Does Your Advertisement Meet BBB Standards?

Written by guest blogger Alex Moore, BBB Advertising Review Consultant.

Better Business Bureau strives to be an industry leader for marketplace trust and ethics. BBB promotes truth and integrity in advertising and trade practices to protect the marketplace.

In 1912, BBB was founded by ethical business owners to review solicitations, advertisements and questionable marketing claims. BBB later created the Code of Advertising to help ensure a level playing field for businesses and an ethical marketplace for all. The Code is based on federal advertising regulations and best practices. It has been updated over the years—with its most recent revision in February 2015—to reflect current marketplace standards.

“BBB’s mission is to advance trust in the marketplace, and nothing is more fundamental to that mission than truth-in-advertising,” said Mary Power, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in a February 2015 press release.

Alex Moore

I joined BBB’s Advertising Review team about a year ago. Since then, I have assisted numerous businesses with their advertising questions and concerns, and I have challenged many to substantiate their claims.

An interaction that sticks out in my mind is one where I had contacted a company regarding a statement on its website that said, “Call your #1 dealer in Washington who has the best warranty in town!”

A claim made in an advertisement should be true and clear. A consumer should be able to take it at face value—he shouldn’t have to research and dig to find out whether it’s correct. And that’s where BBB enters the picture.

I asked the business owner to provide evidence of whom rated his company #1 and to add a disclaimer regarding his warranty. He responded angrily that in his 25+ years of being in business and using this exact phrase, he had never been questioned about it. Why is it a problem?

I explained in order for that particular statement to be completely transparent, the business needed to explain who rated it #1 and when, as well as give the details of the warranty. The problem was that information was nowhere to be found on the website. And without that information, the statement was unclear and potentially misleading to consumers. After much discussion, the business owner reluctantly agreed to modify his #1 claim and add a disclaimer about his warranty.

A couple months later, he contacted me unexpectedly and was overjoyed. He said a friend who owns his own business was recently fined a large amount of money and was experiencing many frustrations because of his advertising. The business owner thanked BBB for our services and for advising him about the changes he needed to make to his advertising. He felt we had spared him from going through the same situation as his friend.

BBB offers advertising review services free of charge to both BBB Accredited and non-accredited businesses, allowing them to excel in honest and ethical advertising. BBB also offers an avenue for consumers to present information to BBB that is potentially misleading or unethical.

Some of the services BBB proudly offers include:

  • Review advertising copy before publication.
  • Answer advertising questions, or refer you to sources that can help.
  • Provide guidelines regarding online advertising.
  • Send periodic advertising alerts about new trends in advertising, as well as educational materials promoting ethical standards.
  • Mail the Code of Advertising brochure to any interested company.

BBB is ready to assist businesses with their advertising questions! For more information about the Advertising Review program, please contact AdReview@thebbb.org.

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What You Need to Know about Scholarships and Financial Aid

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/pictures-of-money

Millions of students depend on grants and scholarships to pay for college, and applying for financial aid can be confusing.

Some companies claim they can help, but they often end up charging fees for information and assistance that students could have gotten for free elsewhere!

Before paying a company to find financial aid for college, do your research and listen for the following red flags:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” No one can guarantee they will get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees usually have so many conditions or strings attached that it is almost impossible for consumers to get their money back.
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” Scholarship information is widely available in books, at libraries, at financial aid offices and on the Internet.
  • “We’ll do all the work.” Only students and parents can determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms.
  • “You’ve been selected by a national foundation to receive a scholarship.” If you have not entered a competition sponsored by the foundation, this claim is highly unlikely.
  • “May I have your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship?” This is never a requirement for a legitimate scholarship offer.
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.” Legitimate scholarship offers never require payment of any kind.

In 2015, your Better Business Bureau is offering a $10,000 scholarship to one lucky high school senior in Western Washington, Oregon or Alaska. It is 100% free to enter–all it takes is a little creativity! Click here for details.

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The Value of Customer Reviews

Image courtesy of Mister GC | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

When you shop online, how do you get reassurance that you will receive what you pay for?

When you peruse business directories or yellow pages, how do you narrow down your choices? Do you read any customer reviews before deciding to do business with someone?

Chances are that you do, which means your potential customers are also looking up your company’s reviews before choosing you.

I am borderline obsessive about researching a company before forking over my money. Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Facebook, Google — I examine the reviews on every site I can think of.

Nobody is perfect, and running a business can be tricky, so I’m not immediately deterred if I find a complaint or an unhappy review. Rather, I consider whether the company responded, and if they politely resolved the issue. I scan through the positive reviews and ask myself if they sound legitimate, keeping in mind that there may be unscrupulous companies who pay for compliments to boost their reputation. I put a lot of effort into finding a company I can trust.

