To BBB Accredited Members & Friends
From Kathleen Calligan, CEO, BBB Middle Tennessee, Inc.
On Friday, November 12, ABC's 20/20 news magazine aired a segment on BBB with a "teaser" that ran earlier in the day on Good Morning America. The segment called into question our organization's business ratings system and accreditation, specifically alleging that a substantially higher rating can be "bought" via accreditation. The segment also highlighted an incident of a fictitious business application that was mistakenly accredited by a local BBB.
First, I want to thank you for your phone calls and communications of encouragement and your voice of confidence in the BBB of Middle Tennessee. I need them.
This ABC 20/20 story was critical of the BBB on several fronts. Let me separate what was fact and what was fiction.
The reporter suggested that businesses have to join the BBB to get a good grade in our rating system. If the reporter had interviewed me, I would have pointed out that over 4,100 Middle Tennessee companies that are not BBB Accredited have an A grade... accountability with substance.
The reporter alleged that all companies have to do to join the BBB is write a check. That would come as a surprise to the 8 companies that we've expelled from BBB Membership so far this year and to the 139 accreditation/membership applicants we have declined over the past 10 months. It would come as a surprise to two directors who had to resign from BBBs Board because their company no longer met our standards. Attorneys have threatened to sue me personally unless we removed the F grade, or retracted media Alerts on the business dealings of their shady clients. I never caved in to their threats and never suggested to them that the BBB would go away if they wrote a check. Where is this reporter's accountability with substance?
The story included an interview with Wolfgang Puck, the famous chef, about an F rating one of his restaurants has with the BBB. Mr. Puck said that his customers love him and that he could get an A grade if he joined the BBB. It seems not all of his customers love him since the F grade is the result of his failure to respond to complaints they filed with the BBB. That's also the reason several other well-known companies mentioned in the story have poor grades.
The story included an interview with Steve Cox, the President of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. When the time that Steve and the reporter allotted for the interview elapsed, with the questions becoming redundant and increasingly one-sided, Steve ended the interview. The reporter implied that Steve was afraid to answer questions about Mr. Puck's report. Mr. Puck needs to defend his record, not the BBB. In his friendly banter with Mr. Puck, the reporter failed to ask, "But Wolfgang, why didn't you respond to your customers' complaints?"
The reporter described one BBB's approval of the membership application for an organization named "Hamas" which is also the name of a Middle East terrorist organization. The story included video footage of terrorists, although the only similarity between the organizations was the name. The application submitted to the BBB listed a local address and stated that the company was in the business of counseling young people. It and a few others were bogus applications submitted by people with a vendetta against the BBB. I am confident that BBB Middle Tennessee's screening processes would have caught the fraudulent applications.
The reporter cited other alleged cases of heavy-handed sales tactics on part of the BBB. The only BBB identified was the same one involved in the "Hamas" case. I don't know how much this BBB was really at fault, but I do know that it is not fair to paint the entire BBB system with the same brush. If a colleague of yours in a faraway city, was guilty of misdeeds, would you be okay with sharing the blame? There have been several instances of reporters fabricating stories, some of which won them journalism awards, yet no one has condemned the entire media industry for their sins.
The story includes an interview with the Connecticut Attorney General who has criticized some elements of our ratings system, including 4 points for accreditation. Well-intended people can disagree on issues and we respect his opinion. We had a hearty debate amongst ourselves about many of the same issues and some of us, on some points, may agree with him. The story, however, would have been more balanced if the reporter had also interviewed the Missouri Attorney General who just recognized the St. Louis BBB for its 'extraordinary commitment to justice." Or if he had asked Tennessee's Attorney General about the numerous Alerts issued by our BBB that assist his office in opening investigations and filing actions on behalf of all Tennesseans.
In the same week when 20/20 reporter Brian Ross was preparing his condemning interview of BBB, another 20/20 reporter was working with our BBB to prepare a story on fraudulent job offers a story we alerted consumers about earlier this year. Mr. Ross opined the BBB could not be trusted... it would seem his news team would disagree. Did Brian Ross demonstrate accountability with substance?
BBB Middle Tennessee delivered over 2 million Business Reviews in the past 12 months to consumers looking for trustworthy businesses. We worked with businesses and their customers to try and resolve over 8400 complaints. Every week the local media call on us as the trusted authority on how to avoid scams, how to make the best buying decision and how to raise the bar of trust in our Middle Tennessee marketplace. I, along with our five BBB Branch managers in Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Franklin and Murfreesboro, deliver the same advice in hundreds of speeches to Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, professional groups, to soldiers at Fort Campbell, KY, and in workshops to your employees, to students and seniors.
What distinguishes BBB Accredited Businesses isn't writing a check. Its their desire to be affiliated with an organization that has championed ethics in the marketplace for 98 years and to support its efforts to expose the bad businesses that victimize their employees, customers, family and friends. What distinguishes BBB Accredited Businesses is accountability with substance.
Kathleen Calligan | CEO
Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee, Inc.
# # #
Accountability With Substance