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From: Jared Hamilton
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Dave Erickson

Dave Erickson Internet Sales Director

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“Hey, did you see that review?” The question moved about he showroom and through offices and even leaped over different departments and surely must have slipped and slithered itself through the rafters and cooling ducts to the owners office. It wasn’t finished until every last person heard it and read the review. Once the review was read it seemed to make everyone feel compelled to provide their idea of what should be done about it. Managers, Finance Guys, Salesman, and a guy who supposed to be a Porter came up to me with deep concern and heavy tones as if speaking softer about the event would somehow make it go away. The questions and statements revolved around asking me to have the review removed. Asking me to respond to the reviewer. Asking me to petition Yelp for removal. And to somehow inform the internet of all the things we did right on this deal. As if the internet were waiting with the great anticipation for the truth to finally come out on this deal. I don’t know how aside from me being the internet guy I got dragged into this mess. There had been plenty of reviews before this one and even a few bad ones but I don’t know what it was that made everyone so upset about this particular review. Was it because she named names? Was it because she was some Yelp Elite Squad User? Was it because she had pointed out some weaknesses? Was it because she had dragged the size of our water machine cups into it? Of all things to drag into the mud why our poor little plastic drinking cups? Maybe the drinking cups were taking cost savings a little too far. Maybe she had a point. Maybe she had a point about a few things.

I don’t remember much about her except seeing this angry faced person walking back and forth past my office window a few times. She looked more like a prison guard pacing back and forth in front of my cell. Even worse was this prison guard seemed to be having a really bad day and you could tell by her tight lips, red face, and icy stare that someone laid the hammer down on her and she was gonna lay it back down on someone else. This was not the look of a happy or thoughtful person. If I had a cell mate I certainly would not rape him in front of this guard today for fear she would catch me and rape two times as bad and cut me off from food for a week and then inflict some strange torture technique from the dark ages on me. I stayed low in my office as I usually do responding to leads, making calls, wondering how many more days I must go on tucking in my shirt, looking for missing keys, and begging for weekend bonuses.

In regards to what had transpired so far I’ve gathered the following. The car was priced very well online but wasn’t ready for the front line yet as it required a dent removal and detail. The customer called about this car and was misinformed by the salesman regarding if it still had some manufacturers warranty on it. The customer asked questions regarding the Carfax and the salesman responded with incorrect information having not read the Carfax before answering the question(s). In retrospect surely this salesperson would admit he should have told the customer he’d call her back after getting the details together for her but her review cleaned his clock as if he were personally responsible for buying the car at auction, every owner that ever driven it, every mile it was ever driven, and why service hadn’t yet made it front line ready, why his manager doesn’t give him the password to our Carfax account, why the owner hadn’t upgraded our facilities, why our Finance manager is slow to fax or according to the customer couldn’t figure out how to fax, or why he hadn’t personally beat down the service manager for allowing it to be in the sales lot before it was ready so that we wouldn’t have caused her any unnecessary trips to look at it and of course we already know he was linked to the size of our drinking cups but it didn’t end there as he had somehow even managed to get himself implicated in setting humanity and woman's rights in particular back a good 50-years.

Basically the customer came in under the premise that the car was perfect and was still under warranty which was not the case. The deal should have ended there but it kept going on and the piecing together it from that point forward was a downward spiral of multiple customer visits involving multiple salespersons and managers and a customer who wanted this car to be everything she envisioned it to be when in reality the car that was everything she wanted it to be was overlooked by her because of its price and is probably still sitting on AutoTrader or Craigslist or crashed by a salesman with a Vicodin addiction who took it to get lunch.

In the end nothing much has changed. Sure the salesperson always calls back the customer if they ask details, the service department created a line and duct taped a piece of cardboard to the ground that has an arrow indicting sales and service to help clear up any lot confusion. The drinking cups got an upgrade and are 1 size larger now. But sooner or later a person in the business office will again order the cheaper cups, the cardboard sign duct taped to the ground will wash out in the rain, this salesperson or another salesperson will cut a corner. Customers will come to look and re-look at a car multiple times and deal with multiple salespersons and managers all of which will try to say things to make the deal and this customer will pass and bring them all up to an entirely different salesperson and manager on a different day. We will receive more reviews. We will pat ourselves on the back when they are good and take our due credit in meetings or print copies complete with yellow highlights where it talks about our own name leave them on the GM’s desk.  And when they’re bad or there’s an angry faced person pacing the showroom (or service drive) we hide and then point fingers and talk about the mistakes other people made.
 

