Business Monday

South Florida’s Better Business Bureau boss

Rod Davis is the new president of the Better Business Bureau for Southeast Florida, and the Caribbean.
Rod Davis is the new president of the Better Business Bureau for Southeast Florida, and the Caribbean. Miami Herald staff

In January, after over 30 years in the agency, Rodney Davis became the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Better Business Bureau of South Florida and the Caribbean.

The main things that motivate him now, Davis, are the same as those at the start of his career: the chance to deal with new challenges daily. And knowing that his work can help a major company solve its problems or help a consumer resolve a complaint.

“The outside perspective of BBB looking at these issues with them can provide a fresh lens to understand the cause and corrections needed,” he said in a recent email.

He’ll put that “fresh lens” to work as he tries to re-focus the agency’s attention to South Florida, and in particular, on the Miami area and on Spanish-speaking consumers. He also intends to see the BBB’s reach in the Caribbean expanded beyond Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Davis moved to Fort Lauderdale from Arlington, Virginia, where he had been senior vice president of marketing, programs and partnership and president of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust at the Council of Better Business Bureaus for about a year. (The South Florida BBB is one of 112 independently incorporated local BBB organizations in the United States and Canada under the council’s umbrella.) In a prior 13-year stint, he was vice president of dispute resolution for the agency, and his skill in this area is a big part of what he brings to his new job.

Davis also has helped the agency foster international ties before: He helped strengthen relationships with Japan, Saudi Arabia and China, among other countries. He was also part of the team building up BBB programs in Mexico.

He has a bachelor’s degree in government with a focus on public administration from the University of Virginia, and at one point, he thought about going to law school. But early on, he found he enjoyed working at the bureau. So he remained with it.

We emailed Davis questions about his plans for revitalizing the bureau — whose South Florida headquarters are in West Palm Beach, with branches in Miami Lakes and Stuart — and about the future of the organization nationwide.

Q: What do you hope to do differently in your tenure than your predecessors?

A: I come into this opportunity with a commitment to grow and expand the the services we provide to consumers and businesses. Technology changes daily and BBB must adapt our programs and services to keep pace with innovation so the content and delivery of information is reaching consumers and helping them find trustworthy businesses while avoiding scams and businesses not committed to a customer focused business model. To be the resource used by consumers, BBB needs to connect with the diverse cultures and communities that make up our service area.

I plan to travel and network more with consumers and business groups throughout Southeast Florida to fully understand what information they seek from us and to deliver our services and programs to them as broadly, effectively and as quickly as possible.

Q: How do you think your past experience has prepared you for this position?

A: For over 30 years, I worked with regulatory groups like the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general on partnerships to resolve marketplace issues and help consumers. I also worked closely with consumer groups and businesses to develop new programs and initiatives that rewarded businesses committed to their customers and encouraged best practices. From that experience, I bring a balanced approach to the work of BBB and considerable expertise into the ways to promote and build trust between consumers and businesses.

Additionally, I served as the lead staff person at the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) on international partnerships. That experience has prepared me to effectively work with different cultures and bring together groups in support of shared goals.

Q: South Florida and Miami have been home to numerous fraudulent activities and scams. How do you hope to combat those issues?

A: Combating frauds and scams is a never-ending focus for consumer groups, regulators, ethical businesses, media and BBB. BBB is a hub uniting the partnership of the willing in fighting scams.

While at the CBBB, I concluded an agreement to supply complaint information to the Federal Trade Commission from BBB that is the largest nongovernmental contributor to their database, Consumer Sentinel. That database is used by law enforcement for investigations that routinely result in actions against groups and individuals behind many of the scams and frauds that take advantage of consumers and businesses.

BBB also trends what is happening in the marketplace and we issue alerts working closely with media partners to inform consumers about emerging scams. Our website, BBB Scam Stopper, gathers information and provides ongoing education to help consumers be informed. So the key to success is to keep consumers and businesses informed so they know how to spot potential scams, trend and release alerts on emerging scams and partner with law enforcement to help bring down the bad players through partnerships like Consumer Sentinel.

We also directly alert law enforcement to concerns we see emerging, and they have been great partners.

Q: What do you think leads to the successes and failures of bureaus across Florida and across the country?

A: Even though BBB is a nonprofit organization, to be successful you have to operate with a business mindset. Like any business, the key to success is listening to your customers, understanding what they want and delivering services that bring them back.

In 2013, this BBB provided over 4.2 million reports to consumers and that number increased to almost 5.2 million last year. We are listening more closely than ever to our customers and constantly upgrading the quality and depth of our content. In the last few years BBB added complaint detail to BBB business reviews to provide more information for consumers so they can better understand each business and more recently, BBB added customer reviews.

Visibility is another key to success. BBB must collaborate with key partners and the media to distribute information and empower consumers so they reward businesses going the extra mile. This creates a cycle reinforcing best business practices that is key for the marketplace and BBB to be successful.

Q: How do you hope to deal with the criticism that the BBB has faced about its ratings and its follow-up on consumer complaints?

A: You have to deal head-on with complaints. Criticism in inevitable when you hold businesses accountable to standards.

