew the gig was up. My thoughts: I only get one inquiry a year and just before tax time? Why is someone inquiring about my business with the Milwaukee BBB, a two hour drive away, when the Appleton BBB is only a few minutes away?

The answers are clear to me. The BBB lied to get at my checkbook. Trust is destroyed. I am not, and never will be, a member of the BBB. The values and ethics the BBB practices are unacceptable in my office. The BBB has every right to try recruiting me as a member. Doing so using underhanded procedures is not.

I no longer use the BBB as a research tool in my purchases as all trust is gone. I cannot help but wonder what other underhanded practices they employ. Would they tell me about bad reports about one of their members? Probably. But I really don't trust them anymore. I trust internet reviews more because there is an understanding the reviews are slanted to the writer's opinion and companies may pay for positive reviews. The BBB wants me to believe they are a more trusted resource when in my mind they are not. Since I don't trust anything the BBB says anymore, why bother looking to the BBB for information.

So I ask again: Who will protect us from the BBB?

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