I have been an active member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) here in St. Louis for more than 30 years. Through that time, I have learned some interesting things I’d like to share, which I believe will be worthwhile to contractors.
BELIEVE IN THE BBB
First, I would like to say a few things about the BBB. The BBB has been maligned in certain publications, but I can speak for the St. Louis bureau and attest at the terrific job its staff does. One of the BBB’s objectives is to help eliminate unscrupulous businesses and business practices. Those are the exact goals that we, as contractors, should embrace. No longer just a “complaint department,” our bureau is reaching out much more into the community.
Additionally, the St. Louis BBB now has a review process. This is not just for negative reviews but positive reviews, as well. The great thing, as far as we contractors are concerned, is that owners are notified about these reviews prior to them being shown to the public. The purpose for this is so you can verify the fact that the person making the review is actually one of your customers. While you may not be able to change the review, you can prevent it from being posted if it is deemed illegitimate.
Our bureau also hosts a Student of Ethics Scholarship contest, where high school students submit their ideas of ethical business practices. A judging committee then selects the best to receive a college scholarship. These are presented at the bureau’s annual Torch Awards ceremony and re-enforces the bureau’s commitment to the community.
Currently, my most enjoyable duty for the bureau is serving on the standards and compliance committee. This committee reviews cases where accredited businesses — formerly called members — have not responded to one or more customer complaints. Failure to respond is grounds for expulsion from the BBB. I have taken on the task of contacting businesses that are approaching review by the standards and compliance committee, and my findings are quite interesting. Perhaps not surprisingly, the large majority of the companies that are brought to our committee are somehow connected with contracting, some phase of home improvement, etc.
I am happy to say that none so far have been HVAC companies; however, the issues that have brought them to us are ones we, as contractors, should always remember:
• The most important thing is to maintain communication with customers;
• If customers file a complaint with the bureau, be sure to follow up. If you feel you are right, you can avoid action by asking the bureau to arbitrate the case. There is no charge for this service, and often, the arbitrators are retired contractors who at least understand both sides of any argument.
• Smaller contractors are the ones most guilty of not responding to complaints. When I contact them, they almost always apologize and say they were just too busy doing new things to take care of a complaint;
• Remember what it costs to obtain a new customer. Also, remember that a dissatisfied customer will likely tell 10 times as many people about your company than a satisfied customer. Weigh the situation, but I feel that in any case involving less than $1,000, you should clear it up immediately. Your reputation is worth more than that; and
• Encourage potential customers to not deal with anyone who requires a large down-payment before performing any work. You would be amazed at the number of people who pay thousands of dollars before one bit of work is performed. In these cases, the business typically lacks credibility and has duped many people in the same manner.
Remembering the importance of the customer, customer service, and responding immediately to any customer service issue will very likely ensure that you will never be put in a position of not responding to a customer complaint.
Publication date: 6/12/2017