3/13/13 Better Business Bureau Shakedown??

For all you folks who rely on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and things such as Angie’s List, or reviews from purchasers of products from internet businesses, you are being prudent using due diligence before you make a decision on how to spend your money. But, due diligence doesn’t stop with checking with the BBB or any on-line list, in fact, these things can be as misleading as an on-line dating site, since you never know who is on the other end of the internet connection, or at the end of a complaint to the BBB. Things are not always what they seem.

Reviews of products from internet vendors, for example, can be very misleading, considering the fact that frequently the one posting the review simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Some amateur photographers give glowing reviews for cameras that appear to be high end, but the lenses are simply sub-standard for professional purposes. A video camera that declares itself to be a “Pro-sumer” model is very likely to have all the capabilities of a consumer model wrapped up in a package that looks just like the professional ones; the differences are solely on the inside, while the external package looks in every way like its big brother, which costs a couple of thousand more dollars. That, in itself, is OK, since some people want the appearance of professional. The professional, on the other hand, wants the internal guts that do the things the professional requires. The external package is not nearly so important beyond its ergonomic functionality.

The reviewer who declares that a HD FLIP camcorder is every bit as good as a Sony three-chip, time-code embedded camera is one who has no basis for actually making the comparison. Both of the cameras serve a purpose and are designed for a specific function.

The same thing is true for audio components, televisions, computers, firearms, musical instruments, and a host of other items. There are even things that look top-shelf, and cost top-shelf, but belong in the dust-bin. These are the worst items, and the ones most likely to be raved about by those who are unable to actually make a legitimate comparison.

People ask me all the time to comment on the guitar or banjo they just purchased. I usually tell them that I am not a good person to review the item they just spent their money on, because they ultimately want me to tell them what a wonderful instrument it is and how wise they were to have made the purchase, and what a good bargain they got. I usually ask them, “Do you like it?” Sometimes, they are not sure about this and will like it more if I act like I like it, too. It is not my job to make them feel good about their purchase; nor is it my job to make them feel foolish for having made it. They made their decision and now they’ll either enjoy their purchase, regret their purchase, trade up or trade out, or learn that sometimes the investment in fancy equipment will not yield the results they are looking for since they lack the experience to take advantage of the features the apparently fancy equipment offers (or doesn’t). An expensive video camera will not come with the skills required to be a good videographer. Nor will an expensive banjo give you a right hand like Earl Scruggs, which is the biggest thing that separated Earl Scruggs from all the other banjo players.

I have always found the Better Business Bureau to be a waste of time. That is my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. It looks good to have a BBB plaque on the wall of a local business . . . your customers come into the waiting room and see that plaque and are put at ease because they are assured, erroneously, that your business is a competent one. But all that’s needed to obtain the plaque is to pay your dues to the BBB, and the local chapter will deliver it, or most likely, ship it directly to you.

I have been involved in complaints that people made to the BBB (back when I worked for Yazoo Manufacturing Company), and in every case I determined that the person lodging the complaint either never gave the company an opportunity to make any sort of adjustment, bought a product that was completely unsuitable for the purpose they intended, or turned out to be someone that it was just simply not possible to satisfy because they had unreasonable expectations. People occasionally buy a mower from a dealer, say, in New Jersey, decide for some reason that they don’t like it, and then expect the factory in some distant location to refund their money. First . . . they didn’t buy it from the factory.  Second . . . few factories are interested in refunding the retail purchase price of any product they sold to a distributor, who sold it to a dealer, who then sold it to the person who now wants their money back. It just doesn’t work that way.

Inevitably in these situations, there goes a complaint to the BBB, and the BBB sends a letter similar to one that might be sent to a delinquent debtor by a credit collection agency, warning of perilous damage to one’s reputation from negative reviews from investigations by the BBB . . . almost like a mob shakedown. Yazoo usually responded to the local BBB chapter, to which they belonged, and let them get huffy with the distant BBB chapter that was threatening the damage, or demanding the response. I always witnessed this with an intense interest, since a phone call to me from a reasonable person would get far more attention than a letter from some BBB chapter over some complaint that I knew nothing about prior to receiving the BBB letter. I simply can’t fix it if I don’t know about it. Sometimes, I couldn’t fix it when I did know about it . . . because some people just can’t be satisfied.

