Remember the old snake oil ads? The snake oil was the cure-all for everything. In those days, salespeople and business owners had carte blanche in creating their advertising tag lines and copy. False statements about products and the effects were commonplace. Champions of ethical advertising, like Samuel C. Dobbs, former president of Coca-Cola, bore the boundaries for what and how businesses could promote wares.
Eventually, Better Business Bureaus became private regulators for business ethics in advertising and the like, eliminating bogus hype in industry. That was ninety years ago.
Twenty three years ago the Better Business Bureau of the Pikes Peak Region, Inc. organized. Its mission: promote and foster the highest ethical relationship between businesses and the public through voluntary self-regulation, consumer and business education, and service excellence. The BBB is 2100 members strong, serving El Paso, Teller and four other counties. “The torch is a mark of integrity and credibility,” said Carol Odell, executive director of the Pikes Peak BBB. Area businesses respect the torch’s representation. The local BBB, located at 25 North Wahsatch, has the second highest penetration of businesses in the United States. With 84 percent of its members retaining yearly memberships, the BBB’s commitment to the consumer and the industry is apparent. With 85 percent of the consumers preferring BBB-designated businesses, owners and executives are smart to seek association with the BBB.
Businesses that have been up and running for at least one year (exceptions are made) can apply for membership to the BBB. References are required and an investigation of the business is initiated. If the business meets the BBB’s 12 standards, it is presented to the board of directors; if there are no objections, the business is accepted as a member. “About 12 memberships in the BBB are revoked each year,” said Odell. “We do a pretty good job of detecting problem businesses up front, but things can change over the years,” she added. The BBB intercepts 2,885 complaints per year and publishes a “caution list” of the “bad guys” in its quarterly newsletter, BusinesSense.
“There are so many pressures on businesses,” said Odell, “from financial worries, to government regulations to employees to customers.” She knows. Odell and her husband owned a manufacturing business, which employed 32 people, for 13 years. With a master’s in sociology and counseling and a penchant for solving problems, Odell is the perfect fit as the director for the BBB, where she has worked a total of ten years – three years as the director. The BBB’s staff, an eclectic group of 16, supports its membership and the consumer in various ways, starting with complaint intervention and resolution.
If the BBB receives a complaint about one of its members, the member is called and must respond to the complainant within 72 hours. The process normally stops there; however, if there is no initial resolve and the complainant puts the concern in writing, the BBB will further investigate. Some of the BBB’s staff, including Odell, are trained in mediation, but members are not obligated to go to mediation, unless they have signed a contract and met standards set by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Those select members are able to use the BBB torch alongside their logos and marketing materials, but they must agree to mediation, if it warrants, during the complaint process. The BBB also partners with the attorney general in handling complaints by offering a toll free number that expedites those complaints.
As an advocate for business and a third party for the consumer and the business, the BBB is much more than a referral center for the 140,000 calls received last year.
The BBB offers workshops and seminars four times a year covering topics like customer service, dispute resolution and marketing, and field consulting and customized training programs are offered as well. The BBB publishes a complimentary semi-annual consumer guide to businesses in the community.
As a 501(c)3, the Better Business Bureau has a foundation, with its own board of directors, that promotes and supports community outreach programs. One unique foundation project is a conflict-mediation program that was introduced at Adams Elementary School in 1999 and Stratton Meadows this year. Students are taught mediation and conflict resolution techniques; the project reduced referrals to the principal’s office from approximately 200 to 30 in one year. The BBB foundation partnered with the Red Cross this year to recognize individuals and businesses in the community who set good examples through positive action.
The annual Excellence in Customer Service Award honors the best customer service programs in the Pikes Peak region. The BBB’s own advertising and logo references the bigger picture when determining the advantage to membership: The Better Business Bureau…Your First Stop Before You Shop. For more information, visit the website at www.coloradosprings.bbb.org.