Monday, December 08, 2008

Why I Cancelled My Better Business Bureau Membership

When I first became of a member of the Better Business Bureau, I was under the assumption that it was an organization that I could trust to be fair to both businesses and consumers. My recent experience with a complaint filed against Hewlett-Packard and Staples caused me to rethink my position and cancel my membership.

Complaint Against HP

In a recent blog article, I discussed a problem with a defective HP laptop that I purchased at Staples in October 2008. After 3 weeks, the sound card and network card both failed. Staples refused to exchange the laptop and HP wanted me to send it back for repairs. Their repair and warranty policy was in the box.

It took HP over a week to send me the box to return the laptop and another 3 weeks to make the repairs. While waiting for the return, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

When I received the laptop back, HP failed to even address the network card. The BBB closed the file before the repairs were even complete. When I asked to have the complaint reopened so I could add information about HP's failure to provide a complete repair, I was rudely told by San Jose BBB employee Erin McCool that she felt HP had handled the situation "appropriately." When I asked to speak with Ms. McCool's supervisor, she stated that her supervisor was the CEO and that she was out of town. I have yet to hear any further response from Ms. McCool's supervisor.

It appears that local Better Business Bureau's are actually run like franchises and there are no uniform rules for dealing with consumer complaints. I suppose that explains why HP can maintain a satisfactory rating with the BBB while it has over 2000 open consumer complaints. The San Jose BBB swept my complaint under the rug, so I refiled it with the new information to see how HP will address my complaints.

Complaint Against Staples

I also filed a complaint against Staples with the San Diego Better Business Bureau, which is where I purchased the laptop. The San Diego BBB informed me that all complaints involving Staples are sent to the BBB in Natick, MA. The transfer occurred on November 4, 2006. However, the BBB in Natick, MA has no record of receiving the complaint. The complaint was "retransferred" on November 26, 2008. The Natick office still has no record of my complaint and there has been no response whatsoever from Staples.

Most BBB offices do not allow you to search and review the specific complaints against a business. Instead, it gives the business time to respond. A business can maintain a satisfactory BBB rating without regard to the sufficiency of the response to a consumer complaint. Even businesses that routinely victimize customers can maintain a satisfactory rating if they are "responsive" to a consumer's complaint.

My experience has shown that the BBB complaint process is both burdensome and unreliable. If I cannot have faith in how the BBB handles consumer's complaint, I cannot have faith in the ratings system it uses to rate businesses.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.