BBB is often the organization in the middle of disputes. We try create a shared understanding and resolve disputes, and this is not always an easy place to be. BBB has to communicate more effectively the standards that are built into the ratings (i.e. build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, be transparent, honor promises, be responsive, safe guard privacy and embody integrity). We also need to be willing to talk with detractors and people who are not happy with our services and explain why actions are taken. I also think you overcome criticism with facts.

At the end of 2014, this BBB had over 6,000 businesses with an A+ rating and were not BBB-accredited. We do our best to assist with all businesses, but checking out a BBB business review on a business prior to hiring a business can help reduce negative outcomes for consumers. Looking for the BBB-accredited businesses or at least those businesses that have a good complaint record can help consumers with a dispute find recourse working with BBB.

Q: How do you plan to use your experience from working with the bureau in Mexico in your new position?

A: Seeing the passion of the team seeking to bring BBB to Mexico inspired me to seek out this opportunity. It also reinforced in my mind the need to connect with the local communities served. The connections and connectedness of the BBB Mexico team will help them be successful. I seek to ensure that our BBB offices in Miami, West Palm Beach and Stuart are in the communities and building that same networks and partnerships that will better serve our consumers and businesses.

Of course, the easiest lessons learned is that we need to make certain our information is accessible to all of our consumers and businesses and adapting our presentations and information to various languages is a project we are exploring.

Q: What mistakes do you think the Better Business Bureau has made in its efforts in South Florida, and how do you plan to avoid similar missteps?

A: BBB has the opportunity to become a more integrated part of each of our communities, and this advantage has not been utilized as well as it could have been previously. While most of BBB’s services are provided online and by telephone, one of the key differentiators for BBB is our presence in markets throughout North America. We need to do a better job here in Southeast Florida connecting with our consumers and businesses.

I decided to settle in Fort Lauderdale even though our main office is in West Palm Beach since that location is in the middle of our service area. I will be traveling throughout the area listening and sharing information with consumers, businesses and our partner organizations. Fortunately, I have arrived on time at events so far, but if I am a few minutes late to future meetings, I hope people will understand that, while I love the area, the traffic on Interstate 95 is a challenge we all share.

Q: What do you think the future of the BBB and the bureaus across Florida and the country?

A: BBB is re-energized, and this BBB is committed to doing more and being the resource of choice helping businesses adhere to best practice standards and consumers save time and aggravation finding these trustworthy businesses. As someone just moving to Southeast Florida, I called upon a number of BBB-accredited businesses to help with my move, home inspection, roofing, pest control and alarm system. I make sure these businesses do not know of my affiliation with BBB, and it was rewarding to see the great level of service from these businesses.

The use of digital photography and delivery of a digital home inspection report that can be stored and used as a reference guide demonstrates how businesses are adapting new technology to better meet the needs of consumers. BBB has integrated new tools into our service offerings over the past few years and needs to master new technology in the years ahead to be the resource of choice for consumers.

New threats to trust in the marketplace have emerged with data breaches and misunderstanding about targeted online marketing is also raising privacy concerns with consumers and consumer groups. BBB has been working on both issues through the protectyourselfie.org and the Online Behavioral Advertising Initiative. BBB played a key role in the initial foray into e-commerce with the BBB Online Program and these projects/programs are new examples of how BBB is adapting to new markets and technologies.

Q: What major goal do you hope to accomplish or lay the foundation for this year?

A: The major goal for me this year is to lay the foundation of success by building a stronger network of organizations committed to fostering trust between consumers and businesses. I look forward to learning more about the many strong groups in this area, learning about their goals and seeking ways for us to partner. Unfortunately, no organization has all the resources it needs to be successful, but working together we can expand our reach and maximize the benefit we return to consumers and businesses.

Q: What made South Florida and the Caribbean stand out as you considered this position?

A: There is a great opportunity to grow our services to better serve our community and I enjoy challenges and new opportunities. Additionally, the amazing culture and dynamic energy of this market draw many citizens and businesses to call Southeast Florida home and that also appealed to me. The strong senior staff at this BBB and a very committed board sealed the deal.

Q. What keeps you motivated?

A. I would say two things keep me motivated:

I enjoy what I do and at BBB I get a chance to do something different each day. Some days we help a consumer resolve a complaint that can be overwhelming and being able to offer a solution makes a big difference for that person. Similarly, helping a business identify and resolve an issue that is creating complaints helps the business deliver on its promise, helps that business be more successful and helps them satisfy future customers. The outside perspective of BBB looking at these issues with them can provide a fresh lens to understand the cause and corrections needed.

The other big motivator for me is the rapid pace of change and emerging technologies. Thinking about new and better ways to integrate technology to better serve consumers and businesses is exciting and challenging. Being able to reach more consumers each years is only possible with the technology we have today and we try to do this while retaining the personal touch since some consumers still like to stop into our offices.

Rodney Davis

Job title: President and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean, which is based in West Palm Beach.

Time in current post: About three months.

Previous jobs: Davis has worked with the Better Business Bureau in various positions since 1984 when he began in dispute resolution. Most recently he was president of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust. Before that, he was the vice president of dispute resolution for the bureau from 1993-2007. He was vice president of programs and services from 2007-2011 and senior vice president of enterprise programs from 2011-2013.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree in government from the University of Virginia.

Personal: Single; age 54.

Website: www.bbb.org/south-east-florida

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