ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Eastman Kodak (EK) resigned its membership in the Council of Better Business Bureaus after a prolonged dispute over its handling of customer complaints about defective digital cameras, product warranties and other issues, the consumer advocacy group said Monday.
The council, the umbrella organization for the Better Business Bureau system begun in 1912, counted Kodak Co. among its founding members in 1971. With 2.7 million registered business members in the United States and Canada, Better Business Bureau Inc. handled 1.2 million complaints about goods and services in 2006 and helped resolve more than two-thirds of them.
It said Kodak has long refused to accept or respond to consumer complaints submitted by the Upstate New York Better Business Bureau, prompting expulsion proceedings in December by the council’s board.
“Every member of the BBB system is required to make a good-faith effort to resolve consumer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau,” said Steve Cole, the council’s chief executive. “To do otherwise is to abdicate their commitment to helping advance trust in the consumer marketplace, the key focus of the BBB.”
Kodak was advised it could contest the termination but chose instead to resign its national membership in early March. The photography company allowed its membership in the Buffalo-based branch to lapse about five years ago.
“We ultimately decided to resign our membership because we were extremely unhappy with the customer service we received from the local office of the BBB,” Kodak said in a statement, describing the branch’s Web site postings about the company as “consistently inaccurate.”
“The presence of a third-party organization between Kodak and our customers is bureaucratic and unproductive,” it added. “In fact, Kodak’s customer service and customer privacy teams concluded that 99 percent of all complaints forwarded by the BBB had already been handled directly with the customer.
“Our commitment to our customers is unwavering. That will not change. What has changed is that, for us, the BBB’s customer complaint process has become redundant.”
The upstate New York chapter drew 183 complaints about Kodak over the last three years, fewer than in previous years and a small number for a company of its size, said the chapter’s president, David Polino.
They included complaints from consumers who reported problems related to repairs of Kodak digital cameras as well as difficulty in communicating with the company’s customer service department.
Consumers reported that their cameras broke and they were charged for repairs even though the failure was not the result of any damage or abuse, the group said. Some consumers said their cameras failed again after the product was returned to them.
Kodak, the world’s top maker of photographic film, is navigating a bumpy voyage into a new world of digital imaging. By year-end, its work force will slip below 30,000, less than half what it was just three years ago.
“We’ve had companies kind of come and go,” said the council’s spokesman, Stephen Cox. “But in terms of those founding members, Kodak is the first to have expulsion proceedings initiated.”