Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Impartiality of BBB Complaint Handling

I got a call yesterday from a lady who was contemplating filing a complaint against a business.  When she questioned me about the complaint handling process, she asked me, "How do I know you'll be impartial?"  Because we are funded by our Accredited Businesses, she wanted to make sure we wouldn't unjustly side with an Accredited Business over a consumer.  I've been asked this question three times in the last two years.  Apparently, it is asked commonly enough to be listed in our FAQ.  The answer is brief and accurate, but I think it needs more explanation to satisfactorily answer the more skeptical individuals.  The answer listed in our FAQ states:

"BBB's value to the business community is based on our marketplace neutrality.  Our purpose is not to act as an advocate for businesses or consumers but to act as a mutually trusted intermediary to resolve disputes and provide information to assist consumers in making wise buying decisions.  Businesses have supported BBB for more than 90 years because a trustworthy marketplace is in everyone's best interest."

Despite this explanation, I get plenty of comments from customers who claim that we "always" take the company's side and just as many comments from companies claiming we "always" take the customer's side.  Obviously, just by getting one comment from each side disproves both. And while I could endlessly cite supporting evidence of our impartiality, it would do nothing to give people a clear understanding of why we are impartial. I find that people are more likely to trust others if they understand and accept their motives.

First of all, and most importantly, consumers must trust that we are impartial for them to use our services.  Of course consumers are not going to use a resource they do not trust and if they did not value our resources, if consumers did not trust our reliability reports and did not use us, we would have zero impact on how companies operate.  Why would businesses listen to anyone who consumers do not value?  It is essential for us to maintain the trust of consumers.  We must do everything in our power not to jeopardize that trust.  It is much easier to be trustworthy than to maintain a trustworthy facade.

But, we must also maintain the trust of the business community.  We cannot expect businesses to become accredited if they feel they are held to unrealistic and unfair standards. If companies feel that no matter what they do, they will have unsatisfactory reports, they will never become BBB accredited.  Companies will get complaints. That's the nature of business.  How a company handles those complaints has the greatest impact on its reliability report. We expect companies to respond to complaints in a professional manner, provide appropriate supporting information and documents if necessary, and show willingness to address the issues within the complaints filed by their customers.  We believe most companies and consumers would agree that those are reasonable expectations.  If a company believes it is well within its rights to stonewall a customer, blow off the BBB or provide a wholly insufficient response, they would be right, but it would guarantee themselves an unsatisfactory record for all the world to see.

Most complaints are amicably resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.  Complaints typically result from miscommunication, oversight or confusion and are easily remedied. On the occasions that resolution is not reached, one party will probably be left dissatisfied.  There are two sides to every argument. Whenever it's not a simple miscommunication, one side is wrong.

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