The BBBOnLine Reliability Program has bugged me for some time now. This is a program the Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers its members in which they can place a seal (as shown to the left) on their web site indicating they are a BBB member which then links to the company’s online profile. It requires its own fees in addition to what a company pays to be a BBB member. The program discriminates against businesses who solely conduct business online. This bothers me to no end. Let me tell you why.
We are a member of the Central/Northern Arizona branch of the BBB. We pay dues every 6 months which are based on the number of employees you currently have. The reason why we belong to the BBB is to help establish credibility for our company. We want to convey the message to our existing and potential clients that we will be fair, honest, and offer a superb level of customer service. If the customer is not happy, they can use the BBB as a middleman to resolve any conflicts. As such, we like any other business that is a BBB member wish to display our membership Before the day of the World Wide Web (graphical Internet), companies would demonstrate their membership by placing the BBB logo (as shown below) in their print advertising and collateral materials. Additionally they send you a certificate each year that you can place in your physical location.
However, what if you do not have printed or collateral materials or even a physical location but instead your business presence is online? Are you able to use the logo on your site, even link to your profile so that existing and and potential clients can see that you are a member? Absolutely not. You must join the BBBOnLine Reliability Program and pay additional fees. There is no exception to the rule if you only exist in the online world. This is discrimination in my book.
Now we do have a physical office but clients rarely visit it. Being an Internet services company we also do not have a physical storefront of any kind. Most of our new clients find us online where we have our Internet presence and even existing clients mostly deal with us via telephone, email and through the client extranet we have set up. Furthermore we rarely advertise and in cases where we do, it is online. This leaves us no option of displaying our BBB membership with the exception of being forced into the Reliability Program.
There was one year where I cancelled our involvement in the program and instead placed the regular BBB logo that you would use in traditional advertising material and then linked it to our online profile. We got away with it for about a year until someone snitched us out. We were forced to remove the logo as well as any links to our online profile. I fought them on this to no avail stating that they were in fact discriminating online business by their policies. If members are allowed to display the logo in their brick and mortar businesses, then they should be able to do the same in their online businesses. “Sorry, that is against policy,” was the only reply I received. So naturally I once again succumbed to being forced to pay extra fees so I can display the logo online.
The BBB could argue that they are providing an additional service by making member’s online profiles available. However, consumers can go directly to any local BBB site and find those anyway. In other words they are already making them available to anyone who wishes to view them whether a member is paying to be part of the Reliability Program or not. So it goes right back to the fact that the BBB discriminates against online business. There is really no other way to look at it, is there?
I would like to see the BBB to evolve into the 21st Century, realize we are in a digital age and stop exhorting additional funds from members who want to display the logo on their web sites. They need to recognize a web site as a “place of business” and stop treating it like it is some kind of special privilege. It is not that they are charging an exorbitant amount of money – rather it is the principle of the matter. There are so many businesses these days that only have online presence. Sure they may have an office somewhere or even a distribution center where they ship product. However real customers never visit those locations. Instead they rely on the Internet to attract and conduct business. Until the BBB changes their policy, they themselves are not being honest, fair, or providing the best level of customer service to their members.
Postscript: As an update to this, I was contacted a few weeks after originally posting this article later by someone from the BBB whom I originally expected to inform me to cease and desist but actually had congratulated me on writing a post that was a pet peeve of his. He said that he had been pushing for the BBB to change their policy concerning the use of their logo online and that my post was helping to speed up the process.
So to my surprise I just recently received (April 2007) a bill from the BBB to renew the program for another year which tells me that they are not only still discriminating against online business but they have also raised the fee from $135 a year to $177.50.
I’m refusing to pay this but will continue to use the logo until they revoke my membership, I guess. I’m not going to be subject to discrimination simply because our web sites are the only means we have of announcing our membership.