Monday, August 18, 2014

Business Directory Scammers - They Don’t ALL Get Away with It

For years, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been warning businesses about yellow page directory scammers. You know the type; they send you an invoice for a directory listing they claimed you ordered, but never did. When you resist, they claim to have an audio recording of someone at your company agreeing to the listing. Actually, they have proof that the answer was “yes”, although we don’t really know what the question was.

If you don’t pay, they threaten to send you to collections. Unfortunately, fearing a black mark on their credit reports, some small businesses, churches, nonprofits and local government agencies paid, and were bilked out of millions of dollars, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The bad news is that it’s difficult to stop these scammers, mostly because they operate outside of the United States. The good news, however, is that the FTC – along with help from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – just shut down three of these scam companies that were based in Montreal. It may be the tip of the iceberg, but it’s definitely a good start.

The best way to protect your company from these directory scams is to:

  1. Educate employees about the scam
  2. Set up systems to weed out bogus bills
  3. Use free BBB resources and bbb.org to check out questionable companies
  4. Report the scams and file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov, so that law enforcers can stay ahead of the curve.


For more information about this recent FTC action, click here. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Hire a Collection Agency

At BBB, we’re often warning consumers to be wary of overly aggressive, disreputable collection agencies. There’s a reason for that – debt collection agencies are one of the most complained about industries to the BBB. In fact, in 2013, the BBB received almost 21,000 complaints against debt collectors – 334 were from Wisconsinites.

But, we shouldn’t reserve our warnings just for consumers. Businesses need to be wary of hiring disreputable collection agencies, too. After all, a bad debt collector can do some serious damage to your company’s reputation. Your collection agency should represent your organization in a responsible and professional manner, and provide a satisfactory rate of recovery while maintaining your public image. 

Here are four tips to hiring a reputable collection agency:


Do your research
Of course, you’ll want to check out the company with the BBB. A company that’s accredited by the BBB has a track record of being a reputable company and abides by our Code of Business Practices. Also, the collection agency should be experienced in your specific industry.

Verify the Agency’s Legitimacy
Collection agencies are required to be licensed by Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions. Make sure the ones you want to hire are bonded, licensed and adhere to the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. They should also be properly insured, in case the debtor sues. You want to make sure that you won’t be held liable for hiring the agency.

Ask about the collection process
If you hire a collection agency, its training and collection procedures should be an open book. How will your customers be contacted, how often, and in what manner? Will the company provide you with regular reports on its activity?  Does the company screen and perform background checks on potential new employees?

Compare Fees and Costs

Make sure the company’s fee structure is clear and in writing. Is it a flat fee or a percentage of what it collects? Are there any other fees or related costs?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Common Business Scams

Better Business Bureau® (BBB) hears regularly from businesses about various scams. 
 
BBB reminds businesses to protect themselves by learning what to look out for.  Often, it’s only a matter of identifying suspicious situations and asking the right questions.
 
Some common business scams include:
 
Phony invoices.  Businesses receive fake invoices demanding payment for product or services never ordered or received.  Sometimes, phony invoices are disguised as solicitations.  Often, if you look closely, you’ll see fine print that identifies the bill as an actual solicitation for business.  Generally, the amount is small enough to not initially raise a red flag. 

Office supply scams.  Businesses may receive an unexpected telephone call first.  Sometimes an advance call is made to find out what brand of supplies or equipment the business uses.  On the return call, the caller claims to represent a reputable company with which the firm often does business.  The caller may state that surplus merchandise is available at a reduced price due to a cancellation or over-order by another purchaser.  Don’t be fooled.

Directory Scams.  A problem that has plagued businesses for decades involves deceptive sales for directories.  Commonly, the scammer will call the business claiming they want to update the company’s information for an online directory or the scammer might erroneously state he is with the Yellow Pages.  The business is later billed hundreds of dollars for listing services they didn’t agree to or for ads they thought would be displayed in the Yellow Pages telephone book.

