February 1, 1998

BBB helps mediate customer complaints

As the century nears its end, the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau continues to provide consumers and businesses with its time-honored protective and supportive services while responding to 21st century technological demands.

Founded nationally in 1912 as “vigilance committees,” the local BBB was

established in Denver in 1946. It now responds to 1,300 consumer inquiries per day about member and non-member businesses.

In fact, as its main and perhaps most widely understood function, the agency makes available free reports on 55,000 local, regional and national businesses and charities 24 hours a day through an automated inquiry line.

“Other bureaus don’t offer free reports,´ said Anne Keith, the Denver-based Bureau’s communications director. “We can do that because of our member support.”

Slightly more than 3,200 local member companies in the Boulder County and Denver metro area pay dues anywhere from $250 for a sole proprietor to the 500-plus employee category, which is in the $1,500 range.

Additional levels of membership can go as high as $3,500 per year, which

includes advertising in Bureau publications, its Web site and the

telephone inquiry line.

For the price of membership, there “definitely are pretty substantial benefits,´ said Reuben Maes, owner of Boulder-based Advance Electronics, a 7-year-old electronics repair firm, which joined the BBB just over a year ago when Maes assumed ownership.

“We’ve gotten benefits in both the area of getting business from other BBB members,” he said, as well as important mediation assistance with a handful of unhappy customers.

“(The BBB counselors) mediate very nicely,” Maes added. He described the process as a back-and-forth negotiation between himself and the customer “sometimes involving conference calls with all three parties” until a successful resolution was achieved.

The Bureau’s free reports provide information on both member and non-member businesses. A report on a member business includes the company’s background, principals and customer experiences. Reports on non-members mean that the company has “received frequent inquiry” and are not necessarily an indication that the company has had a complaint, Keith said.

New for 1998 is online access to files and reports of all 140 bureaus

nationwide.

As soon as the new program is running “some time in the first quarter of 1998” users will “pretty much have access to all national BBB files,” Keith said.

Two other benefits new to members in the past year are the BBB’s online “symbol of credibility” (see sidebar, Page 5) and a discount on worker’s compensation insurance rates.

Typically, smaller companies pay disproportionately higher rates than larger companies because they lack buying power. With the BBB discount program, “the small guy has the same advantage as the big guy,´ said Gary Carter, whose insurance agency is the only one endorsed by the BBB to provide the discounted rates.

About 110 members have signed on with the new program as of early January. Indeed, it is such an attractive benefit that some businesses are joining the Bureau based largely on the savings it provides.

“It was actually one of the major enticements for us to join (the Denver/Boulder BBB),´ said Brad Golter, whose family has owned and operated Longmont Florist at two locations in Longmont for 28 years.

Although he wouldn’t quote an exact amount, Golter said savings on worker’s comp rates for his roughly 15 employees have been in the “10 to 15 percent range.”

While the Bureau’s new services may be attracting new members, old standards — the inquiry line, complaint mediation and arbitration, investigation of fraudulent business activity, and consumer and business education through its free speakers bureau — remain unchanged. The BBB’s mission is to inform consumers and advocate for an ethical business community, including charitable organizations.

The complaint process is one example of the Denver/Boulder BBB’s long-standing commitment to the needs of businesses and their clientele. It usually begins with a phone call from an unhappy consumer, Keith said.

Maes, for example, received four complaints in the past year, none of which he considered legitimate. But because the customers knew of his BBB membership, they lodged a complaint with the Bureau and the resolution process was handled smoothly from the start, he said.

Indeed, when the complaint involves a member business, the Bureau will call the company right away to request a response. Because members have pledged to respond appropriately and quickly to customer complaints, the complaint, and the manner and timeliness of the response, is noted in the member’s file.

“We (the Bureau) look at how they’re responding as far as a good faith effort and if they’re answering (the complaint) at all,” Keith said.

“Whether the complaint is legitimate or not is not our concern.”

That is, until the file contains numerous unanswered complaints. Four or five companies a year are expelled from the Bureau for refusing to make that “good faith effort” to resolve problems with disgruntled customers, Keith said.

As the century nears its end, the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau continues to provide consumers and businesses with its time-honored protective and supportive services while responding to 21st century technological demands.

Founded nationally in 1912 as “vigilance committees,” the local BBB was

established in Denver in 1946. It now responds to 1,300 consumer inquiries per day about member and non-member businesses.

In fact, as its main and perhaps most widely understood function, the agency makes available free reports on 55,000 local, regional and national businesses and charities 24 hours a day through an…

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