The year 1965 was a time of change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. Women snatched up designer mini skirts, and Bob Dylan traded his acoustic guitar for an electric one at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. Advertising had become a big industry, and, as a result, truth in advertising became a big concern. To give consumers a voice and help them make good decisions, the Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware was born. Fifty years later, the organization is critically important to people who are bombarded with ads in the mail, on the radio, on the television and on their Facebook page. They can find a vendor with a click—but can they trust that vendor to do a good job? BBB Serving Delaware is a source for people seeking ethical businesses. It’s a watchdog on the alert for false advertising. And it’s an educator that helps people avoid fraud, scams and poor business practices.
On April 16, BBB will mark its milestone anniversary at World Café Live at the Queen. As the members, the staff, the scholarship winners—and the public—can attest, there’s good reason to celebrate. In 1965, when Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware was founded, customers who wanted to inquire about a company or file a complaint had to pick up the phone or put pen to paper. Things have changed. “As technology evolved, so did we,” says Christine Sauers, president of Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware. “Today, most of our services are rendered over the Internet and by e-mail.” Technology may change the way BBB services are delivered, but the mission remains the same: Help people find and recommend accredited businesses and brands that consumers can trust. On the website, consumers can search for a company by name to see if it’s an accredited business. If they need a certain skill, such as plumbing or homebuilding, they can search by industry. “The greatest achievement of BBB Serving Delaware has to be how often we’re used as a resource,” says Jon Bell, director of business relations. “When businesses and consumers use BBB as a pre-purchase resource, they’re far more likely to end up working with an ethical business.”
A new web platform, launched last year, allows consumers to praise a company or file a complaint, and the business can respond. BBB also has an app for smart phones, and a Facebook page. “We have a business model that has changed with the needs of the community,” Sauers says. The Arbitration Council was founded in 1973, and mediation is still a valued service. Happily, issues are typically resolved after some light interviewing and letter-writing. “Most businesses want to work with their customers,” Sauers says. Reviewing advertisements is another core service. However, digital ads are now part of the mix. BBB looks for unsubstantiated claims or promises that the advertiser might not be able to keep. Many companies don’t realize it’s unethical to call their business “number one” or the “best” without attribution. “We ask them to modify their ad, and we have a good track record with that,” Sauers says. She’s particularly proud of BBB’s consumer education efforts. In the past five years, BBB’s Education Foundation, founded in 1999, has given out nearly $27,000 in scholarships to college-bound students who write on the importance of ethics in business. BBB also educates seniors and Spanish-speaking consumers so that they can avoid scams.
Fifty years after its founding, BBB’s value is clearly appreciated. The state organization now has 1,500 accredited businesses, making it one of the largest business membership-based organizations in Delaware. All year, BBB will travel to festivals and events throughout the state. “We’re waving the flag to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Sauers says. She’d like to see membership continue to increase, along with consumer inquiries. She also hopes consumers will continue to post positive or negative reviews that help other people select a service provider. Education, particularly concerning fraud, will remain an emphasis. BBB will also expand its database to track and research more businesses statewide. “We’re letting people know that we’re not your grandfather’s BBB!” For more information, visit www.bbb.org/delaware or call (302) 221-5255.