Friday, January 7, 2011

Dealers Need to Understand the Power of the Anonymous Voice – Negative Customer Reviews Will Kill Them

Social Media has empowered what was the silent majority where, now, being anonymous is a heck of a lot better than being silent. Those who wouldn’t dare speak up now have the opportunity to fence with their pens and be modern day Inigo Montoyas. They can accuse wrong-doers by scribbling “you killed my father; prepare to die!”

Let’s use a vivid example. These Yelp graphics were just clipped this week for Grava Chrysler – Jeep – Dodge in Medford, MA. There were 14 Yelp reviews posted and they all racked up to a 2 out of 5 star rating - dismally failing. Lindsey A. from Brighton gave Grava only one star – she joined Yelp with the sole purpose of eviscerating Grava. Looks like Grava had a long line for service one day and that they have a first-come-first-served non-appointment system, so she isn’t even commenting on the quality of the actual service. Well, Grava “you killed my father; prepare to die!”

Hmm. It might not be all that bad. I might have just pulled a bad review out of Yelp. No such luck. Google scavenges the web for everybody who’s reviewed Grava – they found 28 reviews from Edmunds, Yelp, Dealer Rater, and Google, and they’ve created a Zagat’s-like compendium of black marks against Grava.

I looked to RepairPal for Chrysler repair facilities in Medford hoping to see a different story. Much has changed on RepairPal since I last used it. They now have “featured listings” that show up in their estimator –these are paid-for spaces. They aren’t quite as visually distinct as paid ads on Google, which have a colored background and are labeled as “Ads”, but, you need another click to get a more complete listing of independent repair facilities. RepairPal has partnered with WorldPac to offer 10% discounts to WorldPac customers – these are mostly Independent Repair Facilities (IRFs). For those not paying a G-note, their visibility is limited to shoppers willing to click through to get a more complete listing of independent repair facilities.
Time Out: If you think you can strategically segregate your Internet B2B, B2C, social media, and sales & marketing strategies, well think again. They all come together with some of these third parties like RepairPal and AutoMD.
No Chrysler dealers show up in Medford, so we have no way of knowing how Grava stacks up against the competition on RepairPal. RepairPal now only gives rating stars for real ratings - they don’t automatically ding dealers as codified underachievers. However, some things haven’t changed – they still vividly suggest that dealers are high cost via their static price spread image.
Time Out: Repair Pal’s partnership with WorldPac (http://www.worldpac.com/repairpal) tells us a lot. Repair Pal’s following the money and is OEM-unfriendly. They use clever graphics to reinforce dealer reputations for being the high cost spread. So, dealers will lose service and parts business. Partnering with WorldPac threatens the OEMs parts business – Repair Pal’s “featured listing” winners that are born of this partnership will most likely choose non-genuine parts and will further erode OEM market share. It’s all about the money; not about quality, great service, safety, or satisfaction. It’s about who will pay $1,259 a year to show up on top.
So, Yelp tells me that Grava has some pretty unhappy customers; Google tells me that their customer dissatisfaction is malignant, and RepairPal tells me that Grava doesn’t exist (but if they did, they’d cost more) and steers me towards “featured listings”, without the option of the dealership.
Time Out: Around one-third of all our service customers currently are “digital service customers” who rely on the internet for provider research. They look to the web for these top three things: (1) where the service provider is located, (2) the operating hours, and (3) what others think of the service provided. In terms of the various types of advertising trusted by internet users, 78% trust “recommendations from consumers” and 61% trust “consumer opinions posted online.”

I think it is fair to say that Grava Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge has a problem.


But, it might not be a current customer service problem. Deborah C. from Arlington just gave Grava 4 stars in October. Maybe they improved from July (when Lindsay wrote her review) to October, although Deborah doesn’t tell us why she knocked off one star from her review. Judging from her other reviews (which certainly suggest that Deborah C. is a real person, not a review-bot) looks like she saves that 5th star for really good food.

Let’s switch brands and move upstream. Yahoo Autos posted some research based on the experience of a “Victoria Rumsey.” We do not know if she is a real person – Volkswagen could not find any RO documentation to support what was written in Yahoo, and I could not find the posted review. It is all about an unsubstantiated story about a woman who took her Jetta to a dealership where they had their trained staff look at the car and said it would cost in the $2,000 range. She went home and asked a friend to do the repairs. The parts cost less than $150. Yahoo took this story and wrote it up as “research” about how to avoid getting ripped off for auto repairs … excoriating the VW dealer in the process and expanding the context to cover all forms of gender discrimination.
Time Out: How many of us have a friend we’d trust to replace steering and suspension components on our car? How do we know this wasn’t an extremely labor-intensive repair? How do we know that the parts used were OE-quality? One of the many things that Vicky needed was brake pads for her 2000 Jetta. I just went to Auto Parts Warehouse on the web and found 64 different brake pads matches for a 2000 Jetta. The prices ranged from $20.03 to $217.96. My guess is that Vicky’s friend used the $20.03 pads, and that the dealer quoted a price that reflected genuine safety and quality.

It’s worse than that. The Yahoo crap research based on perhaps a fictional Vicky Rumsey got referenced all over the Internet, with some very prominent Facebook postings. Facebook is kind of a big deal.

Bottom Line: I think it is fair to say that the OEMs have a problem here. It is not just about Grava Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge, or a 2000 Jetta. It is not about Volkswagen. It is about a very new reality that is facing our industry. We will be talking about this at the March 8th Digital Summit. Email Jessica Shea (jshea@carlisle-co.com) to get more information on this.

Also, if you want to get these blogs in a separate pdf format, so you can actually see the exhibits, please email Ellen Jortberg ( ejortberg@carlisle-co.com )
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