Stolen identity.  Here, scammers pretend to be a legitimate company for the purposes of ripping off consumers.  When it comes to stolen identity, the company doesn’t necessarily lose money, but their reputation is potentially tarnished as angry customers who were ripped off by the scammers think the real company is responsible.  They may set up a fake website and “hijack” your company address.

Business opportunities.  Many small business owners are approached to invest in other business opportunities.  Promoters may even claim that the venture will increase customer traffic flow into the current business or that little effort is required to collect high profits.  Before jumping into business collaboration, make sure you know the value of the product and its true costs.  Always make sure to check out the business at bbb.org

Charity pitches.  Most businesses are regularly asked to donate funds to needy causes, from requests to support the neighborhood’s latest fundraising project to appeals for sizeable charitable contributions.  While many requests are legitimate, every year small businesses become victims of fraudulent or deceptive charitable solicitation schemes.  Make sure to check out the charity at give.org

Coupon books.  Small business operators are often approached to participate in coupon book promotions.  The business offers discounts or extras in the coupon books that are sold by promoters to consumers.  Problems occur if the promoters change the terms of the coupons to make them more attractive to buyers, when the books are oversold or when books are primarily distributed outside the firm’s normal business area. Make sure the coupon book is being promoted by someone you trust, and that the terms and conditions are clearly spelled out.

Fax back scams.   Businesses will receive an unsolicited fax, usually offering a great deal on a product or a trip.  They often require that you send a fax back or call a toll-free number.  Be careful.  The high costs when you reply are often not disclosed, and you can be charged several dollars if you fax back.

Overpayment scams.  Be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check or credit card and then asks you to wire transfer extra money back to them or to a third party.

BBB offers these tips to help small businesses protect themselves:
  • Keep good records.  Keep documentation of all orders and purchases. This will help you to detect bogus accounts and invoices.
  • Never provide personal information or financial details to anyone over the phone that you don’t know.
  • Make sure that the business billing you is a business you are familiar with and normally do business with.  If not, question it.  Get the name of the person you speak with, the company name, address, phone and website. 
  • Do not give out information about your business to anyone, unless you know what the information will be used for.
  • If solicited for a product, service or donation, always ask for an offer or for further information in writing.  Also, ask for references, so you may verify with other businesses what their experience is and how long they’ve been doing business with the soliciting company.
  • Set clear procedures for the verification, payment and management of all accounts and invoices. Limit the number of employees that are authorized to place orders or pay invoices.
  • Install computer protection software and a firewall.
  • Don’t click on links inside unsolicited e-mails.  They could spread malicious software or viruses.
  • Check a company on bbb.org.  If you feel you have been scammed, report the scam or file a complaint.  Let others in your industry know of the scheme you’ve come across.  
For the latest tips, alerts and scams follow BBB on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Want to Be Successful? Wake Up Insanely Early

This blog post has been repurposed from Fast Company. Click here to view the original post.

There are so many benefits to waking up early, it's hard to ignore. But, actually waking up at the crack of dawn when your other option is sweet, sweet sleep is another thing.

It seems like almost any successful person you can think of starts their morning insanely early: Square CEO Jack Dorsey rises at 5:30 am, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wakes around 5:45 am, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz gets up at 4:30 am. every morning--good thing he has an infinite supply of coffee at his disposal.

Advocates for rising early aren’t suggesting that you can create more time in the day--surely if you rise early you would also go to bed early.

But when you rise before everyone else, it creates a time in the day that no one can force their expectations onto you, says Paul DeJoe, CEO of software company Ecquire. He rises at 4 a.m. every day and says his early-morning routine leaves him better able to appreciate the tasks at hand and think creatively.

Others suggest waking just a half hour earlier than usual to jot down your thoughts and ideas before even getting out of bed. The idea behind this is that in the first moments after waking, your mind is less inhibited and restricting, making it easier to come up with creative ideas.

