Banishing Bad Hair Days since 1997!™

Better Business Bureau Blackmail

Certainly if you're in business, the title - Better Business Bureau Blackmail - got your attention. It's the addition of the last B to the famous BBB that is of key significance.

Contrary to a long held consumer myths, threatening to call in the BBB, as they are known, when the consumer is not getting their way with a business, does not actually work. If anything, it will probably backfire in a number of ways.

Let me share an example from our bulging files.

A bride-to-be (BTB) purchased a $100, hand designed, hand-sewn, satin and freshwater pearl headband. The headband was a one-of-a-kind couture design of the highest quality and craftsmanship. Gorgeous piece, once featured in the high fashion mags.

I have learned over the years, after being beaten to a bloody pulp, how important it is to publish our return policies, which are business standard, at the bottom of each and every invoice, in bold text. We also have multiple links to our return policies on several pages of our website. Furthermore, the phone operators are well trained to explain our standard return policies. We go above and beyond to publish our various policies for product returns.

The Sales and Customer Care Team also go out of their way to explain that we can not, for a number of reasons, including health and sanitation issues, accept products that have been worn or used.

Would you buy a one-of-a-kind couture headband that someone had worn to their wedding and then returned?

No. I think not. At least it is unlikely you would pay for it as brand new if you knew it had been worn. Not to mention the ethics of passing off a used item as brand new. Definitely a no-no.

What customers seem to forget is that our company has to pay for every item, either at the time of shipment to our warehouse, or shortly after. Real money is invested in every item in the warehouse, which also costs in terms or warehouse people (to pick, pack, ship) and other overhead costs. You know, those pesky little expenses like rent, building insurance, heating, A/C, health insurance for the employees and other costs of doing business.

When a customer keeps an item they bought for several weeks, in essence they are "renting" or "leasing" the item without paying for having the item in their possession. Even worse, the item can not be sold to another customer during that point in the sales cycle. Maybe it can never be resold because it has been worn or used, which makes it unsellable under the current business model.

But back to the BTB in question.

She purchased the headband, waited almost three months to request a return, which was several weeks past our return request date and then went ballastic when her return requested was politely denied. She whined "she did not like the headband" with the veil she had arranged to have sewn onto it (which was not part of the original headband we sold her) and she did not like how it felt on her head against her scalp with her hair pinned around it. (Oh my, danger, danger).

Needless to say, this was not a returnable item for two key reasons. One, it was way past the return time line and two, it was altered as well as worn against her scalp and hair. It definitely could no longer fall into the brand new, unworn category.

When she was politely told her item could not be returned, due to the late return period, and the fact the item had been worn, she threw a major fit. She began yelling at the customer care operator. She claimed all sorts of crazy reasons why she could not return the headband in time, including the fact that she did not realize it would take the seamstress so long to sew the veil onto the back of the headband.

Huh? She also said she had called "many times" and emailed. We could find no record of calls in voice mail or any emails in the mail server logs which my wonderful IT guy faithfully searched for after she insisted she had sent "many, many emails".

She also said, in response to the fact she wore the newly altered headband on her scalp, that we could easily spray the headband with some sort of disinfectant spray to remove all trace of her scalp oils and hair. Really? Spray a couture headband with BugBeGone or something similar? Sort of like suggesting we spray PAM (which is good for pans) on a designer gown. Well, you get my drift.

Trust me, we try very hard to work with our customers, but this was just wrong. After yelling, screaming and saying she could not easily afford the $100 she paid for the headband (a thought she might have considered before purchase), she then threw out the B words. If we did not take the item back and give her a full refund (and no, she should not have to pay a restock fee - absolutely not) she would file a formal complaint with the BBB. She would call her attorney, she would never shop with us again and she would tell all her friends.

These threats only made my verbally abused CS agent shut down completely At that point, it was over. The CS agent had tried to be polite, she had tried to figure out if there was some way to work this out (of course the company would have taken a loss since the band could not be resold) but the BBB threat was the last nail in the bride-from-hell return saga.

