Editor's Note: The Editor believes this is a good example of how an association serves the public interest through industry standards. However: This guest blog represents the opinions of the author.
By Linda Bauer Darr, President & CEO, American Moving & Storage Association
For today’s consumer, trust in many cases has become a commodity in short supply. Where can they turn these days for accurate, reliable information about a product or service? For liberals, a big part of the answer has traditionally been government regulation, including restricting false advertising claims. For conservatives, marketplace forces would produce the solution through survival of the “fittest.” For almost everyone, a longstanding arbiter was the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Founded in 1912 to promote truth in advertising, generations of Americans have wielded the organization’s hammer and threatened unscrupulous businessmen with the cry, “I’ll report you to the Better Business Bureau!”
It’s why the businesses we represent, comprising the professional moving and storage industry, decided to include BBB ratings when we established a consumer certification program nearly three years ago. Our members had unfortunately too-frequently been tainted by a small number of con artists (or even criminals) posing as movers. To provide a reliable starting point for consumers shopping for a full-service mover, we created the ProMover program. Our members who pass a seven-point screening process are then authorized to use the ProMover designation as an honest and reliable mover.
But making one of those seven points at least a “satisfactory” or better BBB rating was met with a few raised eyebrows by our members who felt mistreated by their local chapter (the BBB is a “national council” with fairly-independent local offices). Yet others recognized the value of including the ratings of an organization that had credibility with consumers. To help reassure ourselves it was a good decision, we opened a channel of communication with the BBB’s national council and began to explore how we might work more cooperatively to help educate our industry’s customers.
An investigative report by ABC News [November 12, 2010], however, left us doing a bit of head-scratching. A segment on 20/20 revealed that some BBB chapters were engaged in a form of “pay-to-play,” providing excellent ratings in exchange for membership (money). Although the most egregious examples were mostly confined to a chapter in southern California, we realized the negative publicity would at minimum have some of our members saying, “We told you so,” and at most could have consumers suddenly eyeing our ProMover program with skepticism.
The BBB has since admitted mistakes, has apologized and promises to do better; but it’s also left us again asking, “Where can consumers turn to have some assurance they’re getting good advice?” It’s a question that’s even more pressing in light of the mid-term election results earlier this month. New members of Congress carrying the tea party banner are already pressuring Hill leaders to make across-the-board cuts -- which would include the agency with oversight of consumer protection regulations for the moving industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (yes, as a result of a previous federal downsizing, an agency largely responsible for bus and truck safety ended up with consumer protection duties).
But regardless of which party has held the White House and Congress, FMCSA has never been given sufficient resources to properly crack down on the bad movers known as “rogue operators” who carry no insurance or federal registration.
Thankfully for everyone involved, the movers who have become our members are legitimate, ethical businessmen and women, often family-owned and more often than not, small businesses that are part of their communities and often volunteer their services for good causes to give something back. And in almost every case, probably the biggest single reason they joined AMSA was to be a part of a responsible industry interested in providing good and honest services to their customers. After all, a trade association has an extremely strong motivation to protect and improve an industry’s reputation.
Frankly, we’re proud that we recognized that absent very effective government consumer protections, it was our obligation to create the ProMover program. And with new questions about the BBB’s credibility, we’re beginning to believe we’ve apparently been left on our own to help consumers.
So where can they turn? For the moment, at least, industry trade associations may be a very good bet.