Consumers Need to Abide by Code of Ethics Too

June 01, 2009

Better Business Bureau works to build trust between customers and businesses.  That’s why we exist.  And, that’s why I’m troubled by what we’re hearing from several businesses in our community and others across the country. 

Case in point:  A customer calls a business for a 2:30 a.m. emergency repair.  The technician arrives, installs parts that are in stock on the service truck, completes the work, and leaves.  The business sends a bill to the customer who refuses to pay for the parts and the extra fee for a night-time service call because they found the parts cheaper on eBay.

The business owner in this case has a long-standing reputation for operating with integrity and fairness. He said this type of customer behavior is no longer unique; and the types of complaints we’re seeing at BBB back this claim. Quite frankly, it’s disturbing. 

Trust is a two-way street.  It requires that businesses, particularly those that are BBB Accredited, uphold standards of advertising honestly; telling the truth; being transparent; honoring promises; being responsive; safeguarding privacy and acting with integrity. Building trust means the business adheres to those standards in good times and bad; when the customer is watching and when the customer isn’t watching. This is self-regulation at its best.

But this only works if customers adhere to similar standards.  When someone goes out of the way to take advantage of a company, it costs us all. That’s why I offer the BBB Customer Code of Ethics:

Know your rights and responsibilities, comparison shop, read contracts, and ask questions before buying. If you don’t take the time to do some pre-purchase research you are only setting yourself up for disappointment – and the fault is your own. The fact is, if you sign a contract without reading it and then file a complaint to get out of it, there’s little to nothing BBB can do for you. The same stands for comparison shopping – if you file a complaint because the new stove you bought turns out to be $100 less at a different retailer, that misstep falls on you -  not on BBB and certainly not on the business.

Don’t return used goods under the pretense that they are damaged if they are not. This is theft, plain and simple. Businesses offer return policies in good faith. The business cannot resell an opened, used product.  They are forced to dump it at a fraction of the original asking price. Abusing a return policy costs all of us.

Show the same level of honesty you expect from a business.  There’s a reason the golden rule works. If a sales clerk makes a mistake in your favor, point it out as quickly as you would a mistake in the company's favor.

Live up to your obligations. Enter into agreements in good faith, and pay your bills when they are due. If you can’t, inform the merchant and explain why. Don’t blame the business for something you know isn’t their fault just to get something for free. Again, this costs us all.

Recognize that store employees are individuals. Treat them as you wish to be treated.

Don’t make unreasonable demands. Respect the firm’s right to limit services and products offered. Don’t expect to get something for nothing. Turn to your BBB for assistance with a marketplace dispute only if you’ve tried to resolve it directly with the company and that effort failed.

The sensible consumer will know a 2:30 a.m. service call will be more expensive than a scheduled mid-day appointment.  The educated consumer will understand there are costs associated with keeping a supply of parts on a service truck and comparing that cost with an eBay listing is not fair.  An honest buyer acting with integrity won’t change the rules during the middle of a transaction in an attempt to get something for nothing.

It’s up to all of us to do our part to help trustworthy companies stay in business now more than ever.