While I admit that my methods could be a bit excessive, studies show that most people do read reviews. According to a 2013 survey by BrightLocal, 85 percent of consumers say they read online reviews for local businesses; this is up from 76 percent in 2012. The same survey also found that 73 percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more, which is up from 58 percent just one year prior.

I have no doubt that these numbers will continue to increase in the coming years. As a business, it is important to learn how to use customer reviews to your advantage.

First, understand why reviews are significant. Consumers can learn the basics about your services by looking at your website or advertisement, but reading testimonials and good reviews can compel consumers to actually consider doing business with you.

“Customer reviews provide credibility to my business,” says life coach Dave Shepp, owner of Beaverton-based Potential in Everyone. “People can read the information on my website describing my coaching methods and how I help people who are stuck, but only when they see my customer reviews do they know that I can talk the talk and walk the walk.”

“We get into many doors other competitors do not, simply because of our public review,” says Joseph Taylor, member of PDX Renovations LLC in Beavercreek.

Next, don’t be afraid to actively invite your satisfied customers to post a review. For example, a dentist’s office could include a notecard that says, “Please rate us at BBB.org,” along with the complimentary toothbrush and dental floss they give to patients. A hotel could have business cards at its front desk listing a few sites where guests could leave reviews. An online retailer could offer a discount on a future purchase to customers who post a positive review.

“Make sure you ask for the customer review from your client,” Shepp says. “They are generally more than willing to go on your site to leave a review about your service or product.”

Finally, display your reviews prominently on your website or even in your office. Because there are a multitude of review sites on the Internet, it could be nearly impossible for a potential customer to find every single one of your positive reviews. Make it easier for them by compiling a list of all the sites where you are reviewed and featuring it on your website; this will allow visitors to check out your complete online reputation with just one or two clicks. Consider printing out your favorite reviews to display on a bulletin board in your lobby or next to your register.

“We’re pretty confident in our reviews, so we are always happy a client or potential client does their homework,” Taylor says. “We feel with our reputation, it gives us a leg up on the competition.”

Customer reviews can drive your business to success. Are you making the most of them?


Remember to encourage your customers to submit a review at BBB.org about their positive experience with your company. And you can trust that BBB verifies each review before it is published.

5 Steps to Managing Complaints

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Let’s be honest: No one enjoys receiving a complaint.

However, as a business owner, managing negative feedback in a positive way is essential for growth and improvement. The poor handling of a customer’s grievance can be one of the easiest ways to destroy an otherwise impeccable reputation.

It would be simple to dismiss a complaint by saying, “You can’t please everyone,” or, “It’s just one customer.” But don’t make that mistake! Consider these facts:

  • For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 others have remained silent, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • Customers tell an average of nine people about good experiences, but tell 16 people about poor experiences, according to a 2011 American Express survey.
  • More than 90 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, according to Lee Resources.
  • However, nearly 95 percent of customers will give your business a second chance if you handle their complaint promptly and successfully, according to the Jim Moran Institute.

These statistics demonstrate that complaints — and how you handle them — do matter to your business.

A recording of a phone call with an internet provider recently went viral as a prime example of how not to treat a dissatisfied customer. So what is it you ought to do when your business receives a complaint?

1. Acknowledge

Perhaps most importantly, never ignore a complaint. Treat the customer with genuine respect and take the issue seriously. Empathy and a sincere willingness to listen will go a long way toward making the customer feel validated and appreciated.

It can be difficult to successfully resolve a complaint on social sites such as Twitter or Yelp; in those cases, direct the customer to a medium where you can help resolve the matter, such as your direct e-mail address or phone number.

2. Apologize

Say you’re sorry. This is not an admission of guilt — it is common courtesy, and it’s what every customer wants to hear.

If the customer is being unreasonable or rude, don’t respond in a demeaning or dismissive manner. Instead, remain calm and positive and don’t take the matter personally. Oftentimes, if you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you’ll realize that you would be just as upset as he or she is.

After apologizing, refocus away from the emotions and get to the situation at hand by asking how you might help resolve the issue. Keep in mind that problems are opportunities to rebuild trust.

3. Analyze

Complaints often contain insight. Listen to the customer’s feedback and let him or her educate you. The customer should be part of the solution, not viewed as part of the problem.

Next, ask clarifying questions. Before you can resolve the complaint, you must understand exactly what went wrong and what the customer wants. If it’s not clear what he or she is seeking, involve the customer in your resolution decision-making through phrases such as, “What do you think would be fair?”

4. Act

Time is of the essence. An unhappy customer wants the problem to be fixed immediately, so responding to him or her with a resolution is a priority.

If it’s not possible to remedy the situation right away, explain the steps you will take and give the customer a timeframe.

