Weird Al - he is Handy, but he’s not BBB Accredited!

BBB’s Checklist for Buying a New Car

Do the Legwork Before Visiting the Showroom to Save Money and Avoid Stress

A new vehicle is one of the most important big ticket items on a consumer’s shopping list, and Better Business Bureau says preparation can reduce the stress associated with financing and searching for the perfect car, truck or motorcycle.

There are many available choices and factors to take into account, and much of the legwork can be done before heading out to the showroom.

Here are some things you’ll want to take into consideration if you’re in the market for a new vehicle:

  • Determine your budget - This sounds straightforward, but there’s more to budgeting a new car purchase than just the monthly payment itself.  How good is the vehicle’s fuel efficiency?  Remember that your results may vary from EPA mileage estimates.  The website FuelEconomy.gov is a good resource for ‘real-world’ mileage data reported by car owners.
  • How much will insurance cost on the vehicle?  Contact your insurance agent for quotes on various models you may be considering.  How much will maintenance and repairs cost?   Online business reviews can give you a sense of which models are more expensive to repair. When considering monthly payments, use online calculators to see how different rates, down payments and loan terms can impact your payment.
  • Look at the big picture - Don’t become so focused on the monthly payment that you lose sight of the purchase price or total cost over the term of the loan.  Extending a loan from 60 months to 72 months for lower payments can translate into additional thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
  • Explore financing options - Visit your local credit union or bank to see what interest rate they can offer, and consider getting pre-approved for a loan.  Having this information (or an offer) in hand will allow you to decide whether dealer financing is the best option for you, and gives the dealer a ‘target’ to match or beat.
  • Comparison shop online - You can get a price quote on a vehicle from most dealerships in a matter of hours, and then compare competing offers.  Websites such as Edmunds.com provide free information on what you can expect to pay for a particular model in your region, and can help you determine the value of your trade-in. 
  • Look for rebates - Many rebates are available, but some carry eligibility requirements that should be disclosed in advertising, such as loyalty bonuses, active duty military, trade-in bonuses, etc.  Make sure you understand these qualifications to avoid disappointment.
  • Understand leasing options - If you decide to lease a vehicle, make sure you’re clear on the terms of the lease, and the pros and cons as opposed to purchasing.  Leasing can mean driving a nicer car at a lower monthly payment than might be possible with a purchase, but if you drive more than about 12,000 miles a year or are concerned about “excess wear and tear” charges, leasing may not be the best option.
  • What’s the bottom line?  When looking at the price of a vehicle, remember that you will also pay fees for documentation, title and registration, along with applicable sales tax.

Visit bbb.org to obtain reports on individual dealerships to look for any pattern of complaints and how they responded to them. 

Online Reputation Management Starts with Good Customer Service

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Your company may be doing the very best it can to provide a good product or stellar service but you could still end up with a disgruntled customer. BBB understands businesses aren’t able to make every customer or client happy. If you are in business, you are inevitably going to have a negative online review, a bad tweet or post in social media, or a BBB complaint. While it’s not possible to completely avoid these situations, it is possible to enhance a customer’s experience which can lower the chances of getting a negative comment and can even turn a dissenter into a fan.

According to a recent survey – the Customer-Rage Study, conducted by the University of Arizona’s W. P. Carey School of Business (www.go.bbb.org/1oxQleZ), consumers are still careful with their dollars post-recession and more aware of the type of customer service they receive when they do spend them. The ‘rage’ survey reported states badly-handled customer service is worse than no customer service at all.

People who receive poor customer service after a problem become 12 percent less brand loyal than if they didn’t bother to complain at all. So it would stand to reason that when a company receives a complaint or less than friendly review, a business owner, large or small, would want to ensure the situation is handled in the best manner possible.

The study also found that when companies added free remedies, even as small as an apology, to any other monetary relief they gave customers, satisfaction doubled from 37 to 74 percent. Sometimes customers need someone to just hear them, the trouble they are having and simply would like an apology from the business while the issue is resolved.

