COMMENTARY: What is the BBB?

DOLORES SALINAS | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

The Better Business Bureau’s motto is Start With Trust. The BBB’s vision is to promote an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other and its mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust.

The first BBBs began operation more than 100 years ago. Originally, the BBBs were the “vigilance committees” of advertising clubs, established to eliminate fraud in advertising. As they broadened their function to monitor other marketing practices and the performance of business, the BBB System evolved.

The BBB is the resource to turn to for objective, unbiased information on businesses. Our network of national and local BBB operations allows us to monitor and take action on thousands of business issues affecting consumers at any given time.

BBBs exist because business believes that it is best able to correct abuses in the marketplace. Legitimate business also wants to provide all the help necessary (through BBBs) to help customers get satisfaction for their money. That is good business.

BBBs are organized as nonprofit corporations and financed by accreditation dues paid by responsible business and professional firms in the community. Reputable firms are solicited for accreditation to maintain and expand services provided by the BBB.

BBBs are effective because they have millions of contacts with consumers annually. BBB statistics indicate that a majority of the complaints received are settled. Surveys show that BBBs are the first choice of consumers in need of help.

Your BBB helps you both directly and indirectly. The BBB helps you directly by:

>> Providing information about a company before you do business with it.

>> Helping to resolve a complaint you might have against a firm, including a final step of binding arbitration in most areas.

>> Providing you with good consumer information so that you can make intelligent buying decisions.

>> Providing information on charitable organizations.

In addition the BBB aids you by:

>> Fostering ethical advertising and selling practices.

>> Monitoring advertising and selling practices.

>> Alerting consumers to bad business and advertising practices when the business in question will not cooperate with the BBB to eliminate the abuse.

>> Disseminating consumer information through newspapers, radio, television and printed literature.

>> Providing speakers for schools, civic groups and business organizations.

>> Providing the media with public information materials on consumer subjects.

Although, BBB are best known for complaint handling, actually, most consumer contacts with BBBs are inquiries (checking out a company) and not complaints. The wise consumer checks with a BBB before dealing with an unknown company. Such inquiries reduce the possibility of complaints arising.

BBB complaint handling is very effective. Most BBBs prefer to have complaints in writing. This procedure is desirable for accuracy and efficiency. Each complaint is taken up with the business firm involved by a consumer service specialist. Normally, the matter is resolved satisfactorily and the complainant is advised.

However, if the firm does not cooperate or fails to resolve a complaint satisfactorily after several requests, the complainant is advised and the fact is noted in the firm’s file. In many instances further action is taken through binding arbitration.

Most BBBs have established consumer arbitration programs as a means of voluntarily resolving business/customer disputes. Traditionally, the BBBs have attempted to resolve such disputes by mediation. This method is usually successful, and the majority of disputes will continue to be settled in this manner.

In cases where resolution is not achieved through mediation, arbitration can be used. In the past, the consumer’s only alternative was the courts, which takes time and money. Arbitration can quickly resolve a problem, and it is, of course, legally binding on all parties.

One of the bureau’s most important functions is reporting on companies. Information given to consumers is based upon the BBB’s record on a company. The report is a summary of the actual performance record of the company as reflected in the BBB files, supplemented by special BBB investigations, if needed. In addition, the local BBB can draw upon additional information compiled by the national BBB network.

The BBB does not give legal advice. It cannot help to breach or assist in voiding contracts made without fraud or misrepresentation. It does not make collections of any kind, nor does it provide credit information. It does not act as a reference or give recommendations or endorsements. It does not appraise articles; pass judgment on the question of the price charged for merchandise or quality of services or workmanship, efficiency of operation of devices or how long merchandise should wear or last.

BBBs do not have legal powers and are not governmental agencies. They are private, self-regulatory agencies that seek the voluntary cooperation of business. When illegal practices are uncovered and the business refuses to cooperate with the BBB, the matter is referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Also, BBBs have close working relationships with governmental agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, with consumer protection agencies and state attorneys general.

The services provided by your BBB can make you a better informed and more satisfied consumer. They are free to the public and businesses. Use these services often. It is to your advantage to do so.

You can call the Better Business Bureau 24 hours a day for information in English or en español at 956-968-3678. Find us to the web at www.bbbsouthtexas.org, contact us by email at info@bbbsouthtexas.org or by fax at 956-968-7638. We are located at 502 East Expressway 83, Suite C in Weslaco, TX 78596.

Dolores Salinas is president of the Better Business Bureau of South Texas.