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BLOG: Keeping Your Dealership’s Reputation Beautiful

Tom KlineTom Kline

When everything runs smoothly, it’s beautiful. But the opposite of beautiful is ugly. Customer complaints that are posted online can appear to be terribly ugly. But underneath, if you are paying attention to them, they can actually save you money, make your operation better, point out the bad apples, and hone your policies and procedures. I would say, in their own way, they are “beautiful.”  My argument is below.

Bronx Honda has been in the news recently because of a Federal Trade Commission action. On the FTC website, at the bottom of the press release, is a little-noticed statement: “NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.”

The regulators are watching, and they should be. There are two sides to every story, but it appears that Bronx Honda was not doing the right things. If the FTC has “reason to believe” that you are being deceptive or not treating your customers fairly, then they will come knocking on your door. They are there to help the public and to keep you on the right path.

Regulatory issues almost always start with customer complaints.

Class action lawsuits often start when two people get together because they were “screwed by the dealer.”  I know of one class action that started with two ladies sitting next to each other in church.

So, what are the best practices here? And how do you avoid regulatory scrutiny?

Every day, a designated service or employee should look at Facebook, your Google reviews, Dealerrater.com, Yelp, Reputation.com, My3cents.com, Ripoffreport.com, and Pissedconsumer.com. In addition, there are about 30 other websites that you should assign for review. Quick response is a key component for success for reputation protection.

Consider hiring a monitoring agency to help you with these issues. They can help you with reputation repair and the daily maintenance work. Employees can do this work but, (1) they are not objective, which is very important, and (2) an employee will not respond well to inflammatory complaints as well as a third party. This will help you with your peace of mind.

This service should report to a senior manager first thing in the morning if there are any bad reviews. Since the customers rarely use their names in the online posting, the manager should investigate who it is and reach out immediately by telephone to resolve the issues.  From a claims perspective, the first loss is always the best (and least expensive) loss. If you ignore it, the customer will become more upset and often will post the same complaint on multiple sites. So, an unresolved problem can hurt your reputation and your precious “star ratings,” too. Recent surveys show that the majority of customers read reviews before they buy from a dealer.

Concurrently with calling, the manager should post a non-defensive response asking the customer to reach out to get his/her problem resolved.

I worked with a dealer many, many years ago who asked me to handle certain customer issues. On one occasion, once the customer was satisfied, he came back and bought more vehicles. In this instance, the customer bought five vehicles over a period of 15-plus years.  Beautiful.

This is a lot of daily work and should happen seven days a week. It will prevent small problems from becoming big problems. If you listen to the complaints, and really hear them, you will hear which employees should be counseled. Perhaps there are policies in place which are not customer-friendly? Customers will teach you about your business.  And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

A famous, late American poet, Dorothy Parker, once said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”  So true.

Tom Kline is the lead consultant and founder of Better Vantage Point.  He can be reached at 757-434-7656 or at tomk@bettervantagepoint.com .



Tom Kline

Tom Kline, a former dealership owner with 30 years of experience, specializes in solving dealership problems through risk mitigation remedies, compliance and dealership dispute desolution. Tom is lead consultant and founder of Better Vantage Point and has worked with publicly-held and private dealerships. Kline is an Endorsed Expert for the RVDA, VIADA, CIADA, and Dealership Marketing Magazine.

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