Acknowledging your customer’s complaint, apologizing and responding quickly with a quick, fair resolution, just might result in the customer telling others about the wonderful customer service at your company. And when it occurs online, you can get the good will of others who see how professionally you handled the situation.

Getting a complaint or a bad review isn’t the end of the world, and it can actually become an opportunity to show the customer and others how your company values their input. Business owners should take a moment to review their customer service policies and practices and make sure their employees are capable of keeping new and existing clients satisfied. Sometimes the apology is more valuable than the money invested for the refund. 

Learn more about protecting your online reputation by attending the BBB Event: Manage Your Online Reputation on June 18, 2014 from 8 am - 10 am in Southfield. More details and registration can be found here.

Memorial Day Reminder: How to Properly Display the American Flag

There can be confusion and questions about how to properly wear and display the American flag, especially around the summer holidays of Memorial Day and July 4th when many people want to display a flag.

Here is what the law says about using the American flag properly (PDF):

  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat.

Read more rules and regulations that govern flag display (PDF).

Better Business Bureau Remains Relevant for Health Club Operators

(this is a reprint from an article in Club Industry Magazine: http://clubindustry.com/operations/better-business-bureau-remains-relevant-health-club-operators?page=1) 

As United States industry goes, health clubs certainly see their fair share of disgruntled customers. At a time when venting frustrations to a worldwide audience takes no time at all on social media sites, do longstanding reputation handlers such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) still matter to health club owners?

In a word, yes. Upper management and owners at clubs of all sizes say their BBB rating is still relevant even though many do not participate in the nonprofit’s accreditation program.

The BBB, founded in 1912, is focused on improving marketplace trust. It offers more than four million free online reviews on all types of businesses, and in 2012, its website was one of the 300 most-visited websites in the country. The BBB offers thorough and current information on many health clubs, but a handful of club owners contacted for this story say they suspect Millennial gym-goers often forget—or do not even know—about the agency, preferring Twitter, Yelp and Facebook to voice frustrations and read reviews.

Other club operators, however, say the BBB is more impartial and has a more objective view of a company “as opposed to the subjective, knee-jerk reactions that are often seen on Yelp and TripAdvisor,” says Fred Hoffman, owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services and author of ”Going Global: An Expert’s Guide to Working Abroad in the International Fitness Industry.”

Hoffman, who lives in Paris, assisted Club Industry with this story by asking several of his U.S. contacts how they feel about the BBB. Some respondents liked that the BBB has a rating system based on a fitness club’s history of customer service performance rather than one or two instances of complaints that stick out on social media.

Accreditation vs. Non-Accreditation

Fortunately for fitness club members, the BBB reports on businesses regardless of whether they are accredited. A business must apply to become accredited and show, among other things, a commitment to resolving consumer complaints. Businesses pay to become accredited based on the number of their employees. One to three employees costs about $490 per year. Clubs with more than 500 employees can pay as much as $3,000 annually.

"We hold our accredited businesses to a higher standard," says Dan Hendrickson, BBB spokesperson who works in the Minnesota and North Dakota branch office. Hendrickson adds that "there’s no pay for play" and accreditation has no bearing on your rating, despite some suspicions to the contrary. Failure to respond to customer complaints lodged on the website means a club could lose its accreditation.

The BBB advocates for health club consumers each year by sending out a press release in January—the most popular month to begin a gym membership.

"We encourage them to do the legwork that will prevent complaints," Hendrickson says.

Julie Schuh, who works in member relations at Life Time Fitness’ corporate office in Chanhassen, MN, is tasked with responding to all BBB complaints against the club—about 10 per week, she says, including executive complaints such as letters to the CEO or COO. As of April, the company held a B rating with the agency.

"Our goal is to make sure we respond in four to five business days when the expectation is 10," Schuh says. "I know that helps our overall score. We are always between an A-minus and a B."