Now I read about a Southern California chapter of the BBB that allegedly issued good ratings to businesses who joined up and paid their dues, and poor ratings to those who refused to join. They apparently also immediately upgraded poorly rated businesses to A+ ratings just as soon as they paid their dues. This, my friends, is known as “Pay to Play.”

The national BBB has suspended the Southern California chapter for this behavior, and I say well and good for sweeping around their own porch. I wonder if the suspension included an “F” rating for that particular BBB chapter? I wonder if they have posted this suspension on their own national website?

The Greater Froward County Chamber of Commerce Arts and Entertainment Committee was gathered around a table in the meeting room of the Chamber of Commerce office in downtown Froward. The committee chairman called the meeting to order with a bang of the gavel, in the usual facsimile of Robert’s Rules of Order that is common in small towns. They were there to discuss all the remaining details of the annual Spring Festival one last time before the festival was to occur the next weekend.

“I’d like to hear a report from the Food and Concessions sub-committee,” said the chairman.

Eunice Scofield rose with a big smile. She was a spindly, awkward thing; a recent graduate of the State University, had a degree in Communications, and had recently been hired by one of the local banks where her father was one of the major stockholders. She was filling a position that had not existed before her hiring and would most likely not exist after she got married and quit her job, but she had no prospects at the moment, having unrealistic expectations of how her suitor was apt to look, and enduring her parent’s scrutiny of any eligible suitor because of their standing in the local community, not wanting her to mate with anyone outside their perceived class . . . which placed poor, plain Eunice at a great disadvantage. The only person who had shown any interest in her was Bubba Wilson, who worked down at the local tire shop, did not have all his teeth, and made what Eunice thought was a lurid but nevertheless exciting pass at her while he was installing a new set of tires on her Land Rover, which not only got him fired from his job after a phone call from her father to the proprietor, but got him nearly arrested as well. Eunice was thrilled and disgusted at the same time. Eunice’s father was just disgusted that someone of Bubba’s station would so much as think that Eunice might have any interest in someone like him. Bubba was just puzzled by the whole thing . . . she was a girl . . . he was a boy . . . what was the big deal, he wondered? He had merely asked her a question to which she had not said, “No,” nor had she said, “Yes.” He could tell she was considering it, and still thought so the next day until the sheriff drove up, got out, and warned him never to speak to Eunice again, after which he promptly got fired by the proprietor who had an open, though somewhat delinquent, line of credit at the bank where Eunice’s father sat on the board.

“I can’t get a break,” said Bubba to himself as he walked down the street to his home, since he had no car himself.

Eunice rose to give the required report at the meeting. “I have arranged for all the food vendors to load in the evening before the event, have verified that all participating vendors have their food licenses, their “Serv-Safe” certifications, and have checked with Angela’s List and the BBB on those out of town vendors who are coming in since we don’t know them. We also set it up so that the vendor participation fee included membership in the Froward County Chamber of Commerce. Everything is set to go,” after which she sat down.

The chairman was pleased with this report, since it required nothing from him, and moved on to other business.

“I’d like to hear from the Entertainment Sub-committee,” said the chairman.

Eunice rose again, since she was also the vice-chair of the Entertainment Subcommittee, but the Entertainment Committee’s chairman was not there that evening, delayed from having a new set of tires installed, the delay being caused by Bubba’s recent dismissal. Everyone wished that Bubba was back at the tire shop, even Eunice, but no one dared say so. “I have checked on all the entertainers, looked at their contracts, and they have verified that they will be here the evening before at 5:30 for sound check, and they will all arrive at least an hour before their appointed performance times.”