What you define as “insanely early” is up to you. If you usually wake up at 8 a.m., then perhaps 6 a.m. may seem like an ungodly hour to try and get anything done. Or maybe even a half hour early seems an impossible task.

Do you know someone who gets up insanely early? Let us know below in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Some Businesses are Suffering

This post caught our attention because like many businesses, this restaurant saw an increase of particular complaints in a relatively short period of time. They did some research and found the problem:


Click here to read.


Do you think this could be a similar issue for your business? Comment below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

6 tips on writing clear and understandable contracts

Here at BBB, we hear a lot about contracts. When misunderstood or used incorrectly, they can cause a great deal of conflict between a business and a customer. Customers complain that something promised was not delivered and then are surprised to see that the disputed item or service was not outlined in the contract.  Business owners complain that customers don’t take the time to understand the contracts that they sign.  In the end, confusion over contracts can result in a customer not trusting your business and we know trust is a very big deal when it comes to building your business.  Trusting customers spend more, repeat purchases, buy additional services and products, and refer your business to others.  Non-trusting customers cut back on purchases, use your time and resources by reporting numerous problems, demoralize employees, complain about your business to others, and wind up giving their business to your competitors.

A perfect place to start building trust with a customer is how you write and use your contracts. 

For both your business and the customer, a good contract should:

  • Clearly outline terms of the agreement.
  • Address the extent of obligation by both the seller and the buyer.
  • Cover exact specifications of the goods and services, delivery, and price.
  • Give your customer the confidence that you will do what you promise.

Tips on writing clear and understandable contracts:

  1. Pay attention to the scope of the contract, known as the “Terms and Conditions”.  Have you included everything that’s important to all parties involved?  Can you live with the “worst-case scenario” if all else fails?
  2. Give your customer time to digest the contract. Pressure to sign a contract is not a trust-builder for your business.  Believe that your customer will value this. It might even help for you to explain to your customer that you don’t want to pressure them and are confident that given time they will make a great decision and choose your company.
  3. If you promise it verbally, put it in writing.  Teach your sales reps to be honest and upfront with your customers.  Tell your customers that everything you’ve promised is in the contract so they can trust that you will do it.
  4. Be flexible enough to make changes.  Small changes can be crossed out and initialed.  Bigger changes will require that the contract be re-drafted.  Consider being flexible and working with the customer on his requests.
  5. Leave the wide open spaces for Wyoming.  The BBB advises consumers to never sign a contract with empty space.  Nothing should be filled in after the contract is signed.  Remember, once signed, a contract is a legally binding document.
  6. Don’t let your customer be confused by the 3-day “Cooling Off Rule”.  This law was created to protect consumers from unscrupulous door-to-door sales tactics.  Among other limitation, it only applies if the contract is signed at a place other than your normal place of business.  Many consumers mistakenly believe this rule applies to any signed contract. Reminding them if it does or does not apply can build trust.

Written by Kimberly Hazen, Regional Director for the BBB Serving Wisconsin

Monday, July 21, 2014

9 Awful Ways You Push Customers Away

The content of this blog post has been taken from HubSpot. Click here to view the original blog post.

A customer goes to your website to buy your wonderful product or service. He or she stays there for a while, clicks through the site, and then leaves. Why?  

This is something all businesses, marketers, and operation analysts contemplate daily. 

Here are nine definite possibilities, courtesy of this HubSpot blog post:

1) Poor Showcasing of Merchandise
Leading brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s and Harrods are known to spend small fortunes on window dressing their stores. After all, first impressions are crucial to draw in a potential customer. Similarly, your website is your window to the world. You might have the best products out there, but if you don’t showcase them well, even the most willing customer will get put off.

