A Makeover For The Better Business Bureau

November 3, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — After 95 years, with 129 independently operated bureaus throughout North America and with everybody using the Internet now, the "look and feel" of the Better Business Bureau had become "diluted," according to the head of the Western Michigan Region of BBB.

That explains the BBB's national push to revamp its image and services for consumers.

Ken Vander Meeden, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan, said a major advertising and publicity campaign launched nationwide by BBB in early October is highlighting the information, resources and services the organization offers consumers, plus changes in how it functions. Foremost among these is the way businesses affiliated with the organization are designated, from "BBB Member" to "BBB Accredited Business."

The new "accredited" designation means a business seeking affiliation with the BBB contractually agrees to meet and uphold BBB's standards for integrity and reliability when dealing with consumers.

"Accreditation clearly defines what a business has achieved, stands for and promises to consumers," said Vander Meeden.

 "BBB Accredited Businesses pledge to follow through on their commitments, deliver on their promises and right any wrongs if an honest mistake has been made."

The advertising campaign starting now in the Western Michigan region will cost "probably in the $25,000-plus range," according to Vander Meeden.

"We don't spend that much in a typical year on advertising and promotion," he said, but added the campaign is needed to let the public know about the changes, including a new Web site (www.bbb.org) and new information available for consumers planning to spend money.

Other visible changes at BBB include a new logo and tagline: "Start With Trust." The BBB wants to work with businesses and consumers to create a strong marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other.

"Consumers should always start with trust with their BBB for reliable, objective advice, including which businesses they can trust and which businesses they need to avoid," said Vander Meeden.

"BBB is, and always has been, the standard for trust in business. We want to make sure the public doesn't lose out on all the information and services that are available to them."

About 3,700 businesses are members of the BBB in the Western Michigan region, which covers 38 counties on the western side of the state from the tip of the Lower Peninsula to the Indiana border, according to Vander Meeden. He said that is estimated to be about 5 to 7 percent of the roughly 70,000 businesses that are eligible, and that there are 2,000 or 3,000 businesses that are not eligible for membership because the BBB has received "unsatisfactory types of reports" on them from consumers.

Vander Meeden said the annual cost of a company membership in the BBB Western Michigan Region runs from $235 per year to $1,500, depending on the size of the company.

The BBB also has information about charitable organizations that it shares with people who are considering making donations.

The Western Michigan region has a staff of seven employees. Vander Meeden became president of the region 15 years ago and has "maintained the same small staff" size during that time.

Before it had a Web site, the regional office used to get 600 calls a day, said Vander Meeden, and the staff was always busy mailing or faxing reports on businesses.

"Now we're lucky to get 150 (telephone calls) a day," he said — but that's good, because all the other inquiries are via the Internet. That leaves staff time to take telephone calls from seniors and others who want to talk to a live person about a business.

In addition to receiving reports about local businesses on line, consumers can also get the BBB's compiled information via an automated telephone line: (616) 774-8236 or (800) 684-3222 for the Western Michigan region.

The Internet and automated phone reports process "is why our staff is so small," said Vander Meeden.

To further BBB's national goal to cultivate and encourage trust between consumers and businesses, BBB has introduced a series of how-to books on buying a home, buying a franchise business and starting a business on eBay. BBB Insiders' Guides include information on how to navigate each process while avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes. The books are available at major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million, and also are available for purchase on the BBB Web site.

In addition, BBB continues to offer the same services that consumers have always relied upon for help in every stage of the buying process, including:

Tips and alerts: BBB provides pre-purchase advice for consumers on a wide range of issues, and also posts alerts on the latest consumer scams and fraud incidences and tips on how to avoid them.

Reports on businesses and charities: BBB Reliability Reports on businesses and BBB Wise Giving Reports on charities help consumers make informed decisions and find trustworthy businesses and charities with factual and objective information gathered by BBB.

Complaint and dispute resolution services: Consumers can contact their BBB to help them resolve disputes with any type of business. For specific automobile manufacturer issues, they can get help from an auto warranty dispute resolution system.

BBB also promotes fairness and accuracy in advertising through the National Advertising Review Council, which reviews advertising for truth and accuracy. Additionally, BBB administers the Children's Advertising Review Unit, which voluntarily works in cooperation with advertisers to ensure that advertising messages directed at children are truthful, accurate and sensitive to that audience.

Most recently, BBB launched the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative to facilitate responsible marketing and advertising of healthy food and beverages for America's children.

The initiative already has pledges from 12 top companies that accounted for an estimated two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures in 2004.

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