On occasion, a customer may be in the wrong, or the problem is a result of his or her own misunderstanding. In those cases, politely inform or correct the customer without placing blame or criticizing. If you go about this graciously, the customer will be empowered by the knowledge you impart on him or her.

5. Appreciate

Invite the customer to verify that you have resolved the issue. Even if it is obvious that the situation has been corrected, the customer will appreciate the fact that you care enough to follow up.

Express your sincere appreciation to the customer for giving you the opportunity to understand and remedy the situation. This will ensure the interaction ends on a positive note.

7 Tips for Writing Good Online Reviews

Writing an accurate and effective review can be tough.
Writing an accurate and effective review can be tough.

Are you interested in writing reviews that people will actually read? Are you interested in helping people make better-informed purchasing decisions? As with any skill, understanding the fundamentals is key.  And as my elementary school principal use to say: “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

More and more people are turning to online reviews when researching products and services; and with thousands of new reviews posted every month, it’s an unfortunate truth that many of them are just plain unhelpful. BBB offers seven tips for writing good online reviews:

  1. Never write anything while upset. This may seem like obvious advice, but take some time—at least 24 hours—before sitting down to draft that sternly-worded review. A good review conveys objective facts about experiences; venting anger, frustration and sarcasm can make you feel better but will cloud reviews with emotions/opinions that probably won’t be very helpful to readers.
  2. Be realistic. It’s unlikely that the meal you just had was the “WORST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE;” if your experience was less than perfect, explain why. Choose descriptions that actually describe and avoid subjective terms like “best/worst” and hyperbole.
  3. Talk about the entire experience. If the staff was unfriendly, include that in your review; but also add that the facilities were clean and the service was prompt. A lie of omission is still a lie. Again, readers of your review are seeking accurate descriptions of what to expect and this is where you can really shine.
  4. Leave out names. It’s tempting to blast the employee that was rude or the server that brought the wrong order, but that information does little to help readers. Focus on what happened rather than on who was involved.
  5. Highlight your credentials. Why should someone take your review more seriously than the one right after yours? Take a sentence or two to explain who you are and why you are an authority on this industry. On the other hand, stating that you are new to this type of transaction will help others avoid similar mistakes or misunderstandings.
  6. Address the other side of the story. Place yourself on the other side of the issue and consider the possible reasons for your experience—good or bad. Showing a little bit of understanding can go a long way in validating your review as honest and authentic.
  7. Check your spelling. It’s silly that this point makes the list, but a quick scan of any review site makes it obvious that many people to not take the time to edit properly. Obvious spelling and grammar mistakes distract readers from the review’s message. I personally skip to the next review at the first spelling mistake; I figure that if the person doesn’t care enough to make a professional effort, then the review probably isn’t that important.

A good review will tell a story about a personal experience; others may have significantly different stories. Remember, the most important part of writing a good review is being honest.

Do you feel empowered to write some effective and helpful reviews? You’re in luck! BBB now accepts customer reviews—positive and negative—on more than 360,000 local businesses. Get started at bbb.org.

Confessions of a Seahawks Bandwagoner

I'm In

Here at Better Business Bureau, we make a big deal about honesty and integrity in the marketplace—after all, they’re founding tenets of BBB and comprise one-quarter of the BBB Code of Business Practices. The concept of honesty, integrity and respect and the role they play in business is referred to as “ethics,” and the topic can be studied in universities around the world. And while I always thought that studying ethics was a little silly—I mean, how hard is it to be a good person?—the bottom line is that establishing an appropriate balance between being ethical and making a profit can be difficult.

But honesty, integrity and respect matter outside of business as well: A healthy romantic relationship requires all three; raising children requires all three—plus lots of patience; and, successfully teaching anything to anyone requires all three—with a splash of persistence, for example. And then there’s sports. In sports, doing the right thing is called “sportsmanship.”

Sportsmanship (noun): Fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition

Growing up in Northern Michigan, I never really had a football team worth caring about—sorry Lions, but zero Super Bowl appearances ever and a 0-16 record in 2008 doesn’t help your case—so when I moved to the Pacific Northwest this past Spring and watched my new city come together around the Seahawks, it was hard not to get swept up in the good vibes. But it also got me thinking…

I’ll never forget the lesson I learned from my middle school soccer coach during a particularly rough match; he said: “We have no control over the other team, but we can control our actions,” a message that should resonate with anyone who has ever played a competitive sport. But, sportsmanship isn’t just for players.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate diehard fanatics, but part of being a good fan means exhibiting good sportsmanship. With Seattle in the national spotlight, it’s up to all of us to make our community look good, no matter what happens at the Super Bowl. Because after all, exemplifying honesty, integrity and respect is important in every aspect of life.

I know that I’m relatively new to the area and an even newer Seahawks’ fan—you can call be a bandwagoner if you want—but I’m proud to call this home and proud to represent The 12th Man.