During the first three months of 2016, Better Business Bureau (BBB) handled 428 complaints about the sales practices of businesses with a presence in Maryland. This adds up to about one-quarter of all complaints processed during the same time. With the weather heating up, BBB has noticed a spike in complaints related to door-to-door sales.
Sales practice complaints haven’t centered on storied tin men or aluminum siding, but were sparked by sellers of electricity supply. Residents reached out to BBB with questions, concerns and troubling tales about experiences with door-to-door sales representatives. We confirmed that at least five electricity suppliers are actively marketing in Maryland.
According to a recent Towson University graduate, some of the suppliers recently targeted an apartment complex that houses university students. One salesman approached his door with a clipboard bearing a BGE logo. Eventually, the man’s story unraveled and the former Towson student learned he didn’t work for BGE. The representative was trying to get the young tenant to authorize a change to another electricity supplier.
In an email to BBB, another consumer wrote, “A young lady [name redacted] came door-to-door to my neighbors and I claiming that she was from the BBB on behalf of [a major energy supplier]. She said that she was coming to make sure we have received our two refund gift cards …” Upon receipt of her complaint, we confirmed both statements made by the sales representative were false.
Obviously, sales presentations designed to mislead consumers through the use of statements or props are not O.K. As BBB investigated these complaints, we learned that at least four of the five companies hired third-party sales agents. Whether your company uses in-house, third-party or independent sales agents, call centers or other organizations for direct sales, it’s your responsibility to make certain sales presentations are truthful and transparent.
If you don’t already have a Code of Ethics and/or Code of Conduct for sales personnel or independent agents, you should. Training, education and practice can go a long way in ensuring sales presentations are honest and accurate. Developing a robust employee handbook — and making regular updates — is always a good place to start.
Other steps management can take to protect the brand include monitoring live and auditing recorded telephone solicitations, as long as proper legal disclosures are provided at the start of the call. Secret shopping, customer surveys and watching social media are other ways to stay on top of what your sales reps and your customers are saying about you.
And lastly, complaints happen. When businesses and buyers are unable to come to agreement following a transaction, BBB is here to help.
Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. She can be reached at 410-347-3990 and firstname.lastname@example.org.