Although businesses are not obligated to become BBB accredited, the agency over the years has received some pushback from outlets who say businesses that pay the BBB receive better ratings. However, a review of the BBB website shows some health clubs, such as Life Time Fitness, are not accredited and still maintain a high rating.

Life Time has chosen not to become BBB accredited because Schuh says it already receives plenty of support from its BBB rep.

"He brings any of our big complaints right to the surface," Schuh says, adding that the BBB is always asking how it can help Life Time improve its member experience. Since no one wants a poor rating, the BBB also acts indirectly in a consumer advocacy role.

"If I have a question, I can pick up the phone and give Ryan a call," Schuh says. "He can tell me how we’re doing with closed cases and open cases."

Schuh’s diligence seems to be working. Factors that keep Life Time Fitness’ rating high, the site says, include length of time that the company has been operating and its response to 550 complaints.

Not every business is eligible to become accredited. Clubs in business for less than a year may have a tough time becoming accredited unless the owner has a history in the industry, Hendrickson says. If a non-accredited health club has lower than a B rating, the BBB will not contact them for accreditation. (Clubs do not lose their money if they try to be accredited and fail. There also is an appeal process.)

Planet Fitness, Newington, NH, is not BBB accredited but holds an A rating. McCall Gosselin, director of public relations for Planet Fitness, did not comment directly on the company’s involvement with the BBB, but she did say the company takes “all feedback seriously, whether it’s in the form of local Better Business Bureau ratings, consumer feedback in the clubs, on sites like Yelp or via our social media channels.”  

She adds, “We frequently ask members for their feedback and are always looking for ways to continue to exceed our members’ expectations.”

Gosselin says Planet Fitness engages with its members on Facebook and Twitter nearly every day.

"It’s a great way for us to get real-time comments and feedback from our members, and we have a dedicated team in place to respond to as many comments as possible, positive or constructive," she says.

But online responses may not be enough.

"We are here for both the business and the customer," Hendrickson says. "That’s great that they take care of their customers on Facebook, but many customers do care about the BBB."

New to clubs’ BBB pages in 2014 are customer reviews. This addition allows the BBB to balance its reputation as an outlet for complaints with positive customer input, Hendrickson says. (As of late April, Life Time Fitness had only one customer review on its BBB page.)

24 Hour Fitness, San Ramon, CA, which has been a BBB-accredited business since April 2010 and holds an A+ rating with the agency, declined comment for this story. However, the company has a high rating, the BBB site says, because of its length of time in business, number of complaints filed compared with the size of its business, and response and/or resolution of more than 750 complaints filed against it. (BBB ratings are based on 16 factors, and time in business comes in at No. 2 behind type of business.)

Nonprofits such as the YMCA also are rated by the BBB. The YMCA, which has approximately 2,600 locations throughout the United States, has met the agency’s 20 standards for charity accountability. Consumers can file complaints against the YMCA just as they can against any other fitness facility. Re-evaluated for approval every two years, the Y’s last accreditation was August 2013. The BBB offers free reports on its assets, income and use of funds.

SIDEBAR: Responses about the Better Business Bureau

Fred Hoffman, owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services and author of ”Going Global: An Expert’s Guide to Working Abroad in the International Fitness Industry,” assisted Club Industry with this story by asking several club operators how they felt about the Better Business Bureau. Here are some of their responses:

• One person replied that with social media—as opposed to the BBB—club owners have the ability for rebuttal and/or a needed conversation in a timelier manner.

• A few respondents said that the BBB and social media are both relevant in today’s market for fitness clubs but for different reasons. The BBB, they said, is used more by people who felt slighted monetarily and want restitution, whereas social media is used more for satisfaction ratings.

• One person said people might look to the BBB for ratings of smaller clubs but not necessarily for larger clubs or a chain or the YMCA, since most are already aware of their offerings and reputation.

• Another person said that if someone wanted to check out a fitness club, they would go to the BBB first for relevant information but only after consulting the club’s website, Google, Yelp and the club’s Facebook page to look for good and bad comments. She stressed this is why the club’s social media pages are monitored closely by club marketing staff, aiming for real-time interaction with customers.

