The Better Business Bureau Made Me Mad

It was a prim and stern woman’s voice on my office voice mail yesterday.

“Yesssss. [pregnant pause] This is the Better Business Bureau.  My name is [  ]. This message is for the owner of the company. Please return my call. My direct line is [  ]. I will be in my office until 4:30 p.m.” ((Click))

There was no “thank you.” No “goodbye.” No reason why this unfriendly person at the Better Business Bureau was calling me.

I’m just a one-person office. The “owner of the company” is me. The massage therapist and Yoga teacher is me. The bookkeeper and laundry washer and taxpayer and phone answerer and toilet paper buyer and Yoga mat roller and vacuum cleaner emptier and the one who carefully picks the ladybugs off of the office window and brings them outside to freedom? All me.

Did someone complain about me to the Better Business Bureau? Why else would they be calling?

Did I forget an appointment? Is someone upset that we did too many Down Dogs in class last week? (We didn’t, honest!)

Of course, I called them back. If someone was going to complain that the table warmer wasn’t warm enough during their last massage, I wanted the opportunity to explain.

And, of course, (and you already knew this was coming, but I’m not as quick-as-a-whip as you are) it was a sales call. A cold call asking me to pay the Better Business Bureau for accreditation. I had to wriggle myself out of a lousy sales call by explaining that my client was about to walk in.

The more I thought about this stupid call which wasted my time, the more steamed I got.

To get off the call, I had to ask the lady to just send me additional information via email. And, she did. Her materials told me a lot of good things about accreditation, but didn’t answer the most important question that any half-decent business owner would have. Hey BBB, just how much will that cost me?

(Although, she did respond to my email this morning and did answer my question about costs. A question that, I admit, I was asking just to see if she would answer. And, she did. But, I’m still steamed about the rest of this.)

I mean, look. I get the bait and switch. If the Better Business Bureau called and said, “Hi, wanna pay us $462 a year so you can put a Better Business Bureau widget on your website?” I’m not calling back. Sales calls drive me nuts.

They know that, too.

That’s why they leave frosty, unclear messages that might lead someone to think that the call is for something other than a sales pitch.

A friend told me last night that her business had also received a vague message from them. The message sounded, she said, “like we had done something wrong.”

Which they hadn’t.

They actually did it to me once before, some years back. The message then was from a man and it was much shadier, saying he needed to talk with me “immediately.”

And, it was a sales call then. And, yes, you are right, I should have figured out that yesterday’s call was a sales call. But, I didn’t.

And, sure, there’s nothing technically wrong about the message the Better Business Bureau left with me yesterday.

Except …


You’re about BETTER business. Not boiler room, cold call, marketing practices.

Look, BBB, it’s right there on YOUR own website. Under the Code of Business Practices, in a section titled “TELL THE TRUTH”:

“Make known all material facts in both written and verbal representations, remembering that misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring relevant facts.”

You didn’t NOT tell the truth. And, you didn’t misrepresent who you were when you called.

But, you and I both know that you omitted one relevant fact in your message: you were making a sales call. And, you know that when a business gets a stern call and a vague message from the Better Business Bureau, you know … YOU KNOW … we will return that call just in case there has been some mistake and someone has complained.

It’s not a reach for me to assume your omission was intentional.

And, that stinks. Because, seriously, the Better Business Bureau ought to know better.

I really wanted to file a complaint about this with the Better Business Bureau.

Instead, I’ll do with them what I do with all the vague messages left on my answering machine … including those shady callers who say that they’re “interested” in a massage or learning more about my Yoga classes in the hopes that their “I might be a potential client” message will lure me into calling them back so they can try to sell me scheduling software or Yoga mats.

Sorry, Better Business Bureau, I don’t do business with callers like that.

2018 Update: They called again! Same pitch. Same sketchy voice mail message. This time, armed with their own Code of Business Practices, which their voice message violates, I called them back. I told the woman who made the call to me that I wasn’t interested in their sales pitch, but was honestly concerned that they weren’t following their own best practices code. I read her the exact language from their code and explained how their sales calls violated their own best practices. The woman I spoke to didn’t respond except to say she would put me on their “do not call list.” If you’ve read this far, please, please call back the Better Business person who left you a message and read them their own Code of Business Practices that I have excerpted above. Please tell them to be a Better Business. And, until they do, tell them you won’t do business with them.

Let’s help the Better Business Bureau be a “better business.”

30 thoughts on “The Better Business Bureau Made Me Mad

  1. Is it possible to file a complaint about the BBB to the BBB. Wonder who they would direct that to for resolution. It just doesn’t seem fair.

    • Exactly! That’s why I came here to complain publicly … maybe someone will listen (and recognize that it isn’t an isolated incident). I’ve already heard from one business that had the same vague, ominous-sounding call. And, I’ve tagged the local Richmond BBB and the National BBB on Twitter.

      • I am very thankful to you for writing this post. You just saved me that phone call and the worry. We just received verbatim the call that you wrote about. Thank you for detailing this out.

        • I’m glad I saved you some worry and a phone call! Every time someone comments on this post, I am both happy that I wrote it to warn other small business people and I’m angry that the unethical behavior of the Better Business Bureau continues. When I wrote this post, more than a year ago, I sent it to the national and state-level Better Business Bureau offices requesting an explanation. I never heard back [cue: crickets chirping]

    • Businesses don’t have the same “do not call” protections as individuals and residences do, unfortunately. Nothing they did was a violation of anything, just a bit shady. And, if you’re the Better Business Bureau, I expect you, of all organizations, to hold to the same high level of integrity that you expect from the rest of us. I’m continuing to hear from other small business folks who received similar vague and stern “you need to call us back right away” messages.

