Who’s pulling your strings? Legalized extortion for the auto business.

In the automotive business, we expect there to be critics. We understand that there are detractors to our business. No one understands the value of “the voice of the customer” better than an automotive dealer. In fact, there’s been a whole business built around “relationship management” specifically for the automotive industry.

Social media has taken this concept ten-fold and has given a larger voice to those that have been wronged, misguided and mistreated. It’s given strength to consumers in ways they never had before. But what happens when the tables aren’t balanced? What if you went to a place of business in spite of an advisor’s description…and had a great experience? Would your voice be louder and more effective than the person who had a poor experience? What if you didn’t have a choice to judge for yourself? What if the social media source “filtered” out only good reviews in an effort to have you advertise with them? Would that make the “voice” of that site more credible or less? If people believe what they read online is true… is it?

While most business owners and their management spend time and resources on improving communications, there is always the potential for failure. Most people who work in our business are genuinely invested in their customers and understand the value of long-term customer loyalty. We train, teach, talk about, review, hire and inspire the people who work with us all in the effort of customer loyalty.

If one review is more effective to drive a customer than another review, would you pay for it? Would you pay to have all the “voice” of customer scores posted? What if the social media site filtered out any posted positive responses and replaced them with negative ones? Would you think that’s fair? What if your potential customers aren’t getting the whole picture?

We’ve all received the phone call from Yelp to advertise with them. They make no promises to post positive reviews, nor do they guarantee your response rate will improve if you advertise with them. The proposal is centered on the number of readers that see the site and the power of social media. I suppose it’s coincidental that the negative “non-filtered” reviews find their way to the top of every page. Is it smart advertising or legalized extortion?    

Views: 503

Tags: Advertising, Media, Sales, Social


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Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on March 19, 2013 at 10:42pm

@joe - didn't mean to come across as thinking stores are infallible. quite the opposite. ALL BUSINESSES should implement, train, and monitor the customer interaction process, and sadly, many stores' commitment to customers ends with the OEM CSI survey. However, I have extensive experience at a VERY CSI -driven luxury store - everyone had authority and mandate to do everything possible to ensure a positive experience. but the more we bent over backwards for some customers, the more they tried to push us all the way over - many had the survey extortion down to a science.

I recall a customer who showed up on the drive 3 minutes before closing and asking for an oil change who had factory maintenance. it wasn't like he had a true emergency, because we would eagerly help if he had to leave town for a funeral, he was just in the neighborhood and this wasn't the first time he played that game. after name-dropping the owner, he reminded me "you want a good survey, don't you?". oh, and he wanted a car wash too. sure, we did the work with a smile, but pair him with the dozens of customers who tried to pin shop damage on us, reviews bring mixed emotions.

oftentimes the reaction of a customer was very disproportionate to the error in question. there will always be the "2%" who won't be happy no matter what. and with online reviews, their voice is louder than ever. I guess the only redeeming factor is theoretically, all dealerships are on equal footing within the local market. wizards who can prove to companies they can 'trick' the survey can rake in the cash.

Comment by Joe Clementi on March 19, 2013 at 12:45pm
@Jim. Thanks for thoughts and comments. I appreciate your feedback.
Comment by Joe Clementi on March 19, 2013 at 12:43pm
@Ryan. Thanks for the contribution
Comment by Cars - Jim Canto on March 19, 2013 at 12:16pm

Unfortunately, "if it bleeds, it leads" is a truism on the web as it was in print media. Traffic, a.k.a. circulation, is a fundamental goal of nearly any web endeavor. But remember; consumers make the truism true, not the publishers. And, that particular consumer behavior has not changed in over 100 years, so I would not anticipate/predict a change anytime soon. Yet, we must fight that battle.

We face the same problem at Shawnee Mission Kia as you folks do at your stores. We have a 4.8 on DealerRater based on 287 reviews...yet we have a 2 on Yelp. And, to make Joe's point, Yelp is #2, ORGANICALLY, when our dealership name is searched (roughly 4,400 times per month.) 

P.S.; Duane Sanders, Todd Vowell and Many Luna... note: I just purchased reviewthereviewsites.com .. shall we organize?  :-)

Comment by Ryan Leslie on March 18, 2013 at 5:19pm


Great Read! Your post reminded me of this one written by Mike Blumenthal. This is well-worth the read too for anyone that wants to know a little bit more about the sales methodologies employed by Yelp.

My friend Tom Gorham alluded to this already, but "YELP is for YELPERS!" If you want Yelp reviews you need to create strategies to identify and engage those that are already active in that community. If you try to create a Yelper the review will be filtered behind a Captcha...

I understand the frustration with Yelp. To be really blunt, their business model just doesn't line up well with our industry. One of the major tenets of their program is "don't ask for reviews." That may work for restaurants, but it isn't an effective plan for dealers. As a mentor of mine used to say, "Hope is NOT a plan." Simply hoping that a customer decides to review your dealership isn't going to generate a lot of reviews. You need to ask, and the content can't be filtered in favor of a super-user.

Some people eat out 3-5 times a week, most buy a car every 3-5 years. If you make a fruit salad by cutting the apples, bananas, pineapple, canteloupe, watermelon, grapes and kiwi in exactly the same manner, somebody inevitable gets a piece of the rind or peel.


Comment by Marsh Buice on March 13, 2013 at 6:53pm

Joe, brother you rocked the post on this one. I had no idea Yelp was this way. Thank you for the post brother! Great job!! Keep them coming!

Comment by Joe Clementi on March 12, 2013 at 9:00am
@ Tom. Thank you for your feedback. I think we have to be careful not to fool ourselves into thinking we are without fault. The most valuable side of a disagreement is the one that's never heard. As dealers we understand we have an obligation to continue to learn, improve and evolve our people, products and services. We need the customer to tell us when we failed, where we failed and how we can make it better. The key debate in this topic is having the feedback fair and balanced - free from an agenda and without a bias towards advertising revenue.
Comment by Joe Clementi on March 12, 2013 at 8:52am
@Bobby. Thank you for your contribution and thoughts. Somewhere in the maze of thoughts and opinions lay the truth. Unfortunately if the truth is disguised by a one sided agenda then it becomes biased instead of balanced.
Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on March 11, 2013 at 12:43pm

Great piece - once upon a time people did business on word-of-mouth based on recommendations for and against from REAL FRIENDS, or at least familiar acquaintances. And even hearing negative reports from strangers in a barber shop or social gathering, you could often tell if the storyteller was that 2% that you  can NEVER make happy.

WIth online reviews, people are still inclined by an extremely lopsided margin to only relay a bad experience, and many times a bad experience has to do with something the CLIENT DID WRONG. I like the idea below by Manny about reviewing the 'review' websites. The review sites seem destined to go the path of other vendors, like TrueCar, CarFax, Cars.com, and others who charge a fee with one hand and bash the industry with the other.

Comment by MANNY LUNA on March 11, 2013 at 1:31am

 Duane Sanders yesterday

Maybe we should start a review site for review sites......
That's what we are working on now!

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