Extended Warranties - Tips from the BBB

If you are planning to buy a new automobile, home appliance or electronic device, chances are the company will offer to sell you an extended warranty. An extended warranty is intended to protect you if the product breaks after the original warranty expires.

There are two basic kinds of extended warranties:

  1. The manufacturer of the product extends the original warranty for an extra charge.
  2. A warranty firm provides third party extended warranty coverage for future repair costs. It is important to note that if you purchase a third party extended warranty and the company goes out of business your warranty may no longer be valid.

When purchasing an extended warranty contemplate the following:

  1. Who is providing the extended warranty? Is it the seller, manufacturer, or a third party?
  2. What are the terms of the extended warranty? Is it simply an extension of the manufacturer’s original warranty or are there any further limitations and/or restrictions?
  3. Consider that you are prepaying for repair services which do not take effect until after the original warranty expires, which is essentially years from now. Recognize the likelihood of utilizing the repair services, the length of time you intend to keep the item, and the value of the item at that time.

New Vehicles

If you are purchasing a new vehicle, you may be asked if you are interested in purchasing an extended warranty. The length of the extended warranty will vary, depending on your needs, from one year up to 7 years in the future. Speak to your dealer and find out which type would be more beneficial to you:

  • Bumper to Bumper
  • Powertrain Coverage
  • Component Coverage

Usually MANUFACTURERS’S WARRANTIES are transferable to the new owner, should you decide to sell your vehicle before the warranty expires.

Electronics

When purchasing an electronic device you need to ask specific questions to determine what type of warranty would be best suited to your personal or business needs. For example, when buying a new computer, most manufacturers offer a full replacement of the product. Like all warranties, it is important to read and understand the fine print including the limitations. So make sure to test your product(s) as soon as possible. Most products carry a full warranty on DOA (dead on arrival) for up to 30 days. For computers, it is a good idea to do what is called a “burn-in” on your machine when you bring it home; which entails leaving your computer on for up to 3 days. This burn-in process should terminate any substandard or heavily worn parts while the warranty is still valid. It is always wise to verify and obtain written assurance that a store offers a warranty on a product before making the purchase. Inquire how warranty repairs are to be undertaken. For example, is it:

  • On Site Service, whereby a repair person comes to your home or business to do the necessary repairs
  • Complete coverage on the parts and labour, or limited coverage on parts and labour or parts only coverage

Manufacturer’s warranties vary according to the product. You should ask specific questions regarding the above services. So-called “white” brands such as washer/dryers, fridges and stoves usually carry extended warranties with on-site service. “Brown” brands such as televisions, computers, printers, fax machines, stereos, VCRs, toasters, irons, cellular phones, etc. are usually covered under DEPOT WARRANTIES, which means that you will have to re-package your product and send it to the nearest depot for repairs. In this case, be prepared to pay for shipping and handling and possibly return postage from the depot. A warranty does not automatically guarantee you will receive a replacement during the time your product is being fixed, which may take several weeks depending on the nature of the repairs.

BBB Top Summer Scams Warning

The dog days of summer are fun for kids, full of good memories for adults, and bursting with opportunities for scammers. Here are some summertime reminders from the BBB to keep you scam-sharp.

