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Coleen Smith

It's that time of year when everyone is making New Year's Resolutions for themselves - lose weight, eat healthier, get organized, save money. Businesses could take a page from this tradition. Individuals aren't the only ones who should be trying to better themselves. So what sort of things can a business do to improve itself over 2009? Below are some N E W Y E A R resolutions to consider.

Never succumb to the pressures of some charities. If it's a reputable charity, they'll gladly accept a donation tomorrow or next week. Always check with the BBB before giving to any charity. There are detailed reports on hundreds of national charities at www.give.org. If it is a local charity, ask for a copy of their 501(c)(3), if the money is staying locally and what percentage goes to their cause. The BBB recommends 63 percent of funds raised go back to the programs they support. Remember, most causes are admirable, but some charities are not.

Exceed customer's expectations. Make this the year to truly wow them. Base every aspect of business on honesty, integrity and quality. Make sure every employee from janitor to CEO is trained to view every interaction with a customer as a key step in the marketing process. Always give the customer respect and attention, and above all, answer any complaint by the customer. It costs an average of five times more to bring in a new customer than to keep an existing one. This resolution alone will make the difference between a good company to do business with and a great one.

Writing - get all business agreements in writing. If a company says there doesn't need to be a contract, that should raise a huge red flag. If they're a reputable company, they'll be happy to put things in writing. Make sure the agreement addresses who will make good on any warranty, the timing of the work on the job, and of course, costs. This will save a lot of headaches and possible loss of money in the end.

Yikes, what to do. Businesses can be scammed too. Customers aren't the only ones who can file complaints. Businesses can file complaints against other businesses that have done them wrong. This not only allows the BBB to inform customers about potential bad businesses, but fellow business people as well. A consumer's most powerful weapon is information. If a company's reliability report shows multiple complaints, it warns consumers and businesses as well, about that business's reputation. It's just like the old saying goes - knowledge is power.

Ease the customer's mind - take steps to protect their identity. Identity theft is a huge concern for customers. Don't keep credit card information on file unless it can be secured. Shred all sensitive information. Be mindful that information on a computer can also be "hacked in to". Establish a customer identity policy and let the customers know what it is. This will go a long way to putting their mind at ease.

Accreditation - consider pursuing accreditation with the BBB this year. Being able to use the BBB trust seal in advertising gives a business instant credibility in addition to a leg up on the competition. More than ever, customers are checking with the BBB before doing business with a company. On average the BBB serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana receives 30,000 inquiries a month. That number has increased recently with people being more careful with who they spend their money with. Accreditation assures customers they can trust a company. It is a high standard that all companies should aspire to attain and would be the ultimate New Year's resolution. (For more information on accreditation and to see if your company qualifies, contact Coleen Smith at 439-4369.)

Resolve to deal with reliable businesses. In the end, this will save a lot of time, money and aggravation. The easiest way is to check the BBB website at www.bbb.org. There are reliability reports on thousands of companies. Make sure the business has a permanent address and phone number. A 5-year warranty means nothing if the company can't be located. If they're a contractor, make sure they're insured with liability and workers compensation - and then call the insurance company to double check. One company called to check the day before someone was to do a job and they found out the policy had been cancelled for non-payment. If they're not insured and they get injured on the job, guess who is liable? Not them.

Take advantage of this time of year and make some business New Year's Resolutions. This time next year may find great businesses healthier, wealthier and wiser.

For information on becoming an Accredited Business, contact Coleen Smith at 406-439-4369 or csmith@spokane.bbb.org. To check on a business or to file a complaint visit www.bbb.org or call 800-356-1007.

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