Bart Wilson
The good (and bad) thing about reviews is now the customers can see them. Before we got yelled at for our CSI scores from the sales manager but customers never saw them. If the dealership had a 95% Dealer Recommended score they could brag to each other but it never really sold cars. Consumer reviews will. How long will it be before dealerships are scored by the manufacturer based on their Yelp, DealerRater or Google Maps reviews?
Gary May
Wow. Interesting...writing, Dave. Aside from the over-the-top references to prison, the more important here is what happened, what information she was given, how she was dealt with and how the store dealt with any opportunity to 'correct' the situation. Dealers will continue to get bomb-shelled by consumers. No matter how much some of us preach to do things differently, front to back and especially around the web, we will continue to play catch-up. Except now it's live on the web for everyone to see. Good luck getting bad reviews, especially those written by 'accomplished online reviewers', removed. Dealers seriously need to change from a reactive web mentality to a proactive one. And I'm not calling anyone out. It's everyone. Automotive web, from the OEMs, to the dealers and everywhere in between, is a stepchild. It's an afterthought. Reputation, maybe as much as inventory, pricing, location and other major considerations due to transparency, is slowly taking over for consumers. So, what percentage of customers (web or NOT) are being asked for a review, right there during delivery? How is the 'table' being set in regards to the customer knowing how important it is? 'Oh, we have too much on our delivery check list to add that'. 'Isn't that coaching?'. 'What if the customer had a problem that he couldn't control? Why should I ask for a review, especially online?'. The list of questions goes on and on. Rarely do we hear, in many dialogs with dealers, 'wow, yeah I'm all over that, we'll start today! Do you have a template? Can I ask them to do one of Facebook if they don't have a Yelp account?'. Or why not shoot videos of happy customers and get them online pronto? And don't shoot them with the customer looking caged in the F&I department!!! Don't shoot them outside into the sun (like many of you are doing for your video walk-arounds)!!! User generated content, especially reviews, should not be a surprise to stores. Neither should their impact. It is now past the time to have a complete web strategy. And that is not just a website and paying for listing your cars on two or three sites. A complete web strategy is essential for success. And at the core of nearly every negative review (because some people are just plain asses) is someone not feeling listened to or someone that was not dealt with honestly. You reap what you sow. Start asking your customers and listening to your customers more. Then watch what happens to your reviews (and your CRM, and links to your sites, and referrals and on and on and on and on....). Be better!! Gary May IM@CS
Tom White Jr.
Ahh... I love the "Be Better," because that's what we all need to do. Part of the challenges we are facing in Washington with the pending addition of YET EVEN MORE REGULATIONS, stems from the mistrust the majority of consumers have of us as car dealers. And Dave, Gary is right - you had me up until the over the top "rape" references which just don't fly in this day and age. Be better... How? Remove every process and procedure that doesn't work in the customer's favor. Get rid of your commissioned based pay plans and fire your old school "car dogs" that say whatever they want to say to a customer out on the lot. Re-Hire, Re-Train, Re-EVERYTHING... Gone are the days that some of us could sit back and watch the majority of dealerships ruin their reputations by treating customers like crap. We are all under a very powerful, business alerting microscope. It's time to get better or get out... While I believe that you actually were trying to shed some light on a bad situation at your dealership in order to prevent this from happening in others - I totally disagree that "not much has changed." A lot has changed, and this change is really starting to speed up. Gary is spot on (as he usually is) and there is no longer an excuse for "surprise" I suck... Consumers have more power than ever (as they should) and they will vote with their pocket books as well as their voices. Those who receive positive votes will excel while those who don't will find their bad ways commented on and spread in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago... It's time to get better. All of us. Just sayin'
Dave Erickson
You guys are probably right about the rape metaphor. Perhaps I was drinking too much coffee and having too much fun with it at the time. In essence what I wanted to convey was that I could have stepped out of my office to see if there was anything I could do to help the customer or sales person but I didn't for fear of getting an earful. I hope that a big lesson for me was conveyed at the end which was next time someone looks upset maybe I should see if there is anyway to lend a hand to anyone to help out rather than just be a witness to the event. I wouldn't call our attempts useless either. Attempts to correct our faults were made and I hope they will continue to be made. The very fact that everyone noticed a review and wanted to make some sort of change (no matter how far out their request) was good. I myself have been sending out monthly reports ever since I've worked here with major review site summary ratings for us as well as all of our competitors and these reports have typically gone unnoticed. Interesting enough when I pair these review ratings to the dealers sales volume for the district it is almost an exact match. The dealers pricing strategy means nearly nothing. The poorest reviewed dealer can and frequently does have the lowest price but they also have the lowest sales volume. A dealers review status online is more of an indicator in this market and in the brand I sell than the dealers price. A well reviewed dealer also can't be just the result of one person but multiple people and departments. A highly motivated staff is of paramount importance (Tom you clearly know that by referencing the need to "re-hire, re-train, re-everything"). If I had some significant capital I'd surely seek out poorly reviewed dealers on the brink of bk, buy them, "re=everything" the staff, and I'd resell them after everything was turned around for a profit. I'd be a dealer-flipper! Thanks though for taking the time to read what I wrote and for giving me feedback. It means a lot.
Mark Dubis
I agree, online reviews are becoming more and more important every day. They are a reality of our industry and every one of us needs to be sensitive to how the customer is treated in the dealership. We know that every dealer website says they take care of their customers and put customer service first, but the reality is most dealers provide no proof (via an objective third party) that they “walk the talk.” Saying your dealerships has a President's Award or rates high in your OEM's CSI rankings means nothing, as consumers cannot go and see what the rankings are or what a President's Award really means. Just Google “dealership President's Award” and you will get over 450,000 results. Consumers are not dummies. When consumers go to a dealer rating site and see “a certified dealer” has no negative reviews at all, they know that info is bogus or at least tainted. They leave and go looking at other sources, because they know dealers are “gaming the system” just like many do with factory CSI surveys. Reputation management shouldn’t be about hiding bad reviews, but increasing the positive feedback that many customers would be happy to leave if it were a simple process. Sites promoting neighborhood dealers and providing tools for sales people to be successful will be the lifeblood and future of our business. It’s critical that we highlight dealerships and sales professionals who prove they really “Walk the Talk.” Mark Dubis www.carfolks.com

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