Johnny Cash and the Better Business Bureau

Johnny Cash was not thinking about the Better Business Bureau when he wrote the song “I Walk the Line,” but he could’ve been. He sings, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I keep my eyes wide open all the time.” He could have been writing about my job at the BBB.

For many, the idea of a nongovernmental, self-regulatory organization that “walks the line” between businesses and consumers doesn’t seem to make sense. But Johnny’s line “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine” gives a clue. It relates to how we work. First and foremost, staff at the BBB keep a close check on their emotions and, more importantly, their opinions. The information we provide about companies and their ratings is completely impartial. That’s what sets us apart from other organizations that merely provide “reviews” of companies — which could be written by anyone. Perhaps understanding our mission might be easier if you have a little background on how we work.

First off, the BBB is a business-supported nonprofit organization that exists to help create a more trusting marketplace. As you can imagine, this “trusting marketplace” was almost non-existent when the BBB was founded more than 100 years ago. The Wisconsin business world was full of snake-oil salesmen, flimflam artists, shysters, and con men. Hope came from Northwestern Mutual, Roundy’s, Johnson Controls, Usinger’s, and other companies with leaders who knew that trust was an important, if not critical element to good business. These are the types of companies that started and supported the first Better Business Bureaus across the country and in Canada to “keep a close watch.”

So how does the BBB work with both consumers and businesses to promote marketplace trust? We begin with education. In order for consumers to make the best purchase decisions, they need good information. That’s why our free website contains millions of reports on companies — companies accredited by the BBB and not — and rates those companies A+ to F based on 16 factors, including complaint history, length of time in business, size of the business, and more. And as I mentioned, consumers looking to find a good company to hire can do their homework with us and know that the information is not based on reviews or opinions but verifiable facts.

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Secondly, we help consumers and businesses work through problems with their transactions together. Let’s face it, even a great company is going to fall short of customer expectations once in a while. By acting as a trusted intermediary, we help resolve disputes. You’ve seen this tactic in action if you’ve ever watched a mom work through an argument among her children. The BBB allows each party to objectively see the other side of the coin and to take the emotion out of the equation. Although this is not always easy, we help get issues and problems resolved. Of course, there are times when a customer and a business may not like the outcome, but we are committed to our standards and apply them equally to all complaints. By keeping our opinions in check, we work consistently with every company and every complaint.

Finally, just like Johnny Cash, we “keep our eyes wide open all the time” looking for scams and rip-offs that hit both consumers and businesses and degrade the level of trust consumers feel. As Adam Schrager, an investigative reporter for WISC-TV, shared the other day, “My father always said, ‘Don’t take any wooden nickels.’” In other words, be skeptical and check out the legitimacy of every offer or deal. If it sounds too good to be true, check with BBB.ORG/scam-stopper and find out more.

As you can tell, “walking the line” may not be easy, but it’s key to creating a healthy, open, and honest marketplace. At the BBB, we’ll continue to encourage smart, savvy consumers. As a member of the business community, you continue to be honest and fair. Together we’ll create a wonderful thing. Together we’ll create trust.

Kimberly Hazen is the regional director for the southwest region of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. In her role, she works to advance marketplace trust between buyers and sellers and to promote informed buying decisions.

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