The Fix:

Aesthetics are important. Keep the site easy on the eye and don’t overwhelm the customer with disorganized merchandising.
Have a lot of variety in SKUs of each product? Showcase them, but in a sane, easy-to-navigate manner. Customers like to see what they’re buying. Use high quality images and allow customers to zoom in to see details.

2) No Trust Building Measures

A user who visits your site for the first time has no clue whether they can trust you, particularly when it comes to payment systems. With major gaffes like Target's security breach, shoppers are extremely wary of where they swipe their credit cards and what information they share with businesses.

The Fix:

A professional-looking website that keeps up with the latest web design trends does wonders for customer confidence. It's an indication to the customer of the level of commitment business owners have toward the ecommerce venture.
Your website probably uses various security services like Verisign, Norton, etc. Online shoppers are subconsciously tuned to recognize these logos on ecommerce sites as a measure of security. Give them what they need, and display logos of your security partners across your site.
Image source: Baymard.com
Additionally, if you have a customer protection program, by all means highlight it. eBay reinforces its buyer protection messaging on the homepage (in some countries), on the product listing pages, during checkout, and on emails sent out to customers to reinforce their confidence in the brand.
Product reviews by existing customers are also a great way of telling a prospective buyer how good a particular product is. Don’t skip including customer reviews in your product page to ensure conversion.

3) Painful Navigation

Imagine walking into a basement filled with old junk. You’d probably spend hours combing through the mess if you had to try and find something. This is exactly what you put your customer through when you don’t have a clear site navigation structure.

The Fix:

Keep it simple. Avoid overwhelming the user with unnecessary pop ups and flashing banners. Spend time and resources on perfecting product groupings and creating logical and easily comprehensible categories, sub categories, variants, color choices, and SKUs.
(You can also put in a prominent search bar on your homepage so that even if your navigation is not the best in the world, a user can still search and find what they're looking for.)

4) Inventory Issues

Let's say you have a customer buying an elusive first edition copy of Batman: Shadow of the Bat on your site. Just as they’re about to complete the transaction, they get a message saying, “Sorry, item not in stock.” They get frustrated and leave your site. Probably for good.
This is an inventory nightmare for any retailer. It could happen because the item got sold on a different platform (maybe a traditional brick and mortar store?) owned by the retailer, it could be because inventory positions are not linked to the checkout process, or could even be a straightforward error on the part of the retailer.

The Fix:

Use technology to your advantage. If you have an offline and an online presence, don’t depend on luck. Manage the inventory between the two using smart tools -- such as Shopify’s online POS system. You can also use inventory as a tool to create urgency. By showing the number of items left for a particular product, you can encourage a customer to buy right away instead of postponing the purchase.
Expedia does a great job of communicating the exact inventory available and motivating the user to buy right away:

When you’re running short on a particular item, cross-sell a similar item that has decent stocks. Cross-sells are a powerful tool that can generate tons of revenue if applied correctly. In fact, according to Amazon, 35% of their sales in 2006, came from cross-selling items.

5) No Guest Checkout

How many different websites have you shopped on to date? Five? Ten? More? And how many login IDs and passwords do you remember for these? A very small handful is my guess.
Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering talks about a client who lost over $300 million dollars a year in sales due to the absence of a guest checkout option.

The Fix:

It’s really simple. Allow guest checkouts.
In the case of first-time customers, guest checkouts avoid diverting them into a new process. For returning customers who may not remember their passwords, they prevent frustration and drop-offs.
In the case study referred to above, Spool and his team found that 40% of returning customers requested password resets. Of these, only 25% actually reset their passwords and of these only 20% completed the purchase. 

6) Long Checkout Process

Most of us dread going to a supermarket or a big box retail store, thanks to the serpentine queues at their checkout counters. So what do we do instead?
Go online, right?
The trouble is, ecommerce businesses sometimes don’t realize how their frustratingly long checkout processes are actually counterproductive and replicate the same problems that traditional retail suffers from.

