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Below is a blog post I recently published for customers under the same headline that appears here. It's my manifesto on protecting car dealers’ reputations against bullies on the social Web. As you'll see when you reach the conclusion, I link to this post when I can't quite defend our reputation without playing in the same mud that's sometimes slung at us. Perhaps you can relate.
Car dealers share a bad reputation. (This is your cue to shout, “How bad is it?”) Well, it’s pretty bad. So bad that we’re often accused of keeping Sansabelt slacks and polyester plaid jackets on the market, and for refusing to let the combover die. Aside from a fashion-sense deficit, we’re associated with unethical and dishonest behavior. To top it all off, we’re called dealers. Dang it.
It’s easy to see why we’re an easy target for online harassment. People sometimes see in us an opportunity to manipulate a situation to serve a personal agenda by exploiting this negative stereotype. They make false claims against us, build a mob of online supporters, and we cave to their demands out of fear that no one will believe our side of the story. After all, we’re car dealers. We should accept that no one trusts us, lick our wounds and move on, right? Not so fast.
At Legacy Nissan, here’s what we normally do: We respond by presenting information clearly, concisely and factually. Emotion is left at the door.
The good news is, it works. It’s tough to argue with facts. However, the truth sometimes hurts, and sometimes it’s ugly. Isn’t that why white lies were invented? But we’re not in the business of telling lies—regardless of their color—so instead, we’ve found ourselves ignoring misrepresented scenarios as we help solve problems without properly defending ourselves. Here are two recent examples.
Situation No. 1
A man bypassed his vehicle’s fuel-sending unit—a technique known as hot-wiring— and drove it in this state for about two years until he discovered an open recall to repair it. While attempting to make the repair, our technicians discovered extensive damage from wire tampering that disqualified the recall work. We couldn’t legally or ethically reinstitute the bypass, but we managed to convince the manufacturer to cover half the expense (we covered the rest). While awaiting the manufacturer’s verdict, the customer posted online that his vehicle was fine until we got our hands on it.
To defend ourselves in this instance, we would have been forced to draw attention to this man’s handiwork. Most people would reasonably conclude that anyone who knows enough about cars to hot-wire one is also aware of how dangerous it is. (A spark could cause an explosion.) And because he had made public references to his toddler being a passenger, this became even more troubling. We chose not to expose it.
Situation No. 2
A woman ran out of gas, which ruined her fuel pump. We replaced it, but the new part didn’t solve her problem. Not surprisingly, when she ran out of fuel, she created a snowball effect of persistent damages. While we were busy exploring ways to remedy a problem she created, she was busy on Facebook posting a skewed description of the saga. Without mentioning she ran out of gas, she accused us of being greedy and incompetent, to put it mildly.
To protect our reputation in this case would have required that we disclose her negligence and point out her misrepresentation of the truth. We easily could have done that through service records, but we chose not to.
Both of these situations created minor storms we were able to weather. We didn’t enjoy it when the mob shouted, “Report them to the manufacturer!” or “Get a lawyer!” But that wasn’t the damaging part. The bad part came when each customer—after learning our efforts had succeeded—posted that Legacy Nissan had agreed to fix the problem. Comments were full of applause. People responded with things like, “Yay for you!” “So glad they stepped up and did the right thing!” and “You made it happen!”
As long as we refuse to defend ourselves, we’ll reinforce this behavior and, even worse, perpetuate the stereotype. In effect, we’ll be contributing to our own problem as we condition our stakeholders to disrespect us and hold us in low esteem.
It has to stop. But not through humiliation. Instead, when faced with Catch 22 situations like those described here, we’ve decided to take a direct, yet passive, approach by responding with a link to this blog post. So if you found this content in a heated comment thread, please know we’re making every effort to be kind as we protect our reputation and break down the stereotype that plagues us. We will defend ourselves with documents only if this first step proves ineffective. But rest assured—we will defend ourselves. We owe it to ourselves as well as our industry.