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Jared Hamilton
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Jared Hamilton

Jared Hamilton Founder - CEO

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Is it time for the industry to dump CSI?

I personally believe CSI is a waste of time.

We all know of dealers who bend the CSI rules in various ways... heck, i bet we could even debate right here what cheating on CSI actually is.  Everyone seems to have a different belief on what is acceptable in encouraging, requesting, or flat out incentivizing customers to give positive scores.  All it takes is one dealership to work the system and the data set is ruined.  Until scores are collected in a more uniform and verified manner, the information will remain tainted.

Unfortunately, dealers must “encourage” customers to submit positive surveys because there is simply too much pressure from OEMs who use CSI for ranking and rewarding stores that dealers cannot afford to let natural results come in.  Face it, CSI is not about measuring customer satisfaction, its about keeping in good political graces with your manufacturer.

Sure OEMs have written rules, outlined consequences and published memos about what is and isn’t acceptable in encouraging customers to return the surveys, but little if anything is done to police or verify the submissions.  Who wants to be the zone manager that enforces the rules only to see their zone numbers tank?  As long as there is false market pressure on “good CSI” and creating real customer loyalty is not the primary reward dealers will shortcut the system resulting in bad data and CSI will continue to be a waste of everyone's time.

The irony of CSI is that if the scores were actually indicative of success I guarantee that dealers would naturally monitor and improve them without encouragement.  The fact that OEMs need to incentivize dealers means there is not enough correlation between good CSI and a dealership’s success.  Either the system doesn’t work and there isn’t a correlation between good CSI and customer loyalty, or OEM involvement has screwed the whole thing up by placing false incentive in the wrong place.  Either way, the system needs to be corrected because its a big resource drain for the industry and those resources could be productively invested elsewhere.

CSI needs to have a greater impact on the market.
Im not convinced that today’s CSI scores, even if they were collected accurately, have enough impact on the market to merit a dealerships full attention.  Rather than start solving the CSI problem with correcting where we put incentives, what if we first put more weight in the market behind the scores by making them public?

If CSI data were accurate, and it could be if the survey collection process changed, OEMs could publish CSI in real time like an online reviews. Yesterday’s CSI is designed to just measure what customers are thinking, but today’s systems in the social web do that so much better and include the added bonus of swaying customers decisions.  Today’s CSI scores should be an aggregate of a variety of verified online review sources.

If we want CSI to matter more, let the market see it.  The correlation between good scores and customer loyalty will strengthen and provide natural incentive for customer satisfaction to increase.  Furthermore, tracking customer sentiment on the web, through a variety of social applications could be a much better indicator of CSI than the narrow view a survey provides.  Our current CSI survey system is so out dated its like trying to use morris code to communicate with an iphone user.  CSI systems need to get with the times. The transparency and effectiveness of the social web is powerful.  Our industry needs to embrace it, after all it has already rendered our current CSI system obsolete.

Move the incentive to the right place.
Once we have tapped into the power of the social web, aggregated a reputation score from a variety of verified sources, and shared internal scores with the market so the scores actually meant something, we would need to completely remove the old incentive structure and focus where our attention should be.

I believe OEMs should remove all incentives and payouts that dealerships earn through good CSI and pay it to dealers who create customer loyalty.  Rather than compare dealerships based on CSI survey results, they should compare dealerships on their ability to retain customers over the years. If the theory is that good customer satisfaction creates customer loyalty, and OEMs want to help dealers create and correlate the loyalty why don’t they put extra dealer cash or another incentive for repeat customers of a dealership? I think this could be more effective because it would force the dealers to EARN loyalty through customer relations.  Unlike a CSI score, you cant really cheat creating repeat business and if you could, bravo, what is the worst that happens? You sell more cars?  We have confused the end with the means and need to refocus on what we really want to accomplish. CSI means nothing if it doesn’t create loyalty.

Making CSI a contest between dealers, and adding big rewards to those dealers who score the best in CSI creates a false goal that is achieved through gaming the system.  If the refocused on selling repeat business, it would solve a lot of problems and remind us why we really track CSI to begin with.

How would you make CSI better?
When it comes to CSI we are like a dog chasing its tail thinking we are actually hunting something worth while.  Like I said earlier, I believe our current CSI system is a waste of time. The best thing manufacturers could do with their CSI surveys is throw them out and start over focusing on the social web then incentivize dealers to create loyalty, not game survey results.  

Im surprised that as an industry we are not more vocal about the lame CSI system that is in place.  Do you feel it benefit's you or is it just a political game that wastes your time?  How would you make CSI better or do you not mind the political tail chasing?