  • Beware the vacation/timeshare scam. Prevalent all over the United States, scammers will ply unsuspecting consumers with beautiful pictures of resorts and sunsets, but don’t be fooled. Do all the adequate research before putting any money down on your new timeshare or summer vacation spot. For more information about summer rental/timeshare scams, refer to the BBB Blog.
  • ‘Gone phishin’ for the summer. Though less common in the United States, for those planning to travel abroad: Listen up! With your smart phones out of commission in another country, many of us will search out internet cafés to send emails to family, pay bills & check out Facebook. Do you best to pay all bills before leaving home, and make sure to log off the browser and shut down the computer once you have finished. As added security, consider employing an identity protection service while out of town. They will proactively monitor accounts and send alerts if anything strange occurs.
  • They’ve got mail. Your mail, to be exact. A common way for a con-artist to capture your personal information is to wait for you to go out of town, and then steal your bills and statements from your mailbox. Luckily there are a few easy fixes if you want to ward off the bad guys, either ask a friend to come by and pick up your mail while you’re away, put a temporary stop on your mail while you’re out of town or invest in a mailbox that you can lock.
  • Be wary of Door-to-Door salesmen. They pop up in your neighborhood as soon as the temperatures rise. Whether they are peddling magazines, cheap home repairs or landscaping, BBB advises consumer to be cautious in hiring door-to-door salesmen who use high-pressure tactics and cannot prove they are licensed with the state. For more information about how to identify a trustworthy contractor, visit the BBB Blog.

Now that you’ve got the details on the summer’s most popular scams, you can do a cannonball right into summer. For more information about scams and BBB Accredited Businesses, visit www.bbb.org/detroit. 

Beware of Summer Job Scams

Summer break for many college and high school students is right around the corner. It is during this time that students begin their search for summer employment and temporary work.

BBB is warning students to do their research before accepting the ideal sounding job and to be aware of these tip offs that an “employment opportunity” might actually be a scam:

  • Watch out for jobs that promise to pay a lot of money for work that doesn’t require much effort or skill. Big bucks for simple tasks may sound ideal, but it could also end up being too good to be true!
  • If you are offered a job out of the blue without completing an application or attending an interview, it is probably a scam. Do not provide any personal or financial information to such people because it can lead to identity theft.
  • Consider it a red flag if the “employer” refuses to provide you with details of the job in writing. Ask for complete information in writing and make sure you understand all terms of the agreement, especially payment terms.
  • Be cautious if the company’s contact information is missing or doesn’t make sense. Ask and verify the company’s physical location and that a real street address is being provided. A cell phone number and website are not enough contact information.

Don’t forget to also check out a potential employer’s BBB business review to see if the company has a positive BBB rating. Though BBB does not process workplace disputes as complaints, victims do complain to BBB about work-at-home scams. Visit www.bbb.org for more information.

Memorial Day Scams Target Military, Families, Supporters

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who serve and remember those who have died in war. But sadly, it has also become a key opportunity for scammers to target those who are serving or have served their nation, especially elderly veterans. BBB is urging consumers and donors to be on the lookout for deals that seem too good to be true, and for disreputable charities.

“The unique lifestyle of our service members makes them prime targets for scammers,” notes Brenda Linnington, Director of BBB Military Line.  “It’s imperative that we educate our service members and ensure that the support we give to them equals the effort they make every day on behalf of us.” Linnington said scams can include those that target service personnel and their families directly, but also those that appear to be helping military members via charities.

“Donors need to watch out for questionable charities that raise funds on behalf of military organizations,” adds Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “When you make a donation, always check www.give.org to see that the group meets BBB charity standards, especially around Memorial Day.  Too many solicitors that fail to meet BBB standards call and say they  help  veterans, service members or their families, and little of the money donated will serve that purpose.”

Among the scams to watch out for:

  • Posing as the Veterans Administration and contacting veterans to say they need to update their credit card, bank or other financial records with the VA
  • Charging service members for services they could get for free or less expensively elsewhere, such as military records;
  • Fraudulent investment schemes that convince veterans to transfer their assets into an irrevocable trust;
  • Offering “instant approval” military loans (“no credit check,” “all ranks approved”) that can have high interest rates and hidden fees;
  • Advertising housing online with military discounts and incentives, and then bilking service personnel out of the security deposit;
  • Trying to sell things like security systems to spouses of deployed military personnel by saying the service member ordered it to protect his or her family;
  • Selling stolen vehicles at low prices by claiming to be soldiers who need to sell fast because they’ve been deployed;
  • Posing as government contractors recruiting veterans and then asking for a copy of the job applicants’ passport (which contains a lot of personal information);
  • Posing on online dating services as a lonely service member in a remote part of Iraq or Afghanistan, and then asking for money to be wired to a third party for some emergency.