The Fix:

There are verifiable merits in shortening your checkout process. A study of the top 100 ecommerce sites conducted by Baymard Institute, showed that their checkout process was an average of 5.08 steps long. As the checkout process grows longer, user satisfaction with the purchase process starts to drop.
Ask only for information that is absolutely essential to complete a purchase. Most organizations never use the tons of information they collect from their customers, and customers find it highly annoying to part with irrelevant personal details.
Additionally, autofill entries wherever possible to reduce the overall time taken by the customer to check out. For example, when a customer provides their ZIP code, prefill country and state based on the given information.
Do not ask for the same information twice. If you've already collected the user’s shipping information, ask if you can replicate the same address for billing, instead of creating a new form for billing address and forcing the customer to refill it all over again.
If you do not have a one page checkout process, include a checkout progress indicator prominently in your checkout section to inform the customer exactly how many steps away they are from the purchase.
Finally, add a "Save for Later" option. There is only so much pruning that you can do to a checkout process. For customers in a real hurry, this option will allow them to save the items they want to buy and come back to them later. A good way to use this feature and ensure the customer returns would be to send a follow-up email within 48 hours of the customer creating the saved cart.

7) Hidden Costs

How do you think a customer reacts when the price of their purchase jumps up by 10-15% by the time they reach the end of the checkout page? Not very kindly at all.
Research shows that hidden or unexpected costs are the #1 cause of abandoned shopping carts.
Unless mentioned alongside the price of the product, “hidden costs” in a customer’s book include
  • Convenience fees
  • Shipping & handling costs
  • Taxes
In fact, according to a ComScore studyat least 61% of users are likely to cancel their entire purchase if they eventually find that free shipping is not offered.

The Fix:

Being as upfront as possible about all costs related to a purchase is the safest way to go. Include all additional costs on the product page to avoid any ambiguity. The online travel industry was plagued with bad customer experiences in the past when just base fare used to be displayed at the start, and on entering the checkout process, numerous other fees like fuel surcharge, airline fees, and airport terminal user fees were added on to the original price. This is now changing with bundled fares being displayed at the search stage itself to ensure complete clarity.
Shipping is an unavoidable cost in ecommerce, so if free shipping isn't possible at all times, build in shipping cost calculators so the customer can check the actual cost of shipping before heading to checkout. eBay is a good example, which has been offering a shipping calculator for years on every product page.

8) Limited Payment Options

Imagine a shopper who’s found exactly what she wants, at the right price, at the right time, but not being able to complete the purchase just because her preferred payment mode was not offered by your site.
After doing everything right in terms of attracting the right customer, guiding them through the entire search and checkout process, only to fail at the final step is truly a criminal waste of the marketing resources spent on getting the customer to your site in the first place.

The Fix:

Research by WorldPay shows that alternate payments will account for over half of all payments by 2017. They already account for over 22% of all ecommerce transactions worldwide.
Given these numbers, the only real alternative that any ecommerce business has is to incorporate as many different payment options into their system as possible.
Clear messaging about the various payment types accepted is also equally important to ensure that the customer does not miss the options and move on.

9) No Live Help

Who do you turn to when you’re shopping for a shirt in a department store and can’t find the right size? The sales assistant.
While ecommerce sites are obviously handicapped in terms of providing in-the-flesh guidance to a confused customer, most do provide a call center number or email contact details. Unfortunately, both of those communication modes are time consuming -- it usually takes at least 24 hours to respond to customer queries via email, while call center numbers are notorious for their long wait times, ruining the customer experience.

The Fix:

Offer Live Chat as an option to customers. According to a study by Forrester Research44% of online shoppers considered live chat one of the most important features of ecommerce sites. An eMarketer study shows that most buyers who use live chat -- a whopping 63% -- were likely to return to the site for a repeat purchase.
So these were some of the big ways product marketers and online retailers have been shooing customers off of their sites. Did you recognize anything on this list that you’re guilty of, or any big ones we missed?