Dave Erickson
Great article! I've been thinking about CSI recently too since the GM tied in about 25% of all our sales guys pay into it if they aren't above national average. The sad thing is the sales guy has little control over the total customer experience. Last month for instance one guy got a horrific survey, so bad he could never recover even with 100% on his remaining surveys. The reason it was bad was due to the customer believing the desk manager kept changing the price on him (which he frequently does), yet that very same customer gave the salesman a glowing review in the CSI comments and even went on Yelp to praise him. GM's response to all of this, "guys with bad surveys always have excuses"
Jim Radogna
Great insight Jared! It's funny how frequently less-than-delighted customers mention in online reviews how shocked and offended they were that the person(s) that treated them so poorly requested (demanded?) a "completely satisfied" survey...right before they mention that they would NEVER do business with that dealership again...
Stan Sher
The new CSI is DealerRater. Think about it. The real customer satisfaction index is in the reviews of real customers telling the world what their experience was like at the dealership. While there maybe some politics with reviews there is still a lot more truth to what is on there. Maybe online reputation management should become a part of an OEM criteria. But it will not happen for numerous political reasons. One OEM that could barely keep it's dealers in business wastes time sending test leads and walk in mystery shoppers to judge how the store does. How about making a better product or keeping dealers from going out business? I mean it drives me nuts to see them placing all of the eggs in one basket. Joe, hate to break it to you but the OEM I am talking about is the same one you are speaking for right now on your trips.
Robert Greene
The entire CONCEPT of CSI ratings is flawed. Even if it was not manipulated, it is only measuring those people who actually purchased a vehicle from the dealership. If a manufacturer wants to truly measure how customers are being treated at the dealerships, they should spend more effort (and place more weight) on the people who did NOT buy. We as a dealership are punished if a customer gives us "GOOD" scores (as opposed to "EXCELLENT"), yet another dealership who treated that same customer so poorly that they had to drive to our dealership to buy a vehicle ends up with a better CSI score. You are right...the system needs to be scrapped!
Philip Zelinger
Is it time for the industry to dump CSI? NO -- why throw the baby out with the bath water? CSI isn't dead, or even broken -- it simply needs a tune up! Technology often leads to innovations in processes for the auto industry and need has always been the catalyst for both new technologies and the innovations that are dependent on them. OEM's needed to incentivize their dealers to prioritize the long term needs of their shared customers over the dealers short term profits; for obvious reasons. The solution of yesterday was limited by the technology that allowed the OEMs to manage and monitor the process of satisfying customers in a quantifiable and verifiable manner. Money motivates so the OEMs resorted to the quick fix of writing a check to the dealers -- either directly or in the form of push/pull incentives based on meeting certain CSI benchmarks. Similarly, old school car guys/gals passed on the cash in the form of gas vouchers, free oil changes and yes they even often split the money in some form of kick back for a good report! Subsequent attempts to fix the processes hit the brick wall of human nature which will always seek the path of least resistence and posts like this one were born. Then the Internet opened up the Wolrd Wide Web for customers to honestly express their opinions of their vehicle, their dealer and their shopping/buying experience outside of the confines of the CSI questionnaires. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the auto industry was slightly behind the times. They failed to integrate this new technology and the related innovations in processes that now follow customers onto the Internet Super Highway -- taking theri opinions with them on the trip. Social networking sites that allow like minded consumers to share their experiences before, during and after their shopping/buying/ownership cycles took off like a rocket; again, for obvious reasons linked to human nature and our herd mentality. Google and the search engines quickly realized that their goal of maximizing relevancy in their search results for their customers required them to shift their algorithms to follow their customer's opinions vs. S.E.O. manipulations by tech saavy dealers who try to improve their rankings with cleverly crafted meta tags, search words and content. Now comes the good news! The auto industry may not always be the first to embrace new technology but when they do they do it with a vengance. The opportunity for dealers to improve their reputation -- substitute C.S.I. -- online through social networks and various dealer rating sites as well as in the real world that is increasingly linked to the virtual one is already being applied. The solution for the OEMs to improve their C.S.I. programs resides on the same exit of the Internet Super Highway! All the OEMs need to do is to place their CSI questionnaires and the results onto their own social networking site directly linked to FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.. The dealer's SEO would be enhanced - or not -- by this simple shift from the real world to the virtual one. Frankly the complaints will provide more value than the compliments if they are properly addressed and resolved in the light of day since they will allow the dealers -- and their respective OEMs -- to find and fix the problems before they find their way onto the same social networking sites but in a much less controllable environment. Make and keep your customers as friends on an OEM sponsored CSI social networkig site and put the new Google algorithms to work for you vs. against you. After all, what are friends -- and CSI -- for!

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