BBB advises service members, veterans and all consumers never to give personal identification information (Social Security, bank account, military identification or credit card numbers, etc.) to anyone who contacts you by phone or e-mail, and to be wary of any solicitations that involve purchasing something or transferring money. Consumers can check out businesses and charities for free at www.bbb.org/detroit. 

For more information, visit www.bbb.org/us/military-line

BBB Offers 6 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

Many Factors Impact this Important 3-Digit Number

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A credit score is probably the most important number that we carry through life, and Better Business Bureau says there are several ways to maintain and improve it.

The credit score system, developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation, is commonly referred to as a FICO score.  The score is a number between 300 and 850 that helps lenders calculate an individual’s credit-worthiness and risk.  A FICO score below 560 is considered to be poor, and above 760 is rated as excellent.

It is the result of analyses of consumers’ credit histories and existing habits, and can determine whether you qualify for a credit card, a new car, student loan, mortgage, or business loan, and what your interest rate will be.

FICO weighs several elements in determining individuals’ credit scores:

Payment History…………….35%
The first thing any lender wants to know is whether pay your bills on time.  This is one of the most important factors in a FICO Score.

Amount owed ………………..30%
Having credit accounts and owing money on them does not necessarily mean you are a high-risk borrower.  However, if your debt load takes up a high percentage of your available credit, it may reflect an inability to properly pay off lines of credit.

Length of credit history….15%
In general, a longer credit history will increase your FICO Score.  However, even people who haven’t been using credit long may have a high FICO score, depending on how the rest of the credit report looks.

Types of credit………………..10%
The score will consider your mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans.

New credit……………………….10%
Research shows that opening several credit accounts in a short period of time represents a greater risk – especially for people who don’t have a long credit history.

Consumers should understand the difference between a credit score and a credit report.

A credit report shows a consumer’s credit history, including how much credit they have available, how much of that they have used and any pattern of late or missed payments.  These reports are maintained by the credit reporting agencies Equifax, TransUnion and Experian and available free of charge every 12 months.  On the other hand, consumers are not entitled to have free access to their credit score, which generally costs around $20.  Nonetheless, some credit card issuers are attracting customers by offering to allow them to check their credit score without charge every month.

Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to improve or maintain a good credit score:

Establish credit – A good credit history is essential.  If you don’t have any credit cards, you might consider opening an account, using it sparingly and paying it off at the end of the month.  Someone with no credit cards tends to be regarded as higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly.

Visit AnnualCreditReport.com – Consumers are entitled to one free report from each of the three companies, from the government-sanctioned website annualcreditreport.com.  It is vital to check these reports for inaccuracies, and dispute any errors.  Checking your credit reports does not affect your score.

Pay off debt rather than move it around – Debt is debt, and shuffling it around from one line of credit to a new one can be a problem.  Opening an additional credit line to do this can weigh down a credit score.

Pay off highest balances first – Though you may be tempted to pay off smaller balances first, paying down a large balance on a particular line of credit may raise your score, because it represents the freeing-up of a larger portion of your available credit.

Don’t hide – If you are over your head in debt, contact your creditors.  If you can start managing your credit and paying on time, your score should increase over time. Seeking assistance from a credit counseling service will not hurt your FICO score.

Set up bill pay reminders – Being late or missing payments tells lenders that you are not reliable with money.  Consumers can set up a reminder of upcoming payments or automated payment through a financial institution, for utilities, credit cards and other payments.

Having a lot of available credit is less important to lenders than how much of it you use, and whether you pay your bills on time.

You will find additional tips on managing your credit at through Better Business Bureau’s Managing Credit-Made Simpler.

- See more at: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2014/05/bbb-offers-6-tips-to-improve-your-credit-score/#sthash.qa2Mndlr.dpuf