It's ironic, says Carolyn Moy, that most businesses fail to understand a central fact about consumers: many of them are businesses.
"Businesses don't see themselves as consumers but they are," said Moy, membership manager of the Better Business Bureau of Utah."They should check out suppliers and vendors - both in and out of state - just as any consumer should. They are just as likely to be defrauded as is a member of the public because there are all sorts of schemes out there targeted at small business."
Nationally, small business is defined as a company with fewer than 500 employees, but in Utah, the great majority of the state's 40,000 businesses have 10-15 or fewer employees. These are the companies, says Moy, that most need the help of the Better Business Bureau, not as an adversary organization on the side of "consumers" against "business" but as a resource for their business.
The Utah bureau's sales team has been beefed up this year, and Moy has been charged by the bureau's directors to increase the public consciousness of the agency and encourage Utahns to "investigate before they invest."
Whether you're about to buy a car, a VCR, a service, or a home/business improvement, Moy says the bureau wants you to call for information.
Most people think calls to the Better Business Bureau are complaints - consumers with a gripe about a business. Not so, said Moy. Eighty percent of the thousands of calls the bureau fields each year are from Utahns asking "Is this a company I want to do business with?"
"It's kind of a due diligence thing," said Moy, "and we encourage it. People should also do some checking of charitable organizations as well, she said. The bureau operates a philanthropic advisory service.
Basically, said Moy, the bureau exists to support honesty and ethics in the work place. When people call in and ask about a particular business the bureau gives them factual reports.
"We are a reactive organization; we don't go out and pursue someone, we respond to inquiries from the public - a consumer asking about a business or a business asking about a business."
Moy said the bureau looks for a pattern of complaints to determine if it should look more closely at a company's activities. "There are `signals' that are recognizable to us and one of those is a pattern of complaints or inquiries."
The bureau received more than 4,500 written complaints last year which were brought to the attention of the businesses involved. Companies should not be hostile to these complaints, she said, but should view them as opportunities to make unhappy customers happy ones.
Most customers aren't very assertive, she said, as only one out of 26 ever complains. When they do, the good companies try to make it right. Unfortunately, a few companies choose to ignore the complaints, or worse, do battle with the customer.
"That's an awfully reckless approach to being in business," said Moy. "A happy customer will tell three to four people, but an unhappy one will tell 11 to 20."
But what about the customer who is clearly in the wrong? Doesn't matter, says Moy. "The smart business thinks in terms of responding to how 99 percent of their customers act as opposed to the 1 percent. I suspect that's Nordstrom's philosophy. They aren't going to be hostile to all of their customers because of the 1 percent."
Moy said surveys indicate that BBB-member companies have a higher confidence level with the public than do non-members and that the Better Business Bureau has a 94 percent recognition factor among the public.
"That Better Business Bureau plaque says to most people `I will be taken care of here; I have some rights,' " she said.