“Did we check on the references of the out-of town performers? You know, we are paying some pretty big money and the festival would be a big flop if some of this regional talent failed to show up, and it would be even worse if what they sold us was not what they delivered,” said the Chairman.

“Every one of them had glowing references,” said Eunice. “I checked them all with Angela’s List and the BBB, and none of them had any complaints lodged against them. One report to the BBB said that one of our featured bands performed what they called some of the best karaoke they’d ever heard, which I thought was excellent recommendation. I’m really excited about hearing them. We also deducted membership fees from their money to make them all members of the Chamber of Commerce. Everything is set to go.”

The Chairman seemed satisfied with this. “OK. Everyone knows their duties. Now we can adjourn, continue to work out the details and little problems as they crop up, and all enjoy the festival on Saturday. The only thing that can mess up this festival now is bad weather. Has anyone checked the weather forecast?”

Eunice spoke up. “Oh! I checked with WWOW’s meteorologist, and the meteorologist at State U. It is supposed to be clear as a bell on Friday and Saturday.”

“Good,” said the Chairman. “Then, I’ll entertain a motion to adjourn.” And the motion was seconded by Eunice, and carried by voice vote, and the meeting was over.

About 300 miles off the south coast in the Gulf of Mexico, a low trough and high level disturbance was developing, building slowly in intensity as the cloud tops began to rise higher and higher, dropping the barometric pressure in an increasing radius curve. A much colder, denser, higher pressure air mass in Manitoba could sense this from two thousand miles away, and began to move with increasing swiftness towards the low pressure now over the Gulf. Both air masses were seeking equilibrium in as passionate a way as things with no passion can possibly do, which can be remarkably passionate yet without any feeling, particularly without any feelings or concerns about the success or failure of any local festival, or of the hard work that had gone into it, or of the thousands and thousands of dollars that would go down the drain if the sun refused to shine, which it would, and did, as violent weather blew down food vendor tents, scattered arts and crafts all over downtown Froward, and drenched the PA system as it poured about six inches of rain coming in horizontally, not dropping vertically. The rain continued throughout the Friday night before the festival, then persisted through Sunday. The Saturday Spring Festival was a complete bust.

Unable to pay the bands, several complaints were lodged with the Froward Chapter of the BBB, but these mostly came to naught since the people who ran the Froward BBB were all members of the Froward County Chamber of Commerce, who had decided that they couldn’t be held responsible for an act of God.

The one good thing about all this: Bubba had been hired as a day laborer by the Froward Street Department to help with the cleanup of all the mess. As he was toting rain-soaked stuff to the dumpster, he saw Eunice standing on the street corner, crying. He walked over to her, not remembering anything about the admonitions the Sheriff had given him earlier.

“I’m sorry about the bad weather and your festival,” he said. I know you worked really hard on it, only to have it come to this.”

“We planned, we worked, we let no detail slip through that we did not check,” cried Eunice. “We even checked with the best meteorologists in the state, but all for naught . . .” She buried her face in her hands, then began to cry on Bubba’s shoulder. This was an interesting turn of events, Bubba thought to himself.

“No one can control the weather,” said Bubba, softly. “Hey! Want to go and get a cup of coffee?”

“But you’re working,” said Eunice. “Won’t you get into trouble?”

“Screw it,” said Bubba. “You’re way more important to me than this crappy job.” Eunice just melted. They walked down the street towards the coffee shop, the Froward City Street Superintendent and all the other workers watching as Bubba threw off his work gloves, slicked his hair back, and took off his dirty jacket, throwing it in the dumpster as they walked past it. No one said a word to Bubba that day, nor later, other than the word came down from higher places to the Street Superintendent to give Bubba a permanent job, which he did without question, though he had had his brother-in-law in mind for the job.

“Sorry,” the Street Superintendent told his brother-in-law. “I tried to get you the job, but you know how small town politics can be. By the way . . . when are you going to pay me back that hundred dollars you own me”

“I reckon when I get a job,” said the brother-in-law, thinking that he could never get a break, wondering how that sorry Bubba could have gotten hired over him.

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