The CS agent politely (while making faces) passed the bride-to-be off to the CS supervisor who firmly said we were so sorry but we couldn't accept the item as a return and that was it.

Of course the CS agent proceeded to document everything that took place during the phone conversation for the files, which will be sent to the BBB if/when the bride from Hell files a complaint. And of course, the bride was completely in the wrong on all fronts, including suggesting a spritz of disinfectant on a gorgeous pearl beaded headband that had been altered for her veil. The CS supervisor is confident that in a BBB case, the company would win hands down, since all of the published business policies and procedures were followed to the letter.

Nowadays when the 4th B is added to the BBB, the consumers chances of having a successful conclusion ends at that point. It is seen for what it is, Blackmail, plain and simple. Yes, of course, you could let your mind wander and think of other B words to add to the BBBB but I digress.

So many consumers also think that all they have to do is contact the BBB, file a complaint and they will get what they want. Not so. The BBB will actually investigate the claim and will attempt to determine who is right and who is wrong. If the customer is actually wrong, the BBB will not find in their favor. Which is kudos for the BBB. Those people work so hard, they have my total admiration.

It used to make all the CS agents angry when people would drop the BBB Bomb in an email or phone conversation. They still may get angry, but it is also seen as the code phrase for moving onto the next customer that may be more reasonable and can be helped.

The response to those additional threats?

If the bride wants to hire her attorney (and pay $$$/hour) to file a claim over a headband she wore, altered and kept for months after the return period ended...its her choice. However, the cost of the lawyer's time would be much more than the cost of the headband. Not to mention that she had violated the return policies.

If the bride is going to deliver such a hard time when the CS agents were just trying to do their job and her friends are like the further business from the bride or her friends would actually be considered a blessing. No company likes troublemakers or scammers.

No wonder some companies actually ban certain customers from ever shopping with them again. And yes, many companies maintain a customer "black list". Some companies share their "difficult customer" list with other companies. I have seen this firsthand. It's a two way street and many customers have no idea that when they misbehave it can mark them for the future, just like a bad credit report.

This may all seem a little harsh, but after 11 years in the Internet Web trade, reading customer emails and listening to phone conversations, I am just amazed at what lengths customers will take to try and break the rules. Hey, I spent one year as a recruiter (great people skills training and did I tell you about the guy that took a parrot to a job interview?) and now in that job you see and hear it all but gets pretty bizarre with customer antics at times.

Is the customer always right? What do you think?

When customers try to pull all the various tricks, scream, yell and threaten, the companies that let them get away with the scams just turn around and raise the price for all of us consumers. Why? Because we all pay for those $100 headbands that were worn and then returned. They can't be resold so they get thrown in the trash can. Who really eats the $100? All of us consumers do.

Since businesses pay for the operation of the Better Business Bureau, those businesses that get abused by customers and consistently lose money from returns, just raise their prices. Also, I feel very badly for the good folks at the BBB. I can only imagine what types of phone calls and emails they receive on a constant basis.

Here's another secret. You know those big department stores that take everything back with a smile, even though it looks like it was run over by a truck on a muddy freeway? The big stores simply charge back the returns to their suppliers, who then turn around and raise all their prices for companies like Those big guys might look like the hero to the customer because they take back just about anything (you know whom I'm talking about) but in reality, someone is paying for the loss. And it's you and me.

Yes, there are companies out there who try to scam their customers or treat them badly. However, there are many more companies that try to run a fair business and consider the needs of all their customers when setting and adhering to policies. Rules are created for a reason to help all customers and help a company avoid unnecessary losses.

If you find yourself in a situation with a CS rep and feel that you are not making headway, bite your tongue and remember to avoid dropping those B words or else all may be lost. Instead, be polite, courteous and fair. You will be amazed how a little kindness and politeness can take you so much further. If you follow the policies, chances are you will have a happy return experience.

What's that old saying? You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Yes indeed.....stock up on the honey and your life will be sweeter.

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