  2. Good for you! I really appreciate you blogging about this kind of thing, as fellow small business owners! Sales calls drive us crazy as well, especially under falls intentions and counting on “fear” which seems to drive a lot of universal decision making these days! But, who can we complain to now? I hoped the BBB was better than that, just like you…

    • Thanks, Liesbet. I know … I really wanted to post a complaint to the BBB. Instead, I tweeted my post to the national and local offices. I know they saw the post (I could see from the blog stats that the local Richmond, VA BBB clicked the tweet and read the post), but I got no response. No response? I guess they don’t care. :(

    • I don’t know if every Better Business Bureau office is doing it … I only know that the Richmond, VA branch is, as I have heard from a couple other small businesses in our area that received the vague, stern phone call and had the same reaction that I did.

      • Thank you for posting this blog post. We got one out here in California (Bay Area) today from ARIZONA (602) area code and your blog post made us feel better. Seem to recall getting one years ago as well from Chicago. Sad that an organization that was once revered for being a real customer advocate is acting shady (and even then they can’t enforce complaints).

        • It really is unfortunate. If you can’t rely on the Better Business Bureau to behave within its own standards of ethic … then who can you rely on? I was hopeful this was just coming from a rogue Virginia bureau, but I’ve heard from a few others, including you, that Virginia’s not the only one. :(

  3. I don’t know if every Better Business Bureau office is doing it … I only know that the Richmond, VA branch is, as I have heard from a couple other small businesses in our area that received the vague, stern phone call and had the same reaction that I did. I hoped the BBB was better than that, just like you…

    • We got one out here in California (Bay Area) today from ARIZONA (602) area code. Seem to recall getting one years ago as well from Chicago. Sad that an organization that was once revered for being a real customer advocate is a sellout to profit. Better to save the $ and join Diamond Certified.

  4. Got the same one in Chicago and since this post has been going on for over a year now – I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. The fact that there are so many google posts about not just the real BBB doing this, but their name being used as a scam as well I would prefer that the BBB stop the practice of cold calling and instead put that money into advertising the benefits of accreditation instead.

    • Thanks for commenting … I think it’s helpful for all of us to know that these are not isolated incidents. I did contact the national BBB and the local Richmond, VA office where the call originated from. It’s been more than a year and, not surprisingly, I haven’t heard anything back from them.

      I think your solution is a good one … of all places, the Better Business Bureau ought to know the pitfalls of cold calling. Unless they just don’t care.

  5. I got another one of their calls Friday. I get one seemingly every month. I have asked repeatedly to be placed on a do not call list, They told me that was impossible. I’m a cpa and many of my clients use my address/phone number as a contact with the taxing authorities. They buy lists to call for marketing purposes. Annoying!!

    • That’s what’s so infuriating. It’s interesting that your caller said that it was “impossible” to take you off the list. I think the BBB might be a 501(c)3 nonprofit (although I’m not sure about that) and so, technically, they can make marketing calls and are not subject to the FTC’s “Do Not Call” list. But, still … impossible? Of course not! (And, to their credit, the BBB in Richmond, VA said they would take me off — let’s see if it holds).

      If/When they call again, please read them this statement from their own BBB Code of Business Practices: Honor Customer Preferences
      Businesses agree to respect customer preferences regarding contact by telephone, fax and e-mail, and agree to remedy the underlying cause of any failure to do so.

  6. Yep. I am a new business owner and recieved the very call today. I literally dropped what I was doing (working) and went immediately to return the call, thinking “geez I hope everything is ok!” And, yes spent 10 minutes (when I have two of my guys waiting on me with tools in hand) talking with the gal, to realize that she’s trying to sell me this accreditation. I was a little upset, but said I’d call back to make the payment later as I was on a jobsite and withought payment means at the moment. Really I wanted time to investigate all of this. I don’t see this benefiting my business for now and don’t have $450 working capital to just through out there for no return. Besides, if they are going to resort to shady practices to make sales, then comsumers illusions of BBB as a trusted source for business rankings is going to dissipate and thus ensure even less of a worthy investment. I’m good. Thanks for all your work here. I’ll be holding off on coughing up the 450.

  7. Thank you for this post! I am also a Massage Therapist and wearing many “Hats” as well lol. My first thought was, after hearing the voicemail was “oh, maybe that’s why a client didn’t come back” etc.. I know I do great work (hey, flaunt it if you got it, right? Haha). I got it right after posting a picture of a local award I received for “Best Therapuetic Massage Office” in my area so I thought maybe it flagged them to call somehow lol. I am very busy, never mind with the office but having an exhausted wife and baby at home, I don’t have time for anyone’s crap, let alone someone tricking me into questioning my business. So thank you for your post, I will get and do as you did. For now they go on my block list lol.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Matthew. It’s so frustrating that this situation with the Better Business Bureau continues and seems pretty widespread. It annoys me that they seem to have no idea how a cold call to a small business can disrupt a businesses ability to get their work done. Shouldn’t they “get” that?

      If they call you again, please remind them of their own “Personal Business Practices” and ask the caller why they don’t follow their own best practices code. Here’s the language from their own code: “Make known all material facts in both written and verbal representations, remembering that misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring relevant facts.”

      Here’s hoping the call block does the trick for you!

  8. I work for a third-party support team so we often voicemails get directed to us. We aren’t directly affiliated with companies we support other than we have back-end access to help with tech issues.

    A lady named Claire left a vague voicemail like you described. When I called back, she was incredibly rude and demanding when I didn’t have “the person to talk to” (I was on phone support for a huge company….). She also had terrible listening skills and got impatient when she assumed I wasn’t giving her the right information (I was going above and beyond for her. I worked in sales previously and would have been grateful not to have been hung up on within the first 5 seconds.)

    Anyway, I can’t believe a company called “The Better Business Bureau” has